Tottenham Hotspur, losers of this weekend’s appropriately dubbed “El Sackico” against Manchester United, have perhaps ended up as this season’s biggest winners thus far.
Tuesday morning saw the confirmation of the club’s appointment of Antonio Conte as first team manager, a move that has put the whole of the Premier League on notice.
To say Antonio Conte divides opinion doesn’t do the word understatement enough justice. On one hand, his CV speaks for itself: The Italian is one of the sport’s most successful managers of the past decade since he joined a floundering Juventus, and hasn’t looked back since. He has won with every top club he’s managed, and he’s made sure to let everyone know it.
The self-proclaimed Serial Winner is also divisive, aggressive, demanding, and, all around difficult to work with. Everywhere he’s gone, he’s landed in spats, whether it be with his star striker, club presidents, or even his own owners.
In truth, that’s probably the reason Antonio Conte stands today in front of the press, lifting a white Tottenham strip, instead of a red United one. One side was willing to dance with the devil and accept him for all his flaws, the other was not.
Reports emerged on Tuesday morning via the Athletic that United’s unwillingness to strike a deal with Conte was due to a belief “He would be judged too confrontational for the corporate structure of acquiescence that permeates the club.” In layman’s terms, Manchester United chose yet again to conduct themselves like a business over a football club.
Whether Antonio Conte would ever have been the right man for the club or not is frankly irrelevant. While you can’t fault United for their doubt over Conte’s methods, you can certainly antagonize them for their indecisiveness.
United entered the weekend 2 points behind Spurs, reeling after one of, if not the most embarrassing loss in the club’s recent history, and with more questions than answers surrounding manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The week building up to Saturday’s showdown saw nonstop speculation over Solskjaer’s future, with reports coming out that players had lost faith in his coaching, the club had already reached out to Conte, and ultimately, he would have the next 3 games to save his job.
Saturday’s 3-0 battering was a good start for the Norwegian, but many are justified in questioning whether this is just a band aid over an axe wound. In fact, should Solskjaer even be in a job?
How could a side in Spurs, with less expectations coming into the season, a worse squad, a worse summer transfer window, and still ahead in the table prior to the weekend, decide enough was enough before United did?
Tottenham’s efficiency in relieving Nuno Espirito Santo of his managerial duties was quick, painless and proactive; three words rarely associated with the club. It was impressive, it was swift and it was necessary.
In now comes Antonio Conte, a manager all season long rumored to be obsessed with the Manchester United job, even being quoted as saying it would be the only one he’d consider joining midseason.
In fact, upon the news that Conte was the favorite to take over the vacant Tottenham job, many assumed it was a smoke screen from the Italian’s people; a way of testing United’s patience with Solskjaer to dare them to act first.
Instead, it turned out Conte had been offered ￡20 million to make Spurs dream for the next 18 months, and 48 hours later, he accepted.
This leaves Manchester United in an absolute mess. Barring a disaster of Liverpool proportions in the next week of matches, they will stick with their man. Clearly, an unwillingness to bargain with Conte, the best manager on the market, shows that.
But the writing is on the wall for Solskjaer.
Many believe he would’ve been out of a job by now if there was a manager the club deemed right for the club ready and available, but the absence of that profile means United’s favorite son stays on, for now.
His future remains anything but secure though. In eight months’ time, if United are to hire another manager, will there be one available that is capable of going head-to-head with the Guardiola’s, Klopp’s, Tuchel’s and now Conte’s?
It’s more than unlikely, and just like a year ago, when Thomas Tuchel was available, Manchester United have missed out on another elite manager to a London rival, this time to one playing in the European Conference League whose talisman doesn’t even want to be there.
The last week may go down as a decisive one in the futures of Manchester United and Tottenham, only time will tell. One thing though is unequivocally clear. The four best managers in the Premier League do not belong to Manchester United.
What’s more, the 4 most ambitious boards don’t either. To the Victor, the Spoils. And often, the Victor tends to be the Brave.