Even by Antonio Conte’s standards, the outburst was extraordinary.
The Italian manager sat down for a press conference after his Tottenham Hotspur side converted a 1-3 lead against Southampton into a 3-3 result.
“I’m not used to seeing this kind of situation. I see a lot of selfish players and I don’t see a team,” he raged, “we are 11 players entering the field. I see selfish players, I see players who don’t want to help each other and not put their heart [in].”
After berating his players, Conte turned to the club and its hierarchy.
“Twenty years there’s been the owner and they’ve never won anything, but why? The blame is only on the club, or any manager who stays here,” he continued.
“You risk disturbing the manager’s figure and protecting the other situation at any time.
“So far I’m trying to hide the situation, but now, no, because I repeat, I don’t want to see what I saw today, because this is unacceptable and also unacceptable for the fans. They follow us, pay their ticket and to to see the team another time, to have this kind of performance is unacceptable. We have to think a lot about this.”
While Conte has a record of publicly going after a club’s hierarchy, particularly at Inter Milan, this was different.
It felt like something had broken in the Italian and everything poured out.
“There are still ten games to go and some people think we can fight. Fighting for what? With this spirit, this attitude, this dedication? What? For seventh, eighth, tenth? I’m not used to this position,” continued he. .
“I’m really upset and everyone has to take their responsibility. Not just the club, the manager and the staff, the players have to be involved in this situation because it’s time to change this situation if Tottenham wants to change.”
“If they want to continue like this, they can change the manager, lots of managers, but the situation cannot change. Trust me.”
It was not long before pundits suggested that Conte’s position at the club was untenable.
“Conte wants to be sacked in this international break,” ex-Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher wrote on Twitter alongside a video of the tirade, “Spurs should just put him out of his misery and do it tonight.”
Perhaps Carragher is right, but even if he is right, we should try to understand why Conte would commit such an act of self-sabotage.
Broken from the start?
It’s not often the public knows that a manager turns down an offer from a club only to take on 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 that when he arrived in November of that year the club felt the need to explain his change of mind.
“There was a call from Tottenham Hotspur in the summer, but I was very clear with them because I had just finished Inter after two very important, tough seasons. [I wasn’t ready]”, he said in a video interview after the appointment.
Add: “Tottenham are an important club in England and around the world. The stadium, the training ground are great. The club and [Tottenham chairman] Daniel Levy wanted me strong. This is a great opportunity to become the manager. I have seen the training field and I want to get started.”
However, it’s tempting to wonder if Conte had any reservations beyond timing? And were they ever really resolved?
Barely a few months into service, he complained about the “big difference between us and top teams.”
The “gap” would “take many years” to bridge, because “in recent years the level of the team has declined instead of improving.”
But even after a summer in which the club invested heavily in the squad, Conte still seemed unsatisfied.
At the start of the year, he snapped at a pre-game press conference, speaking of frustration that “there’s a bad habit in England that there’s only the coach to speak and explain.”
Seen in the context of Conte’s comments after the Southampton game, it makes you think about when he started trying to “hide the situation”.
And then there is the personal pressure that the coach has been under.
A few traumatic months
It doesn’t take a psychologist to understand what external factors might have triggered Conte’s outburst.
He had just returned to the Spurs bench after major surgery in Italy, a health scare that came shortly after losing three close friends to cancer in a matter of months.
In October, Conte was struck by the tragic death of his longtime fitness coach Gian Piero Ventrone, then his friend Sinisa Mihajlovic died in December and finally Gianluca Vialli, a Juventus and Italy teammate, passed away in early 2023.
“This season has been a difficult season personally,” he said of his friends’ deaths.
“To lose three people I knew very well in such a short time, Gian Piero Ventrone, then Sinisa and now Gianluca, it was not easy.
“Certainly, when this situation arises, you get important reflections.”
Not wanting to uproot his family for what may not be long, Conte lived apart from his wife and daughter while coaching Spurs.
Such tensions are often overlooked by fanatical supporters and the media, even though many accept that there is more to life than football.
Of course he is well compensated as manager of Tottenham Hotspur, but all the money in the world can’t buy time with family.
The deaths of his friends made Conte think about this, alongside the fleetingness of our existence.
“Often we attach great importance to our work and forget about family, forget that we should have more time for ourselves,” he added.
“This season ensures that I have an important reflection on my future.”
We must take this into account when analyzing his outburst. In addition to being an elite-level coach, Conte is a man separated from his family, who underwent major surgery and lost three of his close friends.