Nobody Has Ever Wanted To Be Fired As Badly As Antonio Conte
1:27 PM EDT on March 19, 2023
On Saturday, fourth-place Tottenham fumbled a 3-1 second-half lead to lowly Southampton, settling for a 3-3 draw against a bottom-table team that is allergic to scoring. Southampton's final equalizing goal came in stoppage time, by way of an incredibly soft penalty that had Tottenham's players, coaches, and fans fuming. Under normal circumstances, you could have predicted how the postgame press conference would go for Tottenham's manager: The referee let us down. That was a shocking penalty decision. My players are out there fighting for a Champions League spot, and they deserve better. Tottenham is not currently anywhere near normal, though, and so instead we got to watch Antonio Conte light a match.
Conte is nearing the end of his second season in charge at Tottenham, and even before Saturday's events it was clear that Spurs owner Daniel Levy was not interested in bringing the Italian back for a third season. At this point, Levy is probably regretting putting a manager as, uh, opinionated as Conte is in a lame-duck position, because Conte spent the immediate aftermath of Saturday's loss attempting to burn down the entire organization.
Conte's 10-minute rant really should be watched in full. The first question he received, about the soft penalty awarded to Southampton, was the perfect set-up for him to take a few earned whacks at the referees. Instead, Conte ignored the question and spent the next five minutes laying out Part 1 of his treatise against the entire concept of Tottenham Hotspur, titled, My Players Are Selfish Pieces Of Trash Who Only Care About Themselves. He was then asked if his own uncertain future might be contributing to the poor results on the pitch, which led him right into Part 2, titled, No, Seriously, I Can't Believe I Have To Manage These Clowns. If I Ever Said Anything Nice About Them Before, I Was Lying.
Part 3, titled, This Whole Place Is A Fucking Joke And Always Has Been, is where things got really good, as Conte turned his attention away from the players and onto the club as a whole. This is where Conte unleashed his most incendiary quote: "They are used to it here. Don't play for something important. They don't want to play under pressure, they don't want to play under stress. It's easy, in this way. Tottenham's story is this: 20 years, there is the owner, and they never won something. Why?" Conte finished up with Part 4, which was short and to the point: Top Four? These Idiots Will Be Lucky To Finish 10th.
All of this leaves Levy in an unenviable but also extremely funny predicament. For all Conte's apocalyptic bluster, the fact is that Tottenham is still having a strong Premier League season, and has a lot to play for in the final 10 games of the campaign. Spurs currently sit in fourth place, with just one point separating them from Manchester United in third, and two points keeping them clear of Newcastle United in fifth. Meanwhile, Liverpool is still lurking in sixth, seven points outside the Top Four. Tottenham has to play both Man United and Liverpool in its final 10 games, and is going to have a real fight on its hands as it tries to hold onto the final Champions League spot.
So what the hell does Levy do? Does he just get it over with and sack Conte now, entrusting the next 10 pivotal games to an interim manager? Or does he let Conte finish out the season? Conte's pedigree, tactical acumen, and experience should make Option B the clear choice, but Conte has now demonstrated that his appetite for self-sabotage may be insatiable. If he hadn't already completely alienated his players, Saturday's performance surely finished the task. Can you really entrust such a critical stretch of games to a manager who clearly hates his job and his colleagues as much as Conte does right now? If he felt the need to say everything he did after Saturday's draw, what's he going to say after the next loss?
There are no good answers to questions that now plague Levy and the rest of Tottenham's brass, and now they have two full weeks to consider them while the Premier League goes on international break. What happens after that is hard to predict, but I think we can all rest assured that it will be really, really funny.