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Conte's caustic exit a familiar Tottenham tale of woe

Updated: 2023-03-28 09:21
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Former Tottenham Hotspur manager Antonio Conte has a heated discussion on the sideline with Son Heung-min and Dejan Kulusevski during Spurs' match at Chelsea in August last year. REUTERS

LONDON — Antonio Conte's increasingly fractious relationship with Tottenham Hotspur came to an end with the Premier League club announcing it had parted ways with the Italian on Sunday.

The writing had been on the wall since last weekend after Conte's furious reaction to a 3-3 draw with Southampton in the Premier League — after which he lambasted his players.

"We can announce that head coach Antonio Conte has left the club by mutual agreement," Tottenham said in a statement.

"We achieved Champions League qualification in Antonio's first season at the club. We thank Antonio for his contribution and wish him well for the future."

Conte's assistant Cristian Stellini, who stood in for several games while Conte was recovering from surgery, takes over the first team, supported by former Spurs midfielder Ryan Mason, until the end of the season, the club said.

"We have 10 Premier League games remaining and we have a fight on our hands for a Champions League place," chairman Daniel Levy said in the statement.

"We all need to pull together. Everyone has to step up to ensure the highest possible finish for our club and amazing, loyal supporters."

Conte leaves with Tottenham in fourth place in the Premier League and still well-placed to challenge for a top-four finish and qualify for the Champions League.

The reality is, however, that there has been a growing sense of drift since Tottenham's strong finish to last season enabled the team to finish in fourth place in the table.

Tottenham, who has not won a trophy since 2008, lost to second-tier Sheffield United in the FA Cup fifth round this month, went out of the Champions League to AC Milan with a whimper before throwing away victory at Southampton.

After that draw, which left Tottenham only two points above Newcastle United having played two games more, Conte accused his players of being selfish, lacking team spirit and even appeared to aim a shot at the club's hierarchy.

"Tottenham's story is this — 20 years there is this owner (Levy) and they never won anything. Why?" Conte said. "The fault is only for the club, or for every manager that stays here. I have seen the managers that Tottenham had on the bench.

"It is time to change this situation if Tottenham wants to change. If they want to continue this way, they can change the manager, a lot of managers, but the situation cannot change."

Conte, who managed Juventus and Inter Milan to Serie A titles and Chelsea to the Premier League title, was out of contract in June and his demeanor has suggested he had little stomach to extend his stay.

The 53-year-old, who replaced the short-lived Nuno Espirito-Santo in November 2021, was in charge of 76 matches for Tottenham, winning 41 and losing 23.

He has endured an emotional few months with the death of three close friends, Tottenham fitness coach Gian Piero Ventrone, Sinisa Mihajlovic and Gianluca Vialli.

Worked wonders

The mood was far different at the end of last season with Conte working wonders to turn around Tottenham's fortunes to chase down Arsenal in the hunt for fourth place.

But while Arsenal is now favorite to win the title, Tottenham has regressed and Conte's rigid tactics tested the patience of the fans.

Things reached a head when it barely created a chance against Milan in a 0-0 draw in north London after losing the away leg 1-0 in the San Siro.

After the Champions League exit, Conte, who had returned to the technical area after gallbladder surgery, indicated that the club could bid him farewell before his contract expired.

A win over Nottingham Forest offered some optimism but the draw at Southampton opened old wounds.

Conte is the second manager with a reputation as a serial winner to leave the club in little more than three years after it also fired Jose Mourinho two years ago. Mourinho was brought in to replace the hugely popular Mauricio Pochettino.

Pochettino, fired in 2019 just months after leading the club to the Champions League final, is tipped for a possible return while Julian Nagelsmann, axed by Bayern Munich last week, is also a candidate for the job.


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