MARTIN SAMUEL: Conte's expected move to Tottenham isn't quite right

MARTIN SAMUEL: A brilliant coup? Antonio Conte’s switch to Tottenham is not quite right if you look closer… If both parties were convinced, why is he only signing an 18-month contract?

  • Antonio Conte’s expected move to Tottenham does not appear quite right 
  • The Italian, 52, is close to signing an 18-month deal to join the North Londoners 
  • Such a short contract shows either Conte doesn’t trust Spurs or vice-versa
  • The move for Conte shows a fear of slipping out of the Premier League’s elite 

So, whose idea was 18 months? Theirs? His? What chairman, if he could pull off a coup like securing Antonio Conte, would have him as good as working his notice the day he walks through the door?

This was, we presume, pretty near to Plan A last summer. If the romantic reunion with Mauricio Pochettino was more hope than expectation, the name that jumped out from Tottenham’s interminable shortlist was Conte’s.

A winner at Juventus, at Chelsea, with Inter Milan, a manager with Premier League experience, a trophy collector, high maintenance but worth it. He assessed Tottenham’s status, saw the roadmap for the future, and ran a mile.

On first sight, Antonio Conte’s move to Spurs appears a great coup but all is not as it seems

Now what has changed? Do Tottenham have better prospects than the summer, have they released transfer funds, have they shown this squad to be much more than Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and a mediocre supporting cast?

If so, we’re missing something. Tottenham appear to be the same club Conte rejected in June, except lying ninth with five defeats already this season and fewer goals than two of the teams in the bottom three. The money’s good, but what does it say if Conte could be a free agent in less than two seasons? On first sight it feels like a brilliant coup, but on closer inspection it isn’t quite right.

It’s a matter of trust. Is there any? Either Conte doesn’t trust Tottenham to provide the financial support he needs, or they can’t trust Conte not to be disappointed by their plans and walk.

The 52-year-old Italian rejected the North Londoners last summer, so what has changed?

Otherwise, if both parties were convinced, why wouldn’t Tottenham be trying to tie their man down for longer? And why wouldn’t Conte commit to the Pochettino-like overhaul the club needs?

It’s a brilliant appointment. It’s the man Manchester United should have gone for, rather than continuing their cliff edge walk. Maybe that’s why Daniel Levy acted so quickly. By the weekend, after a visit to Atalanta and a home fixture with Manchester City, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s future might be subject to speculation again. Get Conte in fast, and damn the cost. That much we understand.

Yet not the short-termism. That is the way Conte likes it, we are told — a couple of seasons and then gone, hit and run. Yet Pep Guardiola wasn’t supposed to hang around for five seasons at Manchester City.

The 18-month deal screams a lack of trust from either Conte in Spurs, or Spurs in Conte

Conte doesn’t stick around long but nobody expected Pep Guardiola to stay at City for so long

Things change. It could take the rest of this campaign to steady Tottenham’s ship. An 18-month contract gives them one full campaign with Conte at the helm, and then what? It will need explanation once the euphoria wears off. There is talk of a one-year extension clause. That’s the least Tottenham should aim for.

If nothing else, this shows their fear of slipping out of the Premier League’s elite cabal. They were always number six in a field of six, no title since 1961, no trophies this century bar the 2008 League Cup. And while the Super League project may be dead, the skulduggery isn’t, and Spurs with their impressive but costly new stadium will want to be in on it. If they slip back into mid-table mediocrity they could be easily cut adrift.

Paying Conte more than £13million a year is Levy’s insurance policy against that happening. He will make them competitive again; at the very least having him shows they are a serious club.

Yet, immediately, talk is of wild January or summer spending sprees. Really, with a manager whose contract screams passing through? If Conte wants to burn through the budget, or cash in on Kane, surely he has to be attached to a longer-term project?

Moreover, if Conte wants to spend big or cash in on Harry Kane, there needs to be a vision

Reports surrounding Conte’s expected relationship with Fabio Paratici are also alarming 

Fabio Paratici is the director of football and Conte’s friend but it is a recipe for disaster if his brief is to act independently. The best relationships — Guardiola and Txiki Begiristain at City, Jurgen Klopp and Michael Edwards at Liverpool — give the manager what he wants rather than forcing a vision upon him.

Yet, if successful, Guardiola and Klopp were always in for a longer haul; certainly more than 18 months. This is why, as much as Tottenham have bounced back from a miserable Saturday — and Levy was clearly rattled by the negativity in the stadium, which will also disappear with Conte’s arrival — there is much about this resolution that puzzles.

Conte, never forget, won the League at Chelsea with Victor Moses playing right wing-back. He may have looked at Tottenham’s squad and seen individuals and areas that can be improved. He may feel the group is stronger and more capable than recent performances suggest.

And a coach of his calibre will surely get more from Kane and Son. If they simply start scoring as they did last season, it will propel Tottenham up the league. These are all reasons for optimism, but also reasons to make Conte more than a glorified, expensive interim. Why would Tottenham want a short-term fix when, with greater commitment, this could be the managerial coup of the season?

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