When Tottenham hired Antonio Conte to lead the squad in November of 2021, it was a relationship that was set to end one of two ways. Either Conte would lead the squad back to competing for trophies, reclaiming a magic that hasn't been present since Mauricio Pochettino graced the sidelines, or he would go out in an explosive, controversial way that would damage the squad. The latter is what took place. On Sunday, Tottenham announced the departure of their Italian manager just days after his critical comments about the club.
It was simple to judge which was the more likely scenario for a side that has struggled for consistency since Pochettino was fired, leading to many clamoring for his return. But with the club hanging on to a top-four spot by a thread, the end could be near for the Italian manager as speculation over his future continues to grow.
After Conte's outburst following the Southampton draw, which felt like a loss, it would've been hard for him to continue managing a squad or reporting to a board that he threw under the bus.
"Until now I tried to hide the situation but now, not anymore," Conte said. "We are not a team. We are eleven players that go into the pitch. I see selfish players, players that don't want to help each other and don't put their heart [in it]."
Conte didn't stop there, saying that the club is used to losing and that they don't want to play under pressure. There are things that, while true, Conte was brought into the club to fix. Conte's fire was supposed to take the squad to the next level but instead it led to almost a year and a half of a will he or won't he leave push and pull that has clearly gotten to the players.
In past years, even if the team had a poor performance, they performed poorly as a team, bouncing back because they enjoyed each other's company. That has been lost this season. Gone is the coordinated press that the club was known for and if they haven't been able to control possession, simple mistakes have led to dropped points and disappointment all around.
Given that the core of Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son and Hugo Lloris not getting any younger, the club had to take one final swing for a trophy but this latest miss could set them back. When Conte eventually leaves, his reputation will still be the same but the club will be worse than when he joined which wasn't the case leaving Chelsea or even Inter Milan due to having the ability to make broader changes than he has made in this stop in London.
Questions surround if Kane will stay or go as the decision of what to do with him in the summer could be more important than who manages the club. For an identity to be restored to Tottenham, the next manager will need to be allowed the time to make changes and take their lumps in the same way that Pochettino did.
Eventually, we will see who that may be. Could it be Julian Nagelsmann? No matter who it is, the club should leave no stone unturned in the quest to identify what is needed to move forward. If they're planning to win next season, then calling a top manager and throwing as much money into the transfer market to hope it leads to a trophy could be the direction that they go in but after Jose Mourinho, Nuno Espirito Santos and Conte, a return to their roots is needed.
Tottenham are a club stuck between keeping up with the top one in England and accepting their stature as an underdog who needs everything to be perfect to compete for trophies. If they can strike a balance between the two, the club have facilities to improve players who are passed over by top clubs but it requires an investment even if it means that there are a few years to come without European soccer in order to focus on the long-term future of the club.