London (AFP) – New Tottenham manager Antonio Conte is a serial winner who can change the club’s underachieving culture but he is also a volatile personality sure to ruffle feathers on his return to the Premier League.
Conte was hired by Tottenham on Tuesday to replace Nuno Espirito Santo following the abrupt end of the Portuguese coach’s turbulent four-month reign on Monday.
As a Premier League title winner with Chelsea in 2017, Conte’s credentials are far more impressive than those of the much-maligned Nuno.
The 52-year-old led Inter Milan to their first Serie A crown in 11 years last term, won the Italian title three times with Juventus and also managed Italy for two years.
Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy first approached Conte in the close season before hiring Nuno, but was said to have been put off by his reported demand for £100 million ($136 million) to spend on new signings.
Having buried their differences following Tottenham’s renewed approach, Conte now has to turn the tide at a club once again mired in mediocrity as they languish in ninth place in the Premier League.
Danny Blanchflower, captain of Tottenham’s last title-winning team in 1961, provided the spiritual compass for the club when he memorably said: “The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It’s nothing of the kind. The game is about glory. It is about doing things in style.”
But for all the flashes of genius from Ricky Villa, Glenn Hoddle, Paul Gascoigne and Gareth Bale down the years, the Tottenham job has been a poisoned chalice for managers unable to fulfil fans’ desire to marry a successful team with a stylish approach.
– ‘War machine’ –
Without a major trophy in 13 years, Tottenham are further down the pecking order than the European heavyweight clubs Conte has previously managed.
Even from afar, Conte, then in charge at Chelsea, appeared to spot the lack of ambition at the heart of Tottenham’s failings four years ago.
“If Spurs don’t win the title, it’s not a tragedy,” Conte said at the time.
“If their ambitions are to fight for the title or win the Champions League, you must buy expensive players. Otherwise you continue to stay in your level. It’s simple.”
Changing that mentality will be Conte’s mission in north London.
But his typically acerbic transfer broadside should also be remembered if he does not get the backing he will surely have requested from Levy.
Chelsea’s failure to deliver the targets Conte wanted after he won the title infuriated him so much that he went public with his complaints, effectively condemning himself to the sack despite winning the FA Cup in 2018.
He also froze out Diego Costa at Stamford Bridge following a failed attempt to replace the striker.
Conte left Inter in acrimonious fashion after the club’s owners angered him by revealing they had to sell several key players to balance the books.
The abrasive Italian certainly has his admirers, including Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, who has described him as a “master” tactically.
To achieve his ambitions at Tottenham, Conte will lay the foundations in his punishing training sessions.
“He is like a police sergeant,” Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini once said of his time with Conte.
“When you finish training, you are dead. Not tired — dead. You can do it only because you believe in what he does.”
If that sounds alarming for the Spurs players, they might be reassured by Conte’s commitment to an attacking game-plan.
Inter scored more than 100 goals for two seasons in a row in all competitions, while Conte dubbed Chelsea a “war machine” as they scored 85 goals on the way to winning the Premier League in his first season.
Conte will need to draw on all the weapons at his disposal as he starts potentially the most challenging role of his managerial career.
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