After just four months and 17 games in charge, Tottenham Hotspur have sacked manager Nuno Espírito Santo and replaced him with Antonio Conte, known by fans as ‘The Godfather’. The departed Nuno won Premier League Manager of the Month in August just seven league games ago, making the dismissal appear, at first glance, a little hasty. However, Daniel Levy and many of the Spurs faithful will believe that in this case, the ends justify the means. Those ends come in the shape of Antonio Conte, who is considered to be on the elite level of European managers. The Italian, 52, arrives with the reputation of someone who delivers instant success.
Conte is no stranger to the Premier League, having previously managed Spurs’ rivals, Chelsea. When Conte took over in 2016, the Blues had just finished 10th in the league after a typically tumultuous season with Jose Mourinho. He went on to win the title in his first year at Stamford Bridge, making previously forgotten players such as Victor Moses look like world-beaters. Transforming underperforming sides could be considered Conte’s party trick. In 2011 he took charge of a mediocre Juventus and went on to win three Serie A titles in his three years at the club. Six years later Juventus had now won nine league titles in a row, but it was none other than Conte himself who ended The Old Lady’s era of dominance, by lifting the trophy with underdogs Inter Milan. Now he will be expected to work similar miracles in North London, but there are serious question marks over whether this squad is good enough to do it.
At both Chelsea and Inter Conte used his trademarked 3-4-3 system to great avail, featuring dynamic wingbacks that aren’t afraid to get forward and contribute to the goal-scoring of the team. He has already employed this system at Spurs in his first game in charge, a 3-2 win over Dutch side Vitesse in the UEFA Conference League. Whilst getting off to a winning start will have pleased the new boss, this game illustrates the frailties that still exist in this Spurs side. Conte likes his teams to be hard to beat and solid at the back, and judging by the game on Thursday, he has a lot of work to do to make that happen.
The key to any success the Italian will have at Tottenham is Harry Kane. The England striker has looked a shadow of his former self this season, after he tried, and failed, to force a move to Manchester City this summer. Kane has only registered one goal in the league so far, his worst start since 2014/15. The blame, however, can’t be placed solely on Kane’s shoulders. A striker is only as good as the service he’s provided, which has been woeful so far this year. As a result, the team currently have an expected goals per game (xG) of just 0.94, the third-lowest in the league.
Time will tell if Antonio Conte can turn this Spurs side into a formidable force, but it is hard to think of a better man to take on the challenge. While Daniel Levy and the Tottenham board have made many mistakes, they deserve credit for pulling off what has to be one of the greatest managerial coups in recent memory.
Image credit: Clément Bucco-Lechat