Former Chelsea Premier League-winning manager Antonio Conte agrees 18-month Tottenham deal, following Nuno Espirito Santo's sacking on Monday; Conte set to bring excitement but how much success can he achieve with this group of players?
Tuesday 2 November 2021 12:23, UK
Antonio Conte feels like the perfect remedy for the malaise Tottenham have slipped into.
Who better to reinvigorate this Spurs squad, which was passive and lacking penetration under Nuno, than the highly-charged Italian?
He's the antithesis of his tight-lipped Portuguese predecessor and his track record suggests that, from front to back, Conte will transform the approach, application and output of this Tottenham team.
In the final two hours and 16 minutes of playing time under Nuno, Spurs didn't have a shot on target. They rank 19th in the Premier League for shots and only two teams have scored fewer goals. In contrast, in six of Conte's last seven seasons as a manager, his sides have been among the top three scorers in their division.
At the other end of the pitch, Saturday's third 3-0 defeat of the season puts Spurs fifth-bottom in the Premier League for goals conceded. Conte's Inter Milan let in just 35 in 38 games last year.
Physically, the 99km covered per game on average by Nuno's men is the lowest figure in the league. When Conte was last here, he transformed Chelsea from 17th in that metric to third.
And the way these two managers see the game is very different too.
Nuno prized possession. After his team had 62 per cent of the ball but no shots in the second half during their recent derby defeat at West Ham he insisted Spurs had been the better side and dismissed David Moyes' players for "only creating chances on counter-attacks and set-pieces".
Conte knows the value of those two methods of attack and will favour a more direct plan to move the ball quickly into dangerous areas.
Will that shift in build-up play also suit Harry Kane? The hope will be that Conte's pedigree, A-list status and acumen kick-start the striker's season. Kane may have wanted out in the summer but Tottenham can't afford for him to be as anonymous as he has been in the past weeks.
The incoming manager's preferred tactical set-up of 3-5-2 could help, too.
The partnership between Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez was incredibly destructive for Inter last season, with Conte honing Lukaku's hold-up play and Martinez thriving around the Belgian.
They ended up with 41 goals between them, one more than Kane and Heung-Min Son combined for in the Premier League in 2020/21. You can picture Spurs' front two enjoying those roles in Conte's system.
The formation could quickly pay dividends across the pitch, with better protection for the reinforced backline and licence for Sergio Reguilon and Emerson Royal - who have both played wing-back - to get up and down the flanks, too.
Conte could well prove to be an inspirational figure for their main man and the rest of the squad - and bring the tactical ideas to get more out of them.
But what does Conte really think of this Tottenham team?
In the summer, when Spurs tried to bring him in as Jose Mourinho's replacement, there was a suggestion Conte would be too demanding in terms of finances for overhauling this squad. After all, he'd just walked out on Inter Milan after winning Serie A because their owners were looking to raise 80m Euros in player sales.
That success itself had been instigated by heavy investment in Lukaku, Nicolo Barella, Stefano Sensi and Valentino Lazaro.
Do Tottenham have the quality in this squad to actually deliver the success Conte is coming to London for? Conte will know the title contenders are currently out of Spurs' realm but he is a winner and will surely set his sights on a trophy and a top-four finish.
That's where the questions and concerns behind the excitement begin.
Will Levy and the Tottenham board back Conte in the January transfer window if they are on course for - or even struggling - to achieve those goals?
Conte has only signed an 18-month contract, so clearly this isn't seen as a long re-building project but he'll want the tools to achieve that short-term success - and Tottenham's past two seasons suggest this squad needs strengthening to reach those levels.
The financial impact of the new stadium and COVID can not be forgotten, though, and it's not hard to imagine a crunch point in the future when Conte's ambitions to kick the team on have to be mitigated by the club's economic restrictions.
Then there is the bigger picture and that tricky issue of 'the Spurs way'.
At the end of last season, Levy conceded he had strayed away from the core Spurs principles when he appointed Mourinho and said he was looking to "return to playing football with the style for which we are known - free-flowing, attacking and entertaining - whilst continuing to embrace our desire to see young players flourish from our Academy alongside experienced talent."
Conte's football can certainly be attacking and entertaining. Whether it completely fits the mould of former Spurs teams is up for debate, but balancing a quick turnaround with the time and patience required to blood young players would certainly be tough for Conte to juggle.
So is the search for the 'Spurs DNA' - the pursuit of which even the appointment of Nuno seemed at odds with - being put on hold again, as it was when Mourinho came in?
That may seem less important right now, and may continue to be a fringe debate if the team are winning. But, as we saw during the decline under Mourinho, it matters more if things don't work out as planned. Tottenham fans, quite rightly, want to be entertained.
However, those wider concerns can be put on the back burner for now. Conte is a coup for Spurs and optimism is the mood.
Spurs supporters can rub their hands at the prospect of a world-class coach coming to N17 and the likelihood of him taking them way beyond the levels they've seen so far this season.
Whether it is a partnership that can deliver the success both sides want this season and into next remains to be seen.
But it certainly won't be boring.
November 4: Tottenham vs Vitesse Arnhem - Europa Conference League, kick-off 8pm
November 7: Everton vs Tottenham - Premier League, kick-off 7pm
November 21: Tottenham vs Leeds - Premier League, kick-off 4.30pm, live on Sky Sports
November 25: NS Mura vs Tottenham - Europa Conference League, kick-off 5.45pm
November 28: Burnley vs Tottenham - Premier League, kick-off 2pm
December 2: Tottenham vs Brentford - Premier League, kick-off 7.30pm