Tottenham have begun to check the market for a new manager in a sign that they are ready to accelerate the departure of Antonio Conte amid concerns the majority of the players are no longer behind him.
It has become increasingly clear over recent weeks that Conte will not stay on beyond the end of the season when his contract expires, the Italian failing to see a way forward in the job due to a variety of factors. But Conte plunged the club into an immediate crisis on Saturday when he castigated the players after the 3-3 draw at Southampton; the team having surrendered a 3-1 lead late on, Spurs having been 3-1 up until late on.
Conte has made it clear to the chairman, Daniel Levy, and the board that his comments, including the one about how the club “don’t play for something important … Tottenham’s story is this,” was not a dig at them – rather the players and them alone.
Conte’s idea, with his departure looming, was a do-or-die attempt to wring one last effort from them over the final 10 games, to fire the push for a top-four finish. Spurs are still fourth, although Newcastle have closed to within two points of them with two matches in hand. The diatribe would also have the added benefit to Conte of shifting the blame for a frustrating campaign away from him.
But Levy, who held a video call on Monday afternoon with key aides to discuss the way forward, is acutely aware of the collateral damage from Conte’s outburst.
The Guardian reported on Sunday that there were serious doubts over whether enough of the players still backed Conte; also that some of them would welcome his immediate departure. According to further sources, most of them would be happy to see him go. It is increasingly hard to see how Levy can resume after the international break with Conte in charge. Spurs next play at Everton on Monday 3 April.
The problem for Levy is that any in-work managers would likely be out of reach until June while the out-of-work contenders – such as Mauricio Pochettino, Thomas Tuchel and Luis Enrique – would prefer to step in at the start of pre-season. Ryan Mason, who is on Conte’s coaching staff, would be a candidate to take caretaker charge, as he did after the sacking of José Mourinho in April 2021.