LONDON — Antonio Conte looked dejected, frustrated and drained after Tottenham lost against Wolves and tasted defeat for a third consecutive Premier League game.
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This is the first time since 2009 Conte has suffered three league defeats on the trot as a manager, and he took longer to answer each question which arrived from reporters, as his sharp intakes of breath said it all.
Top four chasing Tottenham were ripped apart by Wolves in the first half, as they lost 2-0 but it could have been much more. That damaging defeat came after their late collapse to lose at home to Southampton a few days earlier.
Boos rang around the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium throughout the loss against Wolves as fans were aghast with the basic mistakes happening time and time again, as Spurs’ players lacked belief and Conte look shocked by what he saw.
Conte urges fans to back team
Speaking to our partners in the UK at Sky Sports after the defeat to Wolves, here is what Conte said when asked about the top four.
“When you lose two games at home and against Chelsea – for a team that want to qualify for the Champions League, it’s impossible to happen,” Conte said. “We know we have to fight to build something important with the situation but it’s important to know the situation. Maybe our fans shouldn’t be disappointed with the defeat – instead they should try and push us and stay behind us. The players need to find the right atmosphere and feel no pressure about a target that in this moment you can’t reach. I’ve been saying this since my arrival.”
Conte went nine games unbeaten in the PL after his arrival, but three defeats on the spin (plus lopsided League Cup semifinal defeats to Chelsea) have shown the magnitude of the task he has to turn this beleaguered squad around.
He seems to only now be grasping the reality of the situation as he aims to bring success back to Tottenham.
“I am used to playing for other targets”
But what is success? What is the aim? How many of this Tottenham squad does he want to keep around? Will he be backed financially? What is he at Tottenham?
Speaking to beIN SPORT’s Carrie Brown after the defeat, Conte admitted he is not motivated by just battling to finish fourth.
“For me it’s very difficult to talk about fourth place, Europa League or Conference League, because I am used to playing for other targets,” Conte said. “I know very well and I’m not stupid, I know we have to fight to try to do our best until the end.”
Battling to finish fourth is exactly Spurs’ reality.
Conte then told the written press the following in his post-match press conference as he wants patience from the Tottenham fans and everyone connected with the club.
Rebuild will take time
“We need to be realistic and together. Also with our fans. The fans need to understand to have patience, to wait to rebuild again to a situation they were used to in the past. Now the situation has changed, not only with me but with the other coaches. We are working hard with the players and there is great commitment but it’s not enough if we want to be competitive. We have to wait. Step-by-step. And it’s important to be realistic and very clear,” Conte said.
“To describe the defeat is difficult. It was one of the best games we’ve played – we created lots of chances to score. We had the possession but it’s also difficult to explain how we started by conceding two goals – it’s difficult to comment on the two goals we conceded. It’s not easy when you start the game in this way. Until the end we pushed and tried to score. We created chances. But we are talking about another defeat.
“We will continue to work and we have to struggle every time we play to get three points. The environment is used to playing for fourth place and Champions League but now I think everybody has to realize something has changed compared to the past. We have to know this. I’m doing everything to improve the situation. The environment has to understand our position in this moment.”
What is success for Spurs?
This situation isn’t going to get better overnight. Or over a few weeks. Or even a few months.
It takes time for a club to totally rebuild itself and that is what Spurs need to do on the playing side of things. It took Mauricio Pochettino a whole year to rebuild Tottenham. Conte has had just three months.
He had a talented squad that needed tactical tweaks both at Chelsea and Inter Milan, and he made the necessary tweaks and won titles.
This job at Tottenham is a very different one.
Conte has to work with players who may not be able to carry out his orders. He has to wait for at least another six months to get in new players he wants. He has to try and finish in the top four between now and then to be deemed a success.
But we can only really judge whether or not he’s been a success at the end of the 2022-23 season, when he’s had a full season in charge. Then, and only then, can we say whether Conte succeeded.
What does success look like? Fourth place.
Conte won’t like to hear that but the very thing he turned his nose up at is what would be a massive achievement for Tottenham. They are so far behind Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City it is scary. It already started happening in 2019 just before they reached the Champions League final and with three new managers since then, the rot was allowed to set in and now Conte must hack away to remove the deadwood.
Confidence and belief is needed at Tottenham among the players, fans and everyone else connected with the club.
It would also help if Conte became a little more realistic. Fourth is a trophy for Tottenham. Even if he’s used to fighting for other titles, this is the situation he has chosen to be in. He has to embrace it.