Antonio Conte plots future success for Tottenham as the rebuild gains momentum

Photo Credit: AP

There was a significant step forward made by Tottenham last season in the English Premier League. The North London club took a top-four finish to book themselves a place in the UEFA Champions League. But that, for head coach Antonio Conte, is just the first rung on the ladder of his work in progress with Tottenham.

The challenge ahead of the new 2022/23 season for Conte, is balancing the demands of the EPL and UEFA Champions League. The level of expectation now goes up for Tottenham. What can they deliver? Or more to the point, what can Antonio Conte lead them to next?

Steady start as Antonio Conte replaces Nuno

It’s easy to forget that Conte has not actually been at Tottenham for very long. He was only appointed head coach in November 2021. At the start of the season, Tottenham had taken former Wolves manager Nuno Espírito Santo on in the role.

But that was a disastrous fit as Nuno hadn’t been the club’s first choice by any stretch. Probably not even the second or third choice. With Nuno having no control over transfers and an underperforming squad, it was a disaster waiting to happen.

It was and despite Nuno winning the Premier League Manager of the Month award in August, Tottenham’s form crashed. After a run of five losses in seven, Nuno was sacked at the start of November. In came Conte who started life at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium with an eight-match unbeaten streak of league form.

Conte hits a bumpy road

But there was a bumpy road along the way. After losing a match against bottom side Burnley in February, Conte appeared to be feeling the stress. He insinuated in a press conference that maybe he wasn’t the right man for the club. That’s not something you see head coaches do. But in hindsight, it was perhaps Conte taking on full responsibility for the slump that they had been in.

The midweek defeat at Burley in the pouring rain was at the time, Tottenham’s fourth defeat in five Premier League games. The Italian admitted that things were going wrong and if the situation didn’t improve then maybe the partnership wasn’t right.

Maybe it had been a psychological play to motivate his side to better things. Following that strange press conference, Spurs romped to a 4-0 win at Leeds and then drubbed Everton 5-0 in their following two games.

They would lose in total, only two more Premier League matches for the rest of the campaign. In fact, Tottenham would end their season by winning 10 of their final 14 fixtures.

North London derby success highlight’s Tottenham’s steel

When Tottenham played host to great rivals Arsenal on May 12th, it was a clash that had huge importance in the race for a Top 4 Finish in the Premier League. A 3-0 victory for Tottenham in that derby match put Spurs into a new light.

Spurs handled the pressure of that match superbly, playing with confidence and self-belief. A first half-brace from Harry Kane, was capped by a strike early in the second half by Son Heung-Min. The 3-0 win gave Tottenham a foothold against Arsenal in the race for fourth. Had they lost that, they would not likely have caught the Gunners.

There was new steel running through them that hasn’t always been evident at the club during the Premier League era. They didn’t crumble. That resilience and grit are all down to Conte and are key factors that can only make Spurs stronger for the new season.

After beating Arsenal, Spurs won their final two matches of the season to secure Champions League football by two points ahead of their rivals. The fact that it was Arsenal they edged, would have made the success just that bit sweeter for Tottenham.

Realistic Targets for the 2022/23 season

The problem with success, however, is that the fans and pundits will expect more of the same. The bar has now been raised. It was their first top-four finish since the 2018/19 season. Given that Conte had been in the job for little over half of the season, it was a pretty solid return by him.

But anything less than another top-four finish in the 2022/23 Premier League season may be seen as a failure for the Lilywhites. So that’s the immediate goal for Conte’s Tottenham.

But is a Premier League title push a realistic expectation? Maybe not in the current top-flight climate with Manchester City and Liverpool looking light-years ahead of everyone else.

Current Premier League Top 4 Finish Odds

Chelsea 8/11
Tottenham 811
Man Utd 11/8
Arsenal 7/1
Newcastle 8/1

Tottenham haven’t been in the thick of a title race since the 2016/17 season when they finished as runners-up to Chelsea. Tottenham were seven points adrift of the champions but an impressive eight points ahead of third-placed Man City.

The season before that, Tottenham were heavily involved as well until the wheels came off right at the end of the season. That was the season then the massive 500/1 pre-season underdogs Leicester City swept their way to the Premier League title. It remains one of the most remarkable campaigns in the modern era, and for a long while during it, Tottenham looked as if they may get the crown.

Tottenham have won the English top flight twice before. But those titles came in 1951 and then a decade later in 1961. Their long wait to end the drought goes on.

Champions League Distraction

Another top-four finish in the Premier League is made harder this season for Tottenham by Champions League involvement. It is their first time back in the competition since the 2019/20 season when they were eliminated in the Round of 16 by Bundesliga side RB Leipzig.

Last season Tottenham were reigning in the UEFA Europa Conference League and they didn’t get out of the group stage. To be fair, Conte didn’t place a great deal of importance on it, understandably.

The lure of a Top 4 finish in the Premier League was far greater and it offered a big prize. Winning the Europa Conference League would have put Spurs in this season’s Europa League. Instead, focusing on the domestic front has yielded the return of a spot in the money-spinning UEFA Champions League.

New Signings by Antonio Conte

Tottenham do need to add to their squad to be competitive on both the domestic and European front. They have been proactive in the summer transfer market.

Brazilian forward Richarlison has arrived from Everton in a big move close to £50 million. The Tottenham squad has further been boosted by the arrival of midfielder Yves Bissouma from Brighton.

Some smart pieces of loan transfers have also been completed by Tottenham. Antonio Conte has brought in centre-half Clement Lenglet from Barcelona, midfielder Ivan Perišić from Serie A side Inter Milan, plus goalkeeping backup in Fraser Forster.

So on paper, it looks like a successful summer of transfers for Tottenham. But they probably aren’t done there yet. Conte is, after all, rebuilding Tottenham. They need a bigger, deeper squad to handle the demands of the forthcoming season.

Potential further transfer targets for Tottenham

Jesse Lingard spent half of the 2020/21 season on loan at West Ham and is a free agent at the moment. It may not be a bad move for Lingard, who rejected a chance to join West Ham permanently last summer. That didn’t pan out for him as he spent most of the season as a substitute at parent club Manchester United.

Given that Lingard would be a free transfer and would also boost Tottenham’s quote of home talent, the fit could be there. Full-back Djed Spence is also rumoured to be linked with a move to Tottenham. The England U21 international is currently on the books at Championship side Middlesbrough.

Reading around other sports news rumours, Tottenham could still be looking for a further attacking option. Paulo Dybala, who is one of the biggest current free agents floating around in the game could be a potential option. Former midfielder Christian Eriksen has yet to decide on his future and is another big free agent with his contract at Brentford having expired.

Hanging on to Kane

Last summer, Tottenham’s biggest concern was hanging on to star striker Harry Kane. He wanted a move to Manchester City. It was a move that Tottenham owner Daniel Levy didn’t want to happen, so it didn’t.

Transfer rumours involving England’s captain moving this summer have been flimsy at best. He doesn’t look to be going anywhere and that’s a great thing for Antonio Conte not to have that distraction hanging over the future of the club’s main goal-getter.

Antonio Conte – a proven winner

Another hugely positive factor for Tottenham is that they have a proven winner at the helm in Antonio Conte. He’s a taskmaster who demands high output from his players. Antonio Conte drills them hard and is a perfectionist, hence his outburst last season when things weren’t going well. He was being hard on himself.

But Conte is also a master tactician and he’s proven that before in taking three Serie A titles with Juventus and one with Inter Milan in 2021. The Italian has, of course, done it before in the Premier League too.

Conte was at Stamford Bridge when he guided Chelsea to the league title in his first full season with the club in the 2016/17 campaign. Can he lead Tottenham to silverware? A Premier League title? The UEFA Champions League crown? An FA Cup?

Whatever may come for Tottenham, they have a manager who has a plan. Conte is steadily overseeing a rebuilding project and is a born leader who could well give the club a fantastic return on their investment in him.