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Antonio Conte’s land of the giants: How Tottenham boss beefed up his squad

Ledley King has spent the summer watching Tottenham grow. And grow. And grow. And as the new Spurs crushed Southampton in their Premier League opener, they sent a warning about their imposing new identity.

‘When I look at the squad, one of the first things that strikes me is the size of them,’ says King, a former Spurs captain and England centre back who stands tall at 6ft 2in.

‘It’s a very physical squad and that excites me. Being a somewhat physical defender back in my day, to see a team full of big, strong athletes is great.

Antonio Conte is trying to cultivate a team at Tottenham of physically imposing footballers

‘It definitely makes a difference when you’re standing in the tunnel before a game and look across and see a team of strong athletes who can run all day.’

Boss Antonio Conte has signed eight players — with a ninth, Destiny Udogie from Udinese, soon to be confirmed for £15million — since his arrival at Tottenham last November, all of them over 6ft tall.

Among those discarded have been Harry Winks, Giovani Lo Celso and Sergio Reguillon, all around 5ft 10in. Tanguy Ndombele is taller but falls well short of the level of intensity required and there appears to be little future at the club for Bryan Gil, who is 5ft 9in.

Tottenham have made an effort to ensure their players beefed up this summer ahead of hopeful title assault

Tottenham have made an effort to ensure their players beefed up this summer ahead of hopeful title assault

There is more to it, of course. Conte forged a title-winning team around the diminutive brilliance of Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kante at Chelsea. And his army of six-footers will be no use if they are short of technical quality.

Ryan Sessegnon and Lucas Moura remain very much in his plans. It is not purely about the giants. Nevertheless, the Italian is reshaping Spurs. He wants them bigger and stronger, more muscular and capable of running harder and for longer. Sessegnon spent his summer bulking up to impress the manager.

Discussing his extensive summer recruitment after Saturday’s 4-1 win against Saints, Conte said he targeted players with specific characteristics for a team built to produce ‘intense’ and ‘modern’ football.

Harry Kane  is one of those who has made an effort to put muscle mass on this summer

Harry Kane  is one of those who has made an effort to put muscle mass on this summer

‘The player has to have quality,’ he explained. ‘At the same time he has to be strong physically, a good engine and have stamina because this league is very, very difficult, totally different from other leagues. We need players to have quality but to be strong physically and to run a lot.’

The quest for depth has been another key element of the Conte revolution. With five substitutes to work with, he craves the ability to make changes without changing the profile of his team in terms of power and quality.

Tottenham started against Southampton with an average height of more than 6ft, made five changes and finished the game with the average height still towering above 6ft.

The front line of Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Dejan Kulusevski may look impenetrable for new £60m striker Richarlison, but there will be no shortage of opportunities as they rest and rotate to stay fresh and make strategic in-game changes across four competitions.

And while Davinson Sanchez might be able to play on the left side of three central defenders, Conte was determined to sign Clement Lenglet on loan from Barcelona for balance, gaining another left-footer to share the load with Ben Davies.

Eric Dier, an imposing footballer in Premier League terms, has become a key Conte lieutenant

Eric Dier, an imposing footballer in Premier League terms, has become a key Conte lieutenant

‘It’s important to have that balance of left-footed and right-footed players in the defence,’ says King, who was part of the coaching team at Spurs under Jose Mourinho but has reverted to an ambassadorial role at the club this season.

‘Maybe in my day it wasn’t so important. I was right-footed and I played on the left side my whole career. I’m not sure I’d get away with it now with such an emphasis on playing out from the back. It really is important to have a left-footed option and there’s competition for places. It will improve the team.

‘Back in the Champions League, squad depth is really important and it’s coming together nicely. We’re excited but we know how difficult it is. All teams are trying to improve but we want to be back in the top four places, we want to try to win the trophies available. That’ll be the aim.

‘Once you’re in the Champions League you want to stay in. That’s the test, to improve on last season’s performances.’

Bryan Gil is one of those deemed surplus to requirements by the current manager

Bryan Gil is one of those deemed surplus to requirements by the current manager

King, 41, was captain of the last Tottenham team to win a trophy, the League Cup in 2008.

‘There’s a lot of work to be done but there’s reason to be optimistic,’ he said. ‘The finish to the season was excellent. Everyone at the club went away buzzing and really looking forward to this season. There’s no doubt we’re all really excited by the players we’ve brought in and the squad we’re putting together.

‘New players give the rest of the players a lift. Speaking from experience, I know when new guys come in, you’re looking to show them how good a player you are and how good a team we are. It definitely creates that kind of mood.’

Djed Spence is a little over 6ft and has been signed for his physicality as well as technical ability

Djed Spence is a little over 6ft and has been signed for his physicality as well as technical ability

Sunday’s London derby against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge will provide a better understanding of Conte’s progress.

‘The most important thing is getting off to a good start,’ said King. ‘Believe it or not, there wasn’t a time I went into a season not believing we could win the league if we started the season right.

‘Obviously that didn’t happen, but I’m sure this group’s mentality will be the same. Let’s start the season well and see where we are.’

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