Football Features

“Wherever he goes, he wins. That’s what he does.” – Winners & Losers as Spurs appoint Antonio Conte

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 12:01, 2 November 2021

Antonio Conte has been appointed as the new manager of Tottenham Hotspur.

Spurs sacked Nuno Espirito Santo after the humiliating 0-3 home defeat to Manchester United, the club’s third loss in their last five games. The football was poor, the players were allegedly unhappy, and so Nuno had to go.

With a vacancy created, Daniel Levy moved swiftly; approaching and then appointing the title-winning Italian coach just over 24 hours after sacking Nuno. Conte returns to the Premier League and London, ready to make an impact.

Of course the question that must be asked, is cui buono? Who benefits? We’ve had a look and come up with three winners and three losers that will emerge as Antonio Conte is appointed Spurs manager.

Winner: Kane & Son

Harry Kane and Heung-min Son are two of the very best players in the Premier League. Moreover, they are ferocious competitors and winners who enjoy a coach that pushes them, both were allegedly big supporters of José Mourinho right up to the end.

They have chafed under Nuno’s leadership. Son has shown good moments but nothing compared to last season, and Kane’s mind is clearly elsewhere. Conte will bring both men back into the fold, he will convince them of the validity of his project and get them 100% committed and focused.

That alone will be dangerous, but Conte’s 3-5-2/3-4-2-1 system is designed to create an avalanche of chances for the forwards to score. And so, if fit, Kane & Son will start. And if they start, they will score. Just ask Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez or Diego Costa and Eden Hazard how good Conte is at making forwards score goals. Lucas Moura should also benefit from Conte’s system, especially given his pressing energy is likely to make him a favourite of the coach, but Kane and Son stand above everyone in the Spurs squad.

Loser: Bryan Gil & Ryan Sessegnon

Just about the only thing Antonio Conte cannot and does not do is develop youngsters. Sure, there are exceptions, but these are usually kids in fully grown bodies e.g. Paul Pogba, Alessandro Bastoni (and, perhaps, Japhet Tanganga?). Usually Conte prefers to work with experienced players, veterans who already understand the nuances of the game and can just take in his instructions.

This bodes poorly for Bryan Gil and Ryan Sessegnon, two youngsters in desperate need of guidance. Sessegnon used to be the hottest talent in the UK but has struggled to translate that success to the big leagues while Gil just joined the club in a swap deal for Erik Lamela (one of the Conte-ist players you can imagine) and will need a manager who trusts in youth to develop him.

Sadly for both these guys, and possibly Oliver Skipp too although he is at least rugged and tough, Conte’s approach runs counter to their needs and they could be in for a rough season or so.

Winner: The full-backs

One of Antonio Conte’s great feats is winning major league titles with the likes of Victor Moses, Matteo Darmian and Ashley Young at wing-back. Conte’s 3-5-2/3-4-2-1 system puts so much emphasis on width but he always has a little group of hard-working warriors to do a job for him out wide, and because they’re wing-backs not full-backs, they usually find themselves unleashed.

The Spurs squad has four full-backs, all of whom have issues. Emerson Royal and Ben Davies are solid defenders but lack courage going forward, while Sergio Reguilon is a dynamite attacker but ropey at the back and is suffering for that fact. There’s also Matt Doherty who looks a lost soul completely. However each one of them will be boosted hugely by Conte’s system.

Davies and Emerson will find that with less defensive responsibility they can make more forward runs and make things happen, with Emerson able to get back to his best days at Real Betis. Meanwhile Reguilon will be unleashed by the lack of defensive responsibilities and should become a force of nature out wide much as Achraf Hakimi and Marcos Alonso have been for Conte in the past. Doherty last looked himself playing as a wing-back for Wolves, and should be reborn in the role when Conte arrives.

Loser: Manchester United

Manchester United beating Spurs 0-3 was a heroic, job-saving effort for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. And it may have also been a 4D chess masterstroke from the Norwegian as well, because that defeat forced Spurs to confront reality and sack Nuno Espirito Santo, which in turn put them in perfect position to court and sign Antonio Conte – preventing United from doing the same to replace Solskjaer.

And here’s the thing: United really need to replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Whether or not Conte was the perfect man for a club with a commitment to youth and youth development as Manchester United’s is a different matter. What cannot be questioned is that Conte is a world-class coach and despite all the good-will and “gets it” energy he has, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is not.

Winner: Cristian Romero

While all of Spurs’ defenders will benefit from Conte’s arrival as his three-man back-line has truly regenerative properties (just ask Gary Cahill) none will thrive as much as Cristian Romero. The Argentine is currently having a patchy adaptation to the Premier League but Conte’s arrival will set him up perfectly.

Not only does Romero speak Italian (after years living and playing on the boot-shaped peninsula), and so will be able to converse with Conte directly, but he comes from an Atalanta team that played a three-man back-line so will be intimately familiar with the needs of the system. Romero, more than anyone, will thrive under Conte’s leadership and should emerge as one of the Premier League’s very best centre-backs.

Loser: The Premier League

While Conte joining Spurs makes Manchester United lose in a very specific sense, it also makes them and every other Premier League side lose in a more general sense. Here we have a club with an outrageously talented squad that for some reason (well, José Mourinho) is in the Europa Conference League. This is a competition that Conte can either brute force or, frankly, ignore.

Ignoring and tanking may be the best way forward for the Italian as it would free-up midweeks for the rest of the season. And we’ve seen before what Conte can do with free midweeks when he turned Chelsea from chumps to champs in a remarkably small amount of time in 2016/17 (another squad that was in the mud because of José Mourinho).

The benefits of midweek after midweek spent on the training ground with a tactician as committed as Conte would be worth so much more than whatever meagre glory would await the winners of the Europa Conference League, which of course there’s no guarantees of victory for Spurs even with their quality, given Conte’s legendary struggles in Europe.

And this is the thing: Spurs under Conte will be great. Not just good, but great. Their team is bristling with talent and the squad is already perfectly constructed to play Conte’s 3-5-2/3-4-2-1 system. Given the lack of a true regista in the mould of Andrea Pirlo or Marcelo Brozovic, it’s likely Conte goes with 3-4-2-1 as he did with Chelsea, and lets Hojbjerg and Dier patrol the middle of the pitch (at least until the mercurial talents of Dele Alli and Tanguy Ndombele have earned his trust) and the quality of the Spurs squad means that the top six aspirants like Leicester and West Ham just got put on notice.

It’s not just the aspirants that need to look out, either. Manchester United and Arsenal have both got issues right now but both are benefitting in terms of reaction to their form by virtue of not being Spurs. Well, if Spurs get it together, then what? Not only are their own crises thrown into sharper relief but their places in the table are under risk.

And looking forward don’t assume that the big three of Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool can stay sitting pretty, either. Sure this season would be too soon for a title tilt, but next season? After Conte gets a whole pre-season with these boys and Kane re-commits to the club, denying Manchester City the perfect striker for Pep Guardiola’s last year in charge?

Of course Spurs’ kicking on depends on Daniel Levy signing the players Conte asks for, and while Levy may not get him everyone he wants he’ll surely provide enough new blood to keep Conte driven for one more season. And there’s almost no limit to what a driven Antonio Conte can do. Don’t rule it out! You may laugh now, but remember this: Conte wins league titles. Wherever he goes, he wins. That’s what he does.


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