Tottenham have called off their move to appoint Antonio Conte as their new manager a little over 24 hours after believing they were close to a deal. The London club are primed to hire Fabio Paratici in the role of sporting director as the chairman, Daniel Levy, drives a return to a two-tier management structure.
But they have now gone cold on Conte, the former Chelsea manager, who has just left Internazionale after guiding them to the Serie A title, after growing concerned over his demands and whether he would commit to blooding young players.
Conte had appeared an unlikely target to replace José Mourinho, one that did not fit entirely with the profile of manager that Levy had publicly stated that he wanted, although talks had progressed quickly this week.
The big question related to how much money Conte would demand to oversee a reshaping of the squad, which has come to feel overdue and, assuming it was a large amount, where Levy might find it – given that Spurs have been hit hard by the pandemic. Levy could raise a big sum by selling Harry Kane, the team’s talisman who has indicated he wants to leave, but the chairman is against that idea.
It is unclear whether Spurs would return to the negotiating table if Conte were to relax his demands but that felt unlikely on Friday night, leaving Levy to consider his next move. Levy sacked Mourinho on 19 April – Spurs finished the season under the inexperienced interim manager, Ryan Mason – and the search for a permanent replacement has been marked by frustration.
Levy has said that he wants the new manager to “embrace our desire to see young players flourish from our academy alongside experienced talent.” It is known that he has broadly looked for a figure in the mould of Mauricio Pochettino, the manager before Mourinho, who worked wonders on a relatively small budget and developed a clutch of young players.
Conte had left Inter last week because he was unhappy at their plan to sell about €80m worth of players this summer to plug holes in their balance sheet. He had wanted backing for new signings and a greater chance to build on his title win. The collapse of the prospective Conte deal will further increase the pressure on Levy after a disastrous season, one in which the team slumped from a promising position in December.
Mourinho was sacked six days before the Carabao Cup final loss to Manchester City and Levy drew universal condemnation with his rush to join the ultimately doomed European Super League. The Kane situation has provided yet more discomfort. He wants to leave after concluding that he cannot win trophies at his boyhood club and, if “Mr Tottenham” no longer believes in them, it is self-evidently hugely damaging.
The Paratici negotiations have been separate to those with Conte and, provided final talks unfold as expected, the man who worked for 11 years as the sporting director at Juventus will still join Spurs. Paratici, who worked with Conte for three of those years, won 19 trophies at Juventus.
Levy has previously employed Paul Mitchell, Franco Baldini, Damien Comolli, Frank Arnesen and David Pleat in the role of sporting director or similar, while Steve Hitchen is currently one of the leads on recruitment.
Earlier on Friday, as doubts began to grow over whether Conte believed in what was being proposed by Spurs, the broadcaster DAZN released an interview with him. In it, Conte confirmed he was ready to work outside of his native Italy again but also stressed that he wanted to remain competitive.
“I would like to have more experiences abroad,” Conte said. “I think that I am not someone who is happy with just a comfortable situation. I always chose the most difficult situation instead.
“As a player, I won everything it was possible to win, but I also lost a great deal,” Conte added. “When you lose, it leaves within you the desire not to experience that again, so you do everything to transmit that to your players when you are a coach. It all comes from your scars and wanting to avoid getting more.”
Levy has looked at several candidates for the manager’s role, including Ajax’s Eric Ten Hag, who remains a contender despite his club having triggered a one-year extension to his deal. He has also explored the possibility of bringing back Pochettino – who joined Paris Saint-Germain in January – amid suggestions that the Argentinian is unhappy in the French capital.
PSG have indicated that they are not willing to let Pochettino leave either way; the manager has a further two years on his contract.