Even by Antonio Conte’s standards, the outburst was extraordinary.
Taking his seat for a press conference after his Tottenham Hotspur side had contrived to turn a 1-3 lead against bottom side Southampton into a 3-3 result, the Italian manager lost it.
“I’m not used to seeing this type of situation. I see a lot of selfish players and I don’t see a team,” he raged, “we are 11 players that go into the pitch. I see selfish players, I see players that don’t want to help each other and don’t put their heart [in].”
Having castigated his players, Conte turned to the club and its hierarchy.
“Twenty years there is the owner and they never won something but why? The fault is only for the club, or for every manager that stay here,” he continued
“You risk to disrupt the figure of the manager and to protect the other situation in every moment.
“Until now I try to hide the situation but now, no, because I repeat, I don’t want to see what I have seen today because this is unacceptable and also unacceptable for the fans. They follow us, pay for their ticket and to see the team another time, to have this type of performance is unacceptable. We have to think a lot about this.”
Although Conte has a record of publicly going after a club’s hierarchy, most notably at Inter Milan, this was different.
It felt like something had broken inside the Italian and everything was pouring out.
“There are 10 games to go and some people think we can fight. Fight for what? with this spirit, this attitude, this commitment? What? For seventh, eighth, 10th place? I am not used to this position,” he continued.
“I’m really upset and everyone has to take their responsibility. Not only the club, the manager and the staff, the players have to be involved in this situation because it is time to change this situation if Tottenham want to change.
“If they want to continue in this way, they can change the manager, a lot of managers, but the situation cannot change. Believe me.”
It didn’t take long for pundits to suggest Conte’s position at the club was untenable.
“Conte wants to be sacked in this international break,” wrote ex-Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher on Twitter alongside a video of the rant, “Spurs should just put him out of his misery and do it tonight.”
Perhaps Carragher is right, but even if he is we should try to understand why Conte would commit such an act of self-sabotage.
Broken from the start?
It’s not often the case that the public is aware of a manager snubbing an offer from a club only to take the role six months later. But that was the case with Tottenham Hotspur and Conte.
His reservations about joining Spurs in the summer of 2021 were so well documented, when he did arrive in November of that year the club felt the need to explain his change of heart.
“There was a call from Tottenham in the summer but I was very clear with them that because I just finished with Inter after two very important, tough seasons [I wasn’t ready],” he said in a video interview post-appointment.
Adding: “Tottenham are an important club in England and around the world. The stadium, the training ground are wonderful. The club and [Tottenham chairman] Daniel Levy wanted me strongly. This is a great opportunity to become the manager. I have seen the training ground and I want to start to work.”
It’s tempting to wonder, though, did Conte have reservations that went beyond timing? And were they ever truly resolved?
Barely a few months into the job he was complaining about the “big difference between us and top teams.”
The “gap” would “need many years” to bridge because “in the last few years the level of the squad decreased instead of improving.”
But, even after a summer when the club made a significant investment in the playing squad, Conte still appeared to be dissatisfied.
At the turn of the year in a pre-game press conference he snapped and spoke of the frustration that “in England, there is a bad habit that there is only the coach to speak and to explain.”
Viewed in the context of Conte’s Southampton post-game comments it makes you think about when he started trying to “hide the situation.”
And then there is the personal strain the coach has been under.
A traumatic few months
It doesn’t take a psychologist to understand what outside factors might have triggered Conte’s outburst.
He had just returned to the Spurs bench after having major surgery back in Italy, a health scare that came shortly after losing three close friends to cancer in a matter of months.
In October Conte was hit with the tragic death of his long-time fitness coach Gian Piero Ventrone, then his friend Sinisa Mihajlovic passed in December and finally Gianluca Vialli, a team-mate for Juventus and Italy died at the start of 2023.
“This season is a difficult season from a personal aspect,” he said of the death of his friends.
“To lose in such a short time three people that I knew very well, Gian Piero Ventrone, then Sinisa and now Gianluca, it was not simple.
“For sure, when this situation happens it brings you to have important reflections.”
Not wanting to uproot his family for what may not be a long period, Conte has lived separately from his wife and daughter whilst coaching Spurs.
Such strains are often overlooked by fanatic supporters and the media, even if many accept there is more to life than soccer.
Of course, he is well compensated as Tottenham Hotspur manager, but all the money in the world cannot buy time with family.
The death of his friends made Conte think about this in addition to the fleeting nature of our existence.
“Many times we give a lot of importance to our work and we forget the family, we forget that we need to have more time for us,” he added.
“This season is making me have an important reflection on my future.”
We should consider this when analyzing his outburst. As well as an elite-level coach Conte is a man separated from his family, who’s undergone significant surgery and lost three of his close friends.