Antonio Conte's volatile time as Tottenham's manager came to an almost inevitable end on Sunday as the intense Italian parted ways with the club "by mutual agreement" after 16 months in charge.
Conte, 53, arrived to take charge of the under-achieving Premier League team in November 2021. After spending much of the time making veiled complaints about chairman Daniel Levy's failure to sufficiently back him in the transfer market, it seemed certain that Conte would depart when his contract expired at the end of this season. But the Italian appeared to make his position less tenable with an astonishing rant at his players after Tottenham blew a two-goal lead in a damaging 3-3 draw at last place Southampton earlier this month.
Although the club remains in fourth place in the Premier League after that debacle, Spurs is in serious danger of missing out on Champions League qualification as fifth-place Newcastle is two points behind and has played two fewer games.
Levy reportedly became concerned about Conte's mood swings this season. There were claims that the squad was tired of its manager's acerbic tongue, while fans bemoaned his perceived negative tactics. The chairman would surely have preferred to keep Conte to avoid the upheaval triggered by a coaching change at such a critical time of the season. But the manager's stinging criticism of his underachieving team made his relationship with Levy trickier.
To some, it appeared Conte was so fed up with Tottenham's inconsistency that his remarkable rant was an act of self-immolation designed to force his exit. The club was eliminated from both the FA Cup and Champions League earlier this month as Conte's problems spiraled. He had only recently returned to the sideline after a spell recovering from gallbladder surgery in Italy and his patience ran out after Tottenham gave up a 3-1 lead with just 13 minutes remaining against Southampton.
"It's the right moment to speak because for me this is unacceptable," Conte said. "For another time, we showed we are not a team. I see selfish players; I see players that don't want to help each other and don't put their heart in."
Tottenham has been regarded as English soccer's biggest underachiever for decades and Conte failed to break the cycle of frustration and recrimination. Without a major trophy since the 2008 League Cup and not crowned champion of England since 1961, Spurs remain flawed even in a period in which the team has benefited from the presence of the club's record goal scorer, Harry Kane.
When pushed on the reasons for the club's continued failure to succeed under a string of different managers, Conte was scathing.
"Tottenham's story is this," he said. "Twenty years [under this owner] and [the team] never won something. Why? Because it is used to it here. [The players] don't play for something important. They don't want to play under pressure."
Conte arrived at Spurs with a well-earned reputation as a serial winner. The former manager of the Italian national team went on to win three Serie A titles as Juventus boss, led Chelsea to its most recent Premier League crown in 2017 and ended Inter Milan's 11-year wait to become Italian champion in 2021.
Initially the signs were encouraging for Conte, and for Tottenham as well. He guided them to an impressive top-four finish last season, coming from behind to take the final Champions League slot from North London rival Arsenal. But familiar alarm bells started to ring during the summer transfer window, when Conte bemoaned Levy's preference for signing younger players with sell-on potential. Longtime Conte watchers have grown accustomed to the Italian's habit of blaming his employers for his teams' problems.
Despite his success, his spells at Chelsea and Inter also ended over transfer disagreements. At Tottenham, there weren't even any trophies won to make his rants more palatable.
© Agence France-Presse
For Levy, competing for CL spots IS winning. Conte's not wrong, but some gamblers are just happy to keep playing at the craps table. Losing HK will overturn Levy's apple cart.