By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Last updated on .From the section Tottenham
The credits may be rolling on Antonio Conte’s time as Tottenham Hotspur manager but it is clear the Italian will be going down swinging and taking a few others with him.
He delivered a scathing assessment of his players and the culture inside the club – warning that even if he is sacked, unless that changes the years without success will continue for Spurs.
In what looks increasingly like a loveless marriage between club and manager, Conte branded his players “selfish” and even referenced the Spurs owners as he threw verbal blows in all directions.
Conte delivered his theory on why Spurs fall short when he said: “Because they are used to it here. They are used to it. They don’t play for something important. They don’t want to play under pressure. They don’t want to play under stress. It is easy in this way. Tottenham’s story is this. Twenty years the owner is here and they never won something, but why?”
For the purposes of accuracy, Spurs did win the League Cup in 2008 but the wider context of Conte’s point is clear.
Quite how chairman Daniel Levy felt about Conte’s verbal laceration of his squad and the club may only be revealed in time, but the more immediate question is how a group of players respond to being lambasted in such a fashion by their manager with fourth place still very much to play for.
Does Levy address the issue immediately, with all that will entail with the season at such a crucial stage, or will he just sit it out until Conte’s contract finishes at the end of the campaign to offer up a natural separation point?
Conte dropped responsibility for Spurs’ indifferent season at the feet of his players, but must also accept his share and there is a growing feeling that he is acting like he is doing Spurs a favour by managing them.
In an increasingly animated 10-minute speech, he said: “The problem is that for another time we showed we are not a team. We are 11 players that go on to the pitch. I see selfish players, I see players that don’t want to help each other and don’t put their heart.”
Conte may be right, but it is also his job to address this situation and he cannot escape his portion of the blame for performances as insipid as the goalless draw that saw Spurs crash out of the Champions League at home to AC Milan, or the concession of a comfortable position at St Mary’s.
It is not as though he is powerless to control events or his players. Spurs have problems and he is part of them.
He accused those attempting to factor in his own contract situation, or lack of, into the equation as searching for an “alibi” for the Spurs players. If this was an attempt to cajole a response out of those same players with ten games go and Spurs still in fourth place, it is a strategy laced with risk.
It can go one of two ways.
The Spurs players can go out of their way to prove Conte wrong, or could revolt against a manager who has made such a public spectacle of them.
The apparent absence of any desire on Conte’s part to extend his relationship with Spurs – and vice versa – is hardly helping.
Conte’s deal is up at the end of the season and the question lingering in the air after his blistering words at Southampton was whether he will actually make it through to the conclusion of his contract, not whether he will extend it.
And to add to the intrigue, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy has an upcoming international break to think about it.