The narrative transmitting from Tottenham late on Thursday evening was one of shock – almost as if they’d been blindsided by Antonio Conte’s public swipe at the club’s January recruitment.
There was certainly genuine surprise at the head coach’s remarks, but much of the perceived consternation was contrived.
The most accurate representation is that Tottenham knew this was coming. Quite how early the outburst arrived may have caught Spurs on the hop a little.
Antonio Conte has made public his frustration at Tottenham’s January transfer dealings
The Italian claimed his Spurs side had been made worse by their activity in the window
But there was a definite air of ‘I told you so’ among many behind the scenes at Spurs as word of Conte’s interview with Sky Italia spread.
When chairman Daniel Levy appointed the Italian in November, he did so with his eyes open. At least he should have.
He knew he was employing a serial winner, that was the attraction for a club that haven’t won a trophy since 2008.
Yet, by the same token, Levy was appointing a man who had history of self-combusting, a man seemingly comfortable with airing the club’s dirty linen in public.
Those close to Conte insist his apparent penchant for public conflict isn’t ever anything personal, but instead a tactical ploy to eke out what he can from the club to improve the team’s chances. At the end of the day, that is a manager’s job.
Levy shouldn’t have been under any illusion as to what he was getting involved with. If he needed reminding, he only had to venture his mind back to 2018 when Conte acrimoniously split with Chelsea.
Spurs chairman Daniel Levy really wouldn’t have been surprised at Conte’s public swipe
Spurs face an uphill struggle to get into the top four and make the Champions League
Spurs are down in eighth position with seven points to make up on Man United in fourth
If for any reason that wasn’t enough warning, then there were enough people around him at Spurs who feared the very scenario the club currently find themselves.
Conte’s interview really shouldn’t have come as a surprise to Levy.
Yet, perhaps the most pertinent factor to consider when dissecting Conte’s most recent transfer-related disappointment is that the 52-year-old was told there would be very little money to spend in January.
Much like the Tottenham chairman, Conte took this job with his eyes wide open.
With that in mind, you’d understand if Levy was left feeling baffled as news of Conte’s comments reached him.
There are some at Spurs who feel Conte can’t have it both ways. It’s a perfectly valid argument.
Conte claimed new boys Dejan Kulusevski (left) and Rodrigo Bentancur (right) are not ready
But, even when you take into account the financial constraints, could Tottenham have done more? There’s a sense emerging that they could have.
Conte, according to well-placed sources, feels the club could have offered him more support in January.
He knew money was tight but, equally, Conte is said to believe that the club were open to doing more business last month.
This blow up was inevitable but it isn’t necessarily easy to figure out who is on the right side of the argument.
So what next? For the time being at least, expect Conte to carry on.
Above all else, the former Inter Milan boss is a fighter. The idea of walking away mid-season, despite his gripes, when the team are trying to get back into the top four and win the FA Cup won’t sit well with the Italian.
But the way things are going there is an obvious conversation to be had in the summer.
Tottenham still retain hopes of winning the FA Cup after they saw off Brighton in the last round
Premier League unless stated
Saturday Manchester City (A)
February 23 Burnley (A)
February 26 Leeds United (A)
March 1 Middlesbrough (A)
FA Cup fifth round
March 7 Everton (H)
March 12 Manchester United (A)
There remains hope of significant investment into the club before the window reopens on July 1 which will help the club in the summer window.
A replenished and reinvigorated squad heading into next season will go a long way to repairing the damage caused last month.
But if Conte suffers further frustration, then who’s to say he’ll even be in charge for the start of next season.
That might sound drastic, but that is certainly an emerging scenario moving forward.
Indeed, the fact Conte only signed an 18 month contract when he agreed to replace Nuno Espirito Santo in November indicates that this was always a marriage of convenience rather than virtue.
So, the ball is in Tottenham’s court. Can they adapt? Can they match Conte’s ambitions?
Common sense tells you that Tottenham and Levy should push the boat out to satisfy their agitated head coach.
He represents their best hope of achieving the success supporters crave.
Conte delivered the Premier League trophy to Chelsea but a repeat at Spurs is very unlikely
It’s probable, too, that Conte represents the club’s best chance of convincing Harry Kane he has a future at Tottenham.
Rumours that Kane has already entered into talks over extending his contract are untrue but with Conte at the helm, and an appealing summer of recruitment, then who knows.
If Spurs are willing to sacrifice, this summer could be seminal. If not, it has the makings of a very unpleasant ending.
Conte would still find himself another top job in Europe when he leaves Tottenham.
Tottenham on the other hand, where would they turn if Conte was to leave? It’s in the club’s best interests to fend off that scenario for as long as possible.