Nuno Espírito Santo has been sacked by Tottenham Hotspur after only four months in charge, ending a marriage that was doomed from the very beginning. Antonio Conte has had a change of heart and has picked Spurs as his next club. Will success follow him once again and (finally) arrive at The Lilywhites’ door?
Earlier in May, when Wolverhampton Wanderers lost 1-2 at home to Manchester United on the final day of the 2020-21 Premier League season in what was his final match as their Head Coach, Nuno Espírito Santo was applauded off the ground by the fans as a mark of gratitude for the four great years he had had with them.
Last Saturday, as Tottenham Hotspur lost 0-3 at home to Manchester United, Nuno was jeered and booed off the pitch by the home fans in what eventually turned out to be his final game as Spurs’ Head Coach.
The powers that be at Tottenham — principally, club chairman Daniel Levy and the Managing Director of Football Fabio Paratici — had seen enough. After getting the job in late June earlier this year, Nuno started off his Spurs career by beating Manchester City on the opening day of the 2021-22 Premier League season, eventually going on to win the league’s Manager of the Month award for August after winning his first three league matches. Less than two months after receiving the award, he was gone.
Nuno’s quick dismissal undoubtedly looks harsh, but letting him continue did not seem like an option either. Put in an impossible situation, Nuno arrived at the club knowing he was only there because the club failed spectacularly in their attempts to land a manager they actually wanted. Everyone at the club knew that, especially the players, meaning Nuno never really had a strong footing from the get-go.
Under Nuno, Spurs won marginally but lost heavily. The football was drab, creativity was stunted, and Nuno’s taciturn comportment did little to help the situation, if at all. After José Mourinho’s term ended, the team needed a jolt of positive energy and a rallying cry to bring the players together, as was the case in the days of Mauricio Pochettino. Nuno did not deliver on that, and the recent Mourinho experience for the players and fans only worked against him.
This was a move that should never have happened in the first place, and with so much stacked against him, it was only a matter of time before Nuno got his marching orders.
But Nuno was not the root of all problems at Spurs. If anything, his hiring-and-firing reflects poorly on Levy and Paratici. Levy’s promise of “free-flowing, attacking and entertaining” football and his continuous involvement in the club’s footballing decisions despite the presence of Paratici, who himself wanted to go for someone who could bring solidity to the side, meant that these two almost diametrically opposite plans of action resulted in a manager that the two did not want in the first place, but when they did appoint him, he could give them neither entertainment nor solidity.
How the relationship between Levy and Paratici pans out in the future remains to be seen. For now, though, the two seem to have come together to outstanding effect to find a replacement for Nuno.
Going into the match on Saturday, Man United and Ole Gunnar Solskjær were the ones facing heavy fire after their 5-0 humiliation against Liverpool the week before. By beating Spurs, though, Ole has ended up taking the one guy off the market that was being heavily reported as his replacement.
Yes, Antonio Conte has had a change of heart and has joined Tottenham on an 18-month deal. He was one of the many managers Spurs failed to sign in the summer. Back then, protracted negotiations with the Italian bore no fruit.
Conte famously does not take a managerial job mid-season. The last time he did so was in December 2007. He was reportedly ‘very’ interested in joining Manchester United because of the club’s stature. Why, then, has he decided to join Spurs in-season having rejected them earlier in the summer?
Well, the situation at Spurs was a lot more tumultuous in the summer than it is at the moment. Harry Kane, their best player, was doing all he could to get a move away. There was a lot of deadwood at the club that needed clearing, with new players needed to be onboarded. Spurs’ managerial search did not make for a good look either. Moreover, with Paratici’s ideas looking so different from Levy’s from the beginning, with the latter continuing to be involved in the footballing decisions, it was anybody’s guess as to how much influence the former could exert in rebuilding the squad.
Things look a lot more stable now. Kane is staying for the season, though his performances suggest he is still hurting from what transpired in the summer. A lot of players deemed surplus to requirement — the likes of Erik Lamela, Toby Alderweireld, Joe Hart, Moussa Sissoko and Juan Foyth — have been moved on, and the arrivals of Pierluigi Gollini, Cristian Romero, Bryan Gil and Emerson Royal suggest Paratici is able to use his network and know-how to improve this Tottenham squad.
Spurs are in the quarterfinals of the Carabao Cup (and this time Man City are not there) with the FA Cup still to come, not to mention their European campaign in the UEFA Europa Conference League. In the Premier League, after Gameweek 10, they sit ten points off the top and five points off West Ham United in fourth.
With only a quarter of the season over and everything left to fight for, with the last international break of the year upon us, if there ever was an ideal opportunity to join a team mid-season and get some time to whip the players into shape, this would be it.
Considering all of that, Conte’s pre-existing relationship with Paratici, and Man United’s reluctance in dismissing Solskjær have seen the 52-year-old come back to London to once again ply his trade in the league he has yearned to return to.
If Conte’s record with the Italian men’s national team is anything to go by, it is very likely that Spurs under him will become more comfortable punching above their weight. He also has a great track record of improving the players he coaches. If you were to superimpose one of his preferred three-at-the-back systems on the current set of Tottenham players, you would get a very exciting team.
That Conte will improve Spurs and make them a competent team is not at all doubtful. However, the short-termist nature of his tenures will be a matter of concern amongst some of the Tottenham faithful. Conte’s successes at the clubs he has been at are well documented, but so are his continuous demands for squad reinforcement to his employers. When those demands are not meant, Conte walks, just like he did at Juventus and Inter Milan. To that end, one can only hope Paratici’s previous experience with him helps with the inevitable turbulence, though how that will pan out with Daniel Levy presiding over both of them is anybody’s guess, but it will most certainly be dramatic.
In the cases of Juventus and Inter Milan, Conte’s departure was handled seamlessly, though the common factor in both of those cases was the presence of Giuseppe Marotta, former CEO of Juventus and the current CEO for sport of Inter Milan. At Juventus, Marotta replaced Conte with Massimiliano Allegri, who continued building upon the consecutive Serie A title wins that began with Conte. At Inter Milan, Marotta has chosen Simone Inzaghi as Conte’s successor, whose style of play ensures that the team continue to play well and build upon Conte’s foundations despite their owner’s financial troubles rumbling on in the background.
(The Nerazzuri are currently third in Serie A, seven points off Napoli in first.)
Marotta left Juventus in October 2018, and within three years Inter Milan ended The Old Lady’s monopoly in Serie A with Beppe at the helm. While Paratici gets his due credit for the work he did at Sampdoria and Juventus, many believe Marotta to be the more important one of the two. It will be interesting to see how things work out between Conte and Paratici with Levy at the helm instead of Marotta.
It may as well turn out to be short, but Conte’s tenure at Spurs will certainly be a must-follow. His football will be educational, and his team’s — and his own — performances will be entertaining. With ample time left in the season, and Manchester United not looking too keen on being able to establish themselves as the fourth-best team in the league, Conte will love to not only leave them behind but also disrupt the current dominance of Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City over the rest of the league.
Earlier this year, Conte ended a dynasty in Italy — a dynasty he started — as he won the Serie A title with Inter Milan. Winning a major competition with Tottenham, a club trophyless since 2008? Now that would be something else.