I didn’t want to do it, but I am going to. Yep, I’m planting a flag on the whole Antonio Conte thing because I think it perfectly captures the difference between being strategic and reactionary when it comes to the beautiful game.
Daniel Levy has had an up and down career at Spurs. His peak was undoubtedly hiring Mauricio Pochettino. The guy had vision, he was charismatic, everyone loved him, and he delivered as much as one could without silverware.
That’s when things started going wrong. You can luck out in business, catch fire without really knowing why, and that seems to be what happened here. Just look at how many visionary business people that can never replicate their initial success. Steve Jobs did Apple, Pixar, and NeXT… Mark Zuckerburg made ranking babes a billion dollar venture and hasn’t had an innovation since.
Serial success comes from thinking strategically.
After making the Champions League final, Poch was very public about the dip that was coming, but Daniel Levy didn’t have the stomach to take the pain of the rebuilt. Ray Dalio, one of the greats of the hedge fund game, always says that people run from things that hurt in life which is why they fail to improve.
So where did Levy run? To the place of least pain, at least on paper. He looked at a Champions League finalist squad and instead of understanding why it made it that far, he assumed… incorrectly. His assumption was that Spursy in elite football was a thing and there was only one man that could fix it: Jose Mourinho. Why? Because he’s a ‘winner.’
That move made sense to the countless people that talk about ‘elite’ online without knowing what it means. It was clear that the squad he inherited was not going to react well to an old school dictator telling them they were soft boys. Poch was a modern leader, empathetic, understanding, and mentor like. Jose came in, did his usual wrecking ball job, and left a mess. The mess was so extreme, no manager in Europe wanted to touch it. One would assume that the money wasn’t there for the rebuild, Daniel Levy wanted to control things, and their new tech director isn’t that impressive.
They landed on Nuno. A second Mendes shill. What was the thinking there? Is he a master of coaching? No. Is he a visionary? No. Does he play the sort of football Spurs fans demand? No. He’s a coach that shills for super agents. That’s why the Valencia fans heckled him out despite him making top 4 for them. That mistake, which we all saw coming, cost them £10m.
So now they’re at attempt number 3 post-reboot and Daniel Levy has made the most unimaginative hire possible. He’s gone all-in on a ‘winner’ again. Can I knock the talent of Antonio Conte? Absolutely not. He’s a winner. He improves all types of players. He will 100% get an uptick in results because he’s ruthlessly organised.
But what is underpinning this decision?
What is the strategy? Because ‘winning’ isn’t a strategy I’m afraid.
Conte is a short term fix, but for me, he’s a very rich fix for a very different type of problem.
What are the ingredients for 2021 Antonio Conte to work.
He needs to work with good players.
When he rolled into Chelsea, the job he did wasn’t a miracle. He took over a squad that had won a title in 2015 and he made them purr that season. He did a fabulous job, but let’s be clear, Jose Mourinho did the hard work on that squad. They were winners. It was a more elite version of what Emery did for Arsenal over the first 21 games.
He moved to Inter Milan under the guidance of Beppe Morotta, arguably the best technical director on the planet. He was given money to spend, but he was controlled. He beat out a Juventus in decline after they moved on Allegri. A terrific job, but he had loads of resource and elite people surrounding him.
Modern Conte needs money. He needs good players. He needs to make an impact fast.
I’m not sure he has that at Spurs.
There’s a tremendous leadership job to be done as well.
Harry Kane doesn’t want to be there. I have extreme doubts Conte changes the equation for him because being an elite manager in the Premier League at the moment, in all reality, is hardly a game-changer. Being a ‘winner’ doesn’t mean anything in a league with Tuchel, Klopp, and Pep Guardiola. Spurs is a rebuild, Kane is 28 years old, he doesn’t want to be the old man crowning a 3 year journey with an FA Cup win.
Antonio Conte is on record saying that he’d rather kill a player than let him upset the camp. That’s his style. It’s brute force dictatorship. The Italian might have a different approach to Mourinho, but it lives in the same world. Do we think that sort of approach is going to map to the profile of the players? It didn’t under Jose or Nuno.
He also needs money and he will bang the door for it. When he was let loose at Chelsea, he made some pretty dire signings, then proceeded to crash the team the next season… throwing the players under the bus when he did it.
Then you wade into some of the murky details. Conte already said no in the summer. We know he’s on record saying Spurs is second rate. What changed?
Football knows Conte. His team were fast out the traps for the United role because that is the job for him. He’s built for that sort of expensive mess. In my view, if he’s taking Spurs it’s because United told him there wasn’t going to be a job for him, and more broadly, there wasn’t a better offer in Europe. No Barca, No Madrid, No Paris… so Spurs became the only option on the table.
I don’t know how many times I need to say this: There is nothing elite about being difficult to work with in 2021. You can’t be ‘too much of a winner’ and use that to write off bad behaviour. Someone was talking to me on Twitter yesterday, explaining Conte’s eliteness, and in the same breath admitting he crashed his second season at Chelsea because ‘he didn’t get the players he wanted.’ Can you imagine doing that in any other business? No. Because it’s embarrassing. Sulking because you want things your way is what children do.
But… he does win things.
He won the Premier League with record points.
He broke the Juventus stranglehold on Serie A.
He has an aura that follows him from club to club.
It’s a big signing for Spurs and it will feel very good for them right now.
I’m just not sure he’s the fit for where they need to go.
This is a desperate hire. £15m a year for a brand name that will bring a 20 person coaching staff is not how football works in 2021. I am going to be honest here, I’d have been more worried if they’d given Graham Potter or Ten Haag the keys to the castle for the next 5 years. They didn’t, you know why? Because it’s painful.
Arsenal went down a crappier version of this path with Unai Emery. We invested in ‘nearly’ players that looked good on paper but couldn’t deliver. Last summer, we did the same, it didn’t work.
So what are we doing this season? We’re taking the pain. We’ve alligned on a strategy that meets where we are as a club. We’re going to build back based on a Project Premium Youth model. It will be tough because getting back to the top is tough. But you know what? It’s sustainable. You know what is elite? Sustainable models in football.
RB Leipzig is a sustainable model of football. They grow coaches and players and have a standardised way of playing across 4 countries. They can still compete even when they lose Nagelsmann or Marco Rose. Why? Because the strategy is clear and it is ruthlessly adhered to.
Liverpool are peak sustainable. They have a clear approach to how they operate. They have a very specific style of football. They win trophies and maintain an incredible level of football. There’s no drama up there.
Manchester City is another side that does that same. They have a style that has been implemented up and down the club. They don’t fire their manager all the time. They are now developing elite young talent and compliment the side with big signings every year.
Teams that aren’t sustainable?
Manchester United. There’s a vision, but it’s not very good. They buy stars that don’t fit to any particular model. They chop and change their managers. They don’t really progress. It’s a mess because they live in a world of star fuckery. Jadon doesn’t get games, despite costing £70m. Ronaldo gets all the games, despite being 36. It’s about share price over there and selling shirts. They’d be more dangerous with an actual vision that was sustainable.
Spurs might make top 4 this season, but they are not working with a vision of 5 years in mind, because if they were, the chances are, they’d not have hired Conte.
So in short, there’s a lot of glitz, there’s a lot of ‘THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT’ from people that don’t know, and I suspect that all that glitters is not gold might be a truism here.
Well, I hope so. Let’s see what they have. Top 4 just got spicier.