2k runs BEFORE games and negative talk: how Antonio Conte’s Tottenham reign turned sour
Towards the end of January, Antonio Conte gathered his Tottenham players at the club’s Enfield HQ for a heart-to-heart talk.
The Italian wanted to get to the bottom of the team’s run of one in five Premier League wins, including three damaging defeats.
When the last player arrived, Conte walked out and told his players he wanted them to find the solution to their pathetic form.
There was a feeling in the squad that performances and results were hampered by Conte’s rigid and defensive tactics. When older players got in touch with Conte after the crisis talks, they begged him to untie the bonds and be more expansive in their attacking game.
Spurs won five of their next six home games before the FA Cup defeat at Sheffield United, which marked not only the beginning of the end of Conte’s reign but also the team’s newfound openness.
Tottenham are without a manager after Antonio Conte left by mutual agreement on Sunday
Meanwhile, the Italian’s intensive training program has brought the players to their knees. Conte often made them walk 2km before games. The players wouldn’t dare moan within earshot, but secretly they were stunned.
Surely they should reserve energy for the heat of the moment? There was a lot more criticism of regimented training sessions. “Same training every day, same tactics every day,” a source said.
Conte was set to return to Spurs after the international break in Italy. There are a number of players returning over the next 24 hours, relieved to have been spared an awkward reunion.
But sometimes it’s not the manager’s fault. Sometimes it’s the players – as Conte pointed out in the infamous tirade against his squad – that cost him his job.
This is the same group of players who turned against Jose Mourinho and Nuno Espirito Santo. The same group that complained about the dour atmosphere ahead of Mauricio Pochettino’s departure.
Ironically, some of these players are now pining for Pochettino’s return, although there are big doubts they will grant their wish. There is one common denominator: And it’s not the managers.
Perhaps Conte could have radiated more positivity than the negativity that was wearing down his squad and staff. Perhaps chairman Daniel Levy should have done more to sign Conte’s targets, particularly Alessandro Bastoni or Josko Gvardiol. Or maybe the players just aren’t good enough. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
If Conte had had his time again, would he have done things differently? Probably not. But if he returns to management, most likely to Serie A, there are lessons to be learned. His unpredictability angered many. His habit of changing training schedules at short notice is a particular bugbear.
The Italian manager often made his players run 2K runs before games
Spurs players have also turned on Nuno Espirito Santo (L) and Jose Mourinho in recent years
The Italian was so furious after the team’s defeat at Sporting Lisbon in September that he brought the 2pm training session forward to 11am. Arriving in London in the early hours of the morning, the team was not well received.
Whenever schedule permitted, Conte would dash back to Italy to spend time with his wife Elisabetta and daughter Vittoria, who have remained in Turin.
The fact that Conte booked his own flights, using low-cost airline Ryanair, was something the staff found endearing. It’s Conte’s low-maintenance side that we don’t get to see.
In fact, not everyone will be happy to see Conte’s backside. Away from football he is warm and caring. Even funny. But at the time of his departure there was little will among those in power at the club, aside from football director Fabio Paratici, to continue with Conte.
In fact, sources have pointed out that Conte’s relationship with Levy was so strained that Paratici effectively acted as a liaison between the two in the final months of the head coach’s tenure.
Talks between Conte and the club about the terms of his departure also proved difficult. But in a board fight, there was always only one winner. It is understood Levy will insist on staying at Tottenham in the event of a future sale. He’s in it for the long haul; Many at Tottenham knew Conte wasn’t.
Daniel Levy’s relationship with Conte became so strained that they needed a middleman
The hierarchy grew tired of his public jabs at the club’s ambitions and angered by the narrative that it was Conte who would decide whether to leave in the summer.
By January there had been a boardroom shift. Tottenham were no longer keen for Conte to extend his contract. Until February, it was a question of when, not if, he would go.
The team finished in the top four last season but even then there were trust issues over concerns Conte wanted the Paris Saint-Germain head coaching job and made no secret of it through his intermediaries.
There was always a feeling that Tottenham were under Conte, that he was doing them a favour. That never sat well with those in positions of power at the club.
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