Tottenham Hotspur are stuck in limbo, two days after Antonio Conte publicly set fire to his relationship with the team.
It was a quiet 48 hours at the club’s training ground in the north London suburb of Enfield. All players were given Sunday and Monday off, as is normal at the start of the international break. And Conte is back home in Italy, where he tends to go at the start of one of those windows.
It is only on Tuesday that the players will start to return to action, and even then it will only be those who are not playing any international football for the next week or so: the likes of Lucas Moura, Clement Lenglet, Japhet Tanganga, Arnaut Danjuma, Alfie Whiteman and Brandon Austin. And Ryan Sessegnon. Hugo Lloris will train as he prepares to return to action after two months out with a knee injury. Richarlison and Ben Davies, who both pulled out of international duty, will receive treatment sometime this week.
Behind the scenes, however, Daniel Levy and Fabio Paracci – Conte’s latest ally at the club – are left pondering the question that has been inescapable since Conte’s comments on Saturday night: whether the time has come to sack him and complete this season with someone else. in the bunker.
When Conte finished his press conference at St Mary’s Stadium after the 3-3 draw away to Southampton, I felt he had made continuing as Spurs manager utterly unacceptable. He destroyed his players in public in a way unprecedented in modern football. He undermined any prospect of finishing strongly to secure fourth place and the Champions League berth for 2023-24 that comes with it. He dragged the name of the club that hired him into the mud. He made it almost impossible for Chief Levy to keep him in office.
But there was no sign of yesterday’s “club announcement” statement, so many Tottenham fans have been waiting. And this morning (Monday) there was no sign of that either. Conte is still in place as head coach.
At first, I was amazed that he should be able to survive this.
It was hard to make it more obvious that he wasn’t assessing his chances of motivating players during the final stretch of the season to achieve the only goal they had left. But Tottenham, despite recent cup disappointments at home and abroad, still have something important to play for in their remaining 10 league matches. Given how important Champions League qualification is to the club, surely they will want to act to preserve that?
But just because Conte has landed a Sunday and (so far) a Monday, doesn’t mean his job is necessarily secure. His status is still up in the air until now.
Yes, in the past, Tottenham used to announce the departure of managers on Monday morning after a difficult weekend. The sackings of Nuno Espirito Santo, Jose Mourinho and André Villas-Boas were announced at the start of the workweek (the last of those three, Villas-Boas, was announced by 11:03am on that particular Monday). When Conte arrived at lunchtime today, some felt it was safe.
But those three were dismissed during a routine part of the season, when matches were thick and fast. When Mourinho was sacked, Tottenham had a league game at home to Southampton on Wednesday to prepare for the Carabao Cup final, and then the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City at the weekend. Interim appointee Ryan Mason hasn’t had a minute in terms of preparing players for the crucial recent matches.
this is different. Tottenham’s next game is still two weeks away – they go to Everton on Monday, April 3rd. There is plenty of time in this window for Levi and Parachi to decide whether or not Conte can continue. And remember, when Levy sacked Mauricio Pochettino to be replaced by Mourinho, it wasn’t announced until Tuesday of the second week of the international break, 10 days after the Argentine’s last match.
Given the lack of first-team training this week, there is less pressure on the club to make a decision imminently. They won’t start filtering back into Hotspur Way until the beginning of next week. If Conte stays, he will have to face the players who threw them under the bus on Saturday.
His comments went down as badly as anyone with players would expect, ending any doubt about whether he had lost the dressing room. If Tottenham were fourth with Conte feeling unbearable after squandering a 3-1 lead 15 minutes before normal time to go to St Mary’s, it is now unlikely.
But since the majority of the team’s return won’t happen for another week, it gives Levi and Parachi the luxury of all that time to make up their minds, should they need it.
If Levy decides to do what he did two years ago and hand over the reins to assistant coach Mason for the rest of the season, the important thing is to give him most of next week with the whole team, rather than this one with the whole team. Bunch of guys who would be about.
And if Levy thinks it’s time to draw a line under Conte and move on with Mason, there is, of course, the matter of terminating the Italian’s contract. He has just over three months left on the deal he signed when appointed in November 2021, which would entitle him to nearly £4m ($4.9m) should he be sacked.
Even though things have calmed down since Saturday night, they can still move quickly from here. The ball is still in Levi’s court.
(Top photo: Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)
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