Tottenham Hotspur were slumped in ninth place when Antonio Conte arrived at the club last November. Many in North London had already given up hope on making the top four and qualifying for the Champions League and instead looked to their new Italian manager to merely point them in the right direction again.
On the final day of the 2021/22 Premier League season, they secured their Champions League spot next season with a fourth-placed finish. The turnaround in the club’s fortunes under Conte has been remarkable. Only Liverpool have won more Premier League points than Tottenham in 2022.
With the right additions this summer, Conte can accelerate Spurs’ development under his stewardship. By qualifying for the Champions League ahead of schedule, Tottenham have the opportunity to take a giant leap forward. Given Conte’s track record in management, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Spurs are disrupting Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea at the top end of the Premier League next season.
The Premier League has never been home to more elite level managers than it is now. Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp are two of the best coaches of their generation while Thomas Tuchel is a Champions League winner. Mikel Arteta is achieving incremental progress at Arsenal and Erik ten Hag will take over at Manchester United for next season.
Conte, however, is just as proven as any of his managerial peers. He has already won a Premier League title and won Serie A titles with two different teams. On top of this, the 52-year-old has achieved success at international level, leading an under-strength Italy team to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016.
Spurs spent months chasing Conte, and for good reason. After the ill-fated appointment of Jose Mourinho, the North London club needed someone to achieve instant success. Conte was the best appointment they could have made and recent results prove this. Very few managers would have made such an immediate impact.
Daniel Levy must back Conte to take the next step. Not since Mauricio Pochettino led Tottenham Hotspur to the 2018/19 Champions League final have they had this sort of opportunity to truly challenge for major honours. Spurs mustn’t spurn this chance because Conte’s managerial history makes clear he never stays in one place for very long.
Levy must also learn to handle Conte’s public demands. Even after a January window which saw Rodrigo Bentancur and Dejan Kulusevski signed, the 52-year-old complained and even raised the prospect of his resignation. Chelsea and Inter chiefs will attest this is how Conte conducts business. It’s all designed to help him build the best team possible.
“It’s not easy,” Conte said when asked what’s required for Spurs to progress further. “It’s a difficult path because now this league is tough and the gap that exists between the top teams and the other teams is an important gap. If you have time, passion and a lot of money to invest, you can try to become competitive and to fight against these monsters. But in England there are many teams that want to invest a lot of money and try to fight for something special.”
This is the greatest challenge of Conte’s managerial career to date, but there are signs he is putting in place the groundwork for something special. Tottenham’s players are absorbing the Italian’s ideas in a way they never truly did under Mourinho. There’s structure to their play and strength to their mindset. The fundamentals are in place. Guardiola and Klopp might not have it all their own way for much longer.