Antonio Conte: How 16 volatile months at Tottenham unravelled

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Antonio Conte arrived at Tottenham in November 2021, following the sacking of Nuno Espirito Santo
Antonio Conte arrived at Tottenham in November 2021, following the sacking of Nuno Espirito Santo

Antonio Conte’s tempestuous Tottenham tenure has come to an end after a predictability volatile 16 months in charge, but with none of the silverware the club gambled on when appointing the Italian.

Taking a job in November 2021 which he had initially turned down in the summer, Conte delivered Spurs Champions League football and was backed in the transfer market – albeit not to the extent he would have liked.

But he failed in cup competitions and, off the field, suffered the tragic loss of three close friends, as well having to undergo gallbladder surgery himself.

The 53-year-old’s relationship with the club then moved beyond repair when he delivered a remarkable tirade following the draw at Southampton, in which he branded his players “selfish” and criticised the club’s culture over the past 20 years.

Here’s how Conte’s short but stormy stay in north London unravelled.

Tottenham get their man

Conte arrives at Tottenham on 2 November 2021 as a serial winner, but only after initially spurning a move to north London in the summer when talks broke down about becoming Jose Mourinho’s successor.

Instead, Conte replaces Nuno Espirito Santo and proclaims he is happy to be back coaching with a “Premier League club that has the ambition to be a protagonist again”.

Having penned an 18-month contract, the Conte era begins with a 3-2 Europa Conference League win over Vitesse, before a goalless draw at Everton and a first Premier League win as Spurs boss over Leeds United.

But when his side suffer an embarrassing defeat by Slovenian side NS Mura in Europe, Conte delivers a telling assessment in which he says there as “an important gap” between Spurs and the top teams, his side’s level is “not so high” and he is not a “magician”.

Conte questions Spurs future

Conte’s monologue has the desired effect as his team go unbeaten for the rest of the year and appear in decent form until a trip to Stamford Bridge for the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg.

Spurs limp to a 2-0 defeat causing Conte to emphasise the gap between the teams, effectively calling Tottenham a mid-table club and asking for patience.

Spurs also lose the second leg but maintain Conte’s unbeaten start in the Premier League with an incredible comeback at Leicester, as Steven Bergwijn scores in the 95th and 97th minute to secure a 3-2 win.

That undefeated streak comes to an abrupt end with another loss to Chelsea the following week that sparks a three-game losing run in the league – the first time Conte has lost three league games in a row since his days managing Atalanta in 2009.

But the Italian responds by masterminding another dramatic 3-2 victory at Manchester City, this time thanks to Harry Kane’s 95th-minute winner.

Spurs head to Burnley four days later seemingly full of confidence only to suffer a 1-0 defeat that leads a frustrated Conte to question his future: “I came here to help the club and if the problem could be the coach I’m ready to go, no problem.”

Top-four battle goes to the wire

Conte claims his outburst was strategic and Spurs, despite losing to Middlesbrough in the FA Cup, hit goalscoring form in the Premier League – putting four past Leeds and Aston Villa and scoring five against both Everton and Newcastle.

A blip in April puts Arsenal in pole position for fourth spot, but Spurs beat their north London rivals 3-0 during the run-in and, after Mikel Arteta suggests Conte’s side could still lose at Norwich on the final day, Tottenham produce an emphatic 5-0 win to seal a Champions League place.

Conte says the achievement is as good as winning a trophy and appears committed to the club.

Tottenham’s owners announce a £150m investment, with Richarlison, Yves Bissouma, Ivan Perisic, Djed Spence, Clement Lenglet and Fraser Forster all joining in the summer.

A traumatic few months for Conte

Tottenham begin the new season with a 4-1 win against Southampton and fight back to draw 2-2 at Chelsea after Kane’s 96th-minute equaliser – their boss shows his passion on the touchline and a fiery handshake leads to a bust-up with Thomas Tuchel that ends with them both being dismissed.

Spurs’ unbeaten start is tempered by defeat at Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League and then wiped out by a 3-1 loss to Arsenal, as Conte continually refuses to address his future.

The Italian then suffers the loss of three close friends in four months. First, Spurs mourn the death of fitness coach Gian Piero Ventrone in October following an illness, while Conte also loses former team-mates Sinisa Mihajlovic and Gianluca Vialli to leukaemia and pancreatic cancer respectively.

In February, after an FA Cup win at Preston, Conte feels unwell and has to have his gallbladder removed in emergency surgery in Italy.

Spurs beat Manchester City in his absence but suffer a 4-1 defeat at Leicester on his return, then lose 1-0 in their Champions League last-16 first leg at AC Milan, with Conte advised to stay in Italy to spend more time recovering.

Beware the ides of March…

Spurs begin the month fourth in the league and, despite playing increasingly negative football, have hopes of progressing in the Champions League and FA Cup.

Conte, recovering in Italy, watches on as his much-changed side limp out of the latter in a 1-0 defeat by Championship outfit Sheffield United that proves a turning point for many fans.

A week later, Conte is back in the dugout as Tottenham draw 0-0 against AC Milan on the back of another uninspiring performance to exit the Champions League, with Conte suggesting to Italian media he could be sacked before the end of the season.

Spurs beat Nottingham Forest 3-1 at home but then surrender a 3-1 lead to draw at Southampton, sparking a furious and emotional 10-minute rant from the coach in which he calls his players “selfish” and says they “play for themselves”, while also questioning the club’s mentality.

It is a tirade that splits opinion, with some insisting the Italian is only telling the truth, but it proves to be a point of no return for Conte at the club as on 26 March his turbulent spell at Tottenham is brought to an end.

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