After kicking out the man from Wolves, Daniel Levy has gone and invited Antonio Conte to dinner. It is both exciting and quite possibly the Tottenham chairman’s latest act of self-harm.
The coming day or so ought to tell us whether the finer details of a deal can be concluded, and from there we can only wonder what might play out when Conte signs.
Doubtless it would be a coup for Levy if he is able to bring one of the world’s finest managers to his magnificent castle. But it is also reasonable at this moment to question if his judgment is equal to the gig on these sorts of calls, and, indeed, if he has really thought this through. By that, you query how many times one lad can return home with magic beans before he loses responsibility for the cows.
Spurs have gotten rid of Nuno Espirito Santo (R) and have now turned to Antonio Conte (L)
We saw it with the miscalculations of the Jose Mourinho appointment, the ending of which could scarcely have been more scripted had it been foretold in the Old Testament, and we saw it again with the grim demise of Nuno Espirito Santo, arguably the eighth-choice replacement.
And so to this move for Conte, that serial winner of trophies and a habitual starter of fires; a manager who won the League and FA Cup in two seasons at Chelsea and left in 2018 to the chilly tone of a 64-word club statement, not a ‘thank you’ among them.
That can be the dance with this guy — if there is potential at a club he will realise it, every last drop, but if there is a fight to be had, he will have that, too.
It was not for nothing that Willian once described him as a ‘great coach’, a builder of defences and the architect of a tactical masterpiece with his three-man backline. Willian, you might remember, also chose to use trophy emojis to block Conte out of a picture of Chelsea celebrating the 2018 FA Cup, owing to what the Brazilian spelled out as ‘a lot of problems with several players’.
Conte is one of the world’s best managers and his arrival would be a huge coup for Tottenham
However, the conditions have to be right for him and Spurs are in turmoil at the moment
By then, Conte was already punching upwards at his bosses over Chelsea’s transfer plans, too.
With his combustible nature and reluctance to compromise so well documented, it makes you doubt the wisdom of this move, albeit not so much because of Conte. His awkwardness, which some might present as his strength, is a known quantity and has proved to be worth it at every club — promotions with Bari and Siena, six major trophies across his time with Juventus, Chelsea and Inter Milan, and a quarter-final place at Euro 2016 with a weak Italy squad.
So the results of his approach justify the sparks. The problem with this plan is that Tottenham are dripping with petrol — they are paying off a stadium, have no proven appetite or means for a squad overhaul, a star striker in Harry Kane who doesn’t wish to be there, and a chairman in Levy known for his micro-management.
Given the right conditions, Conte is good enough to work a miracle, but do those conditions really exist at Tottenham? Can a manager famed for wanting control, especially around transfers, thrive under a financially cautious chairman? A manager who heard Spurs’ pitch in June and wasn’t convinced then?
Conte, 52, also boasts flaws showcased throughout his decorated career as a manager
He has fallen out with his players and former Chelsea star Willian once took aim at the Italian
While it is hard to understand quite what Conte might gain from Tottenham now, particularly under the flimsy commitment of an 18-month contract, it is far easier to see where the fault lines will exist.
As far as the club are concerned, the hope must be that the recruitment of Fabio Paratici as managing director of football can lubricate against future frictions, given he and Conte worked successfully together at Juventus.
If Paratici can somehow keep each man’s ambition on similar trajectories, the temptation to get Conte is self-explanatory, and perhaps best illustrated in the transformative effect he always brings.
Conte also has found difficulties working with those above him and that could pose problems with Daniel Levy
The numbers are a good guide on that. In his first season at Juventus, after securing quick promotions to Serie A for both Bari and Siena at the start of his managerial career, he instantly improved them by 26 points, going from seventh in 2010-11 under Luigi Delneri to champions in 2011-12. They won the title in each of the next two campaigns.
When he arrived at Chelsea in 2016, they had just finished 10th. After his first season, they had added 43 points with 30 wins from 38, taking the title in a league featuring Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino.
The pattern for a quick impact was cemented at Inter, where he led them to second in his first season, while in the next he delivered their first Serie A in 11 years. Spurs clearly dream of that bounce.
But there is no doubt that he has an instant impact, as seen at Juventus, Inter and Chelsea
If there is a fallacy around Conte’s achievements, it concerns his spending. While he has never done his work on a shoestring, it has not been wild, either. At Juventus, his biggest expenditure in the creation of an empire was £16million on Kwadwo Asamoah; at Chelsea and Inter the net outgoings were never highest among the elite in a given season.
Of course, it is one thing to spend less than Manchester City, quite another to build anything of consequence if Tottenham keep to their recent model of player investment. Even before a contract is signed, that feels like the weakness in this potential new relationship with a manager who has fallen out with varying degrees of aggression with the hierarchies at Juventus, Chelsea and Inter.
There will again be players who love him — Italy and Juve captain Giorgio Chiellini says playing under Conte’s obsessive regime is like ‘entering another world’ — and there will be those who thrive, with his reputation for improving strikers particularly relevant. Then again, there might be players who block him out of pictures and more rows with those above.