OLIVER HOLT: Levy must know he has to spend to keep Antonio Conte

OLIVER HOLT: Daniel Levy must know he has to shop in the luxury section if he really does want to keep Antonio Conte… he wants to win biggest prizes, so why would he stay if Tottenham can’t offer that prospect?

  • Antonio Conte has not gone to Tottenham solely to fight for a top four place 
  • He wants to be involved in the main event, and Daniel Levy must back him 
  • If Spurs cannot offer him the chance to win trophies, why should Conte stay? 
  • This current side have no chance of making a challenge for the title next season 

Compelling cameo though it may be, Antonio Conte has not gone to Tottenham Hotspur to be in a fight to the death with Arsenal for fourth place in the Premier League every season. He wants to be involved in the main event, not a sub-plot. The Spurs boss is not yet at the stage of his career where he attaches great significance to small baubles. He wants to win football’s biggest prizes.

If Tottenham cannot offer him that prospect, then why should he stay? The growing restlessness of some Spurs fans about his unwillingness to commit himself to the club is understandable but there is a reason why the former Italy boss only signed an 18-month contract in north London when he took over last November. It is hard to blame him for playing the next card in his hand now.

Let’s be honest, this Spurs side has zero chance of making a realistic challenge for the title next season with the players they have now, even with Conte in charge. Like every other team in the division, they are a million miles away from Manchester City and Liverpool in terms of quality and depth and ambition. Third place, and a run at the FA Cup, would be the best they could hope for.

Antonio Conte has not taken charge at Tottenham simply to battle for a spot in the top four

Daniel Levy will need to splash the cash to satisfy his manager, with more classy stars needed

They have a good side but only Harry Kane and Son Heung-min possess the kind of quality a team need if they are to start thinking about contending for the top honours. Cristian Romero is showing promise and Dejan Kulusevski looks like a good signing but Spurs are probably four or five top-class players away from even being able to think about threatening Liverpool and City.

That was why, when Conte was asked on Friday about whether he would be presenting Spurs chairman Daniel Levy and director of football Fabio Paratici with a shopping list for new recruits to strengthen his team next season, he saw humour in the question. ‘It’s not convenient to give them a list,’ he said, ‘because the list, it would be very, very, very big.’

Recent weeks have been full of speculation that Conte wants to move to Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season and that Spurs will then reappoint Mauricio Pochettino, whose position in Paris is thought to be vulnerable after the club’s humiliating Champions League second-round exit to Real Madrid.

Pochettino called that speculation ‘fake news’ but history tells us that when a club fires a manager, he is often the last to know.

Only Harry Kane and Son Heung-min are players who have the quality needed for top trophies

Maybe Pochettino would be a better fit for Spurs and for Levy than Conte. Manchester United were said to have decided against hiring Conte when they parted company with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer because he was too high maintenance. Which was another way of saying they feared his strength of character and did not have the stomach for a fight over the demands he would make over signings.

That is the position Spurs and Levy find themselves in now. They are locked in a Mexican stand-off with a manager who does not back down. The problem is, when you hire a manager like Conte, you are shopping in the luxury goods section and before long you are going to have to pay the bill or make a run for it.

So if Levy and the club hierarchy do not want to – or cannot afford to – spend the money to sate Conte’s desire to make Spurs a contender again, it would be better for everyone if they just thanked him for the improvements he has made this season and let the Italian go.

That is not necessarily a criticism of Levy. Spurs, fresh from building a magnificent new stadium, were hit as hard as anyone by the pandemic and its resulting revenue losses. Unless Spurs sell Kane — and the optimum moment to do that has passed – then it is hard to see them finding the money to provide Conte with the signings he wants to rebuild the team.

It is difficult to see Spurs finding the money to provide Conte with the new arrivals he wants

When Spurs sacked Nuno Espirito Santo last November, replacing him with Conte was a coup. It was a bold move that exposed the dithering of United, in particular. And with Spurs down to eighth place in the table it bought Levy some time and the promise that Conte was a talented enough manager to lift the club back into the race for the top four.

When Spurs drew with Liverpool at Anfield last night, it was the clearest evidence yet that Conte has delivered on his part of the bargain. For the first time since Pochettino left in November 2019 Spurs feels like a club who are moving forwards again. For the first time since Pochettino left it feels like a club that has the right man in charge. It feels like a club that is looking up again.

But this was the easy part. Levy pulled off a master-stroke when he persuaded Conte to take over but now that it is time for Phase Two, suddenly uncertainty reigns. Levy knew this moment would come, the moment when Conte decided to play hardball.

Now it is here, he either has to wave Conte farewell or put his hand in his pocket and pick up the tab.

UNITED DELUSION 

Attach whatever name you want to Manchester United’s stroll around the pitch after their last home game of the season – a lap of honour, lap of appreciation, it doesn’t really matter.

The fact remains that when the final whistle against Brentford, United’s players should have headed straight down the tunnel. There was nothing for them to celebrate as they come to the close of another season of massive under-achievement.

If they wanted to thank the fans, they should have done it with their performances, not with apologetic messages on social media and empty waves to some who are getting celebrity mixed up with worth.

Manchester United should have thanked their fans with performances, and not messages

REAL HYPOCRITES  

We all saw the ‘A por la 14’ shirts that Real Madrid had printed in anticipation of victory over Manchester City, that proclaimed they were going all out for their 14th triumph in the European Cup.

We heard an awful lot last week about Real Madrid’s wonderful history in the competition, too. We heard a little less about how it was only last year that Madrid and a series of co-conspirators tried to kill the Champions League with their European Super League plan.

Lest we forget, they are still trying to kill it.

Their semi-final with City produced some of the most memorable football in the competition’s history but sometimes greed supersedes everything.

£7M FOR A SHIRT WELL WORTH IT 

The £7.1million that someone paid for Diego Maradona’s shirt at auction last week was slightly out of my reach but that doesn’t mean I don’t think of the mystery buyer as a kindred spirit.

I paid a few hundred quid for a pair of shorts worn by one of my boyhood heroes Norman Whiteside at the 1982 World Cup at an auction during the pandemic and they gaze at me lovingly from the frame that houses them, a snapshot of my youth, a prompt for a flood of happy memories.

The infamous jersey of Diego Maradona (pictured above) sold for £7.1m at auction last week




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