It is not the hardest thing to win a PR battle with Daniel Levy. The Tottenham chairman doesn’t give interviews and doesn’t explain his point of view.
If the team wins, it is his manager’s doing. If it doesn’t, it is his fault. Levy is wide open and gets it. But those who know him say he doesn’t largely care. It is business.
So Antonio Conte, intentionally or otherwise, is winning this one for the moment.
The Spurs manager has done a very good job since arriving in November. The team have played well and have a structure, energy and potency that was lost under the two coaches before him, Jose Mourinho and Nuno Espirito Santo.
Tottenham boss Antonio Conte has called for financial backing from his higher ups in January
Conte has made it fun to watch Spurs again, so doubtless fans will be with the 52-year-old as he makes clear his needs for the transfer window. Conte wants to spend on a squad that certainly needs work and if the club doesn’t do that he will be upset.
So far, so clear. But what is less clear is what Conte was told by Levy when he agreed to join the club. This, in fact, is key to the argument.
Conte knows English football. He won the Premier League at Chelsea and is well connected in our game, so he knows what Tottenham traditionally are. He knows they are not in the same financial league as some clubs.
As such, it stands to reason he must have had a conversation about the pounds and pence available for players before he signed his contract. He would have been crazy not to. Yet when he was asked about this on Friday, Conte fudged it. ‘In this moment I think I can’t confirm this,’ he said.
He also ducked a follow up question about whether Levy’s message in terms of new signings had changed between the start of winter and now.
What we have then is a rather classic managerial game of smoke and mirrors, a situation where a coach is happy for the world to know he wants something but at the same time is unwilling to be drawn into areas where some actual clarity would perhaps emerge.
Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy has garnered a reputation for being a tough negotiator
This happens all the time in football and is not always premeditated. It would be wrong to think Conte is daggers drawn with Levy because he is not. He is just another football manager pushing at the boundaries.
Equally, it is worth noting Tottenham are working on deals for players. They hope to sign Adama Traore from Wolves. They are looking at a back-up forward to Harry Kane (when are they ever not doing this?) and a central defender.
If nothing comes off, Conte will be within his rights to be disappointed. But in terms of really big signings, it would not be unreasonable for Conte to be told to wait until the summer. The cost of the Covid pandemic has been felt deeply at Tottenham. Conte says he loves the club’s stadium but should be aware it is still being paid for.
The squad Conte has now is good enough to finish in the top four and it is the manager’s job to get it there. If he does and is not rewarded with proper squad investment, he would be within his rights to wonder what he is doing at the club.
Up until then, he should perhaps concentrate on his side of the business. If Conte was lied to about money in November then Tottenham have a problem. Equally so if the goalposts have subsequently been moved.
But he could have talked about this on Friday and chose not to. So we can draw our own conclusions easily enough.
Romelu Lukaku needs to earn his stripes at Chelsea
The most telling moment of Romelu Lukaku’s performance against Manchester City was not the big chance he missed but what he did immediately afterwards.
As the Chelsea striker’s shot was saved and rebounded to team-mate Hakim Ziyech, the danger remained very much present. Ziyech was wide in the penalty area with acres of space to his right. That was Lukaku’s space to fill. A square ball at that moment and the big Belgian gets another opportunity.
But Lukaku did not run towards the space. He did not run anywhere. He was caught stock still. So Ziyech shot wide and the chance was gone.
Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku has enduring a tough time since re-signing for the Blues
It would be possible to interpret this as laziness but I think that would be wrong. Lukaku is a willing runner for the most part.
No, I think it is a confidence thing. Players running free on self-belief find themselves drawn to the seat of the fire. Those who are not sit on their heels.
Lukaku looks a little lost at the moment and the problem is the patience required from his coach and supporters evaporated the moment he started batting his eyelashes at Inter, the club he played for last season, in an interview with Italian TV.
Some praised Lukaku for his honesty after that media chat. Personally, I thought it was a mistake.
He needs a little love at Chelsea right now and should not be overly surprised that it is thin on the ground.
United star’s not happy with new coaching style
The latest trickle of information coming from Manchester United’s training ground is that the club’s star players are not taken with a new coaching staff that draws its experience from Germany, Russia and America rather than the Premier League.
Whoever would have thought that?
Ralf Rangnick’s coaching team is formed of German, Russian and American staff
Stick with the manager, reap the rewards
Nigel Clough’s Mansfield did not win a game in League Two between August 14 and October 29 but the 55-year-old said things would improve once he got his injured players back.
Saturday’s win at home to Walsall was Mansfield’s ninth in their last 10 games in the league and they are now in the play-off positions. It seems sometimes that hard-working, time-served football managers really do know what they are doing.
Nigel Clough’s managerial success is a testament to what happens when giving a coach time