Even by Antonio Conte’s standards, the outburst was extraordinary.
Taking his place at a press conference after his Tottenham Hotspur side had managed to overturn a 1-3 lead against bottom side Southampton to draw 3-3, the Italian manager lost.
“I’m not used to seeing this kind of situation. I see a lot of selfish players and I don’t see a team,” he raged, “we are 11 players who go on the pitch. I see selfish players, I see players who don’t want help each other and who do not put their heart [in].”
After sacking his players, Conte turned to the club and its hierarchy.
“Twenty years it’s the owner and they’ve never won anything, but why? The fault is only for the club, or for every manager who stays here,” he continued
“You risk disturbing the figure of the manager and protecting the other situation at every moment.
“Until now I try to hide the situation, but now, no, because I repeat, I do not want to see what I have seen today because this is unacceptable and also unacceptable for the fans. They follow us, pay for their ticket and to see the team another time, to have this kind of performance is unacceptable. We have to think a lot about this.”
Although Conte has a record of publicly going after a club’s hierarchy, particularly at Inter Milan, this was different.
It felt like something had broken inside the Italian and everything was pouring out.
“There are 10 games left and some people think we can fight. Fight for what? with this spirit, this attitude, this commitment? What? For seventh, eighth, 10th place? I’m not used to this position,” he continued .
“I am very upset and everyone must take their responsibility. Not only the club, the manager and the staff, the players must be involved in this situation because it is time to change this situation if Tottenham want to change.”
“If they want to continue like this, they can change managers, many managers, but the situation cannot change. Believe me.”
It didn’t take long for pundits to suggest that Conte’s position at the club was untenable.
“Conte wants to be sacked this international break,” ex-Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher wrote on Twitter alongside a video of the robbery, “Spurs should just put him out of his misery and do it tonight.”
Perhaps Carragher is right, but even if he is, we should try to understand why Conte would commit such an act of self-sabotage.
Broken from the start?
It is not often that the public is aware of a manager turning down an offer from a club to take the role six months later. But that was the case with Tottenham Hotspur and Conte.
His reservations about joining Spurs in the summer of 2021 were so well documented that when he arrived in November of that year the club felt the need to explain his change of heart.
“There was a call from Tottenham this summer, but I was very clear with them because I just finished with Inter after two very important, tough seasons [I wasn’t ready]”, he said in a video interview after the deal.
Adds: “Tottenham is an important club in England and around the world. The stadium, the training ground is fantastic. The club and [Tottenham chairman] Daniel Levy wanted me badly. This is a great opportunity to become a manager. I’ve seen the training ground and I want to start working.”
However, it is tempting to wonder if Conte had reservations that went beyond timing? And were they ever really solved?
Barely a few months into the job, he complained about the “big difference between us and the top teams.”
The “gap” would “take many years” to bridge because “in recent years the level of the squad has decreased rather than improved.”
But even after a summer in which the club made a significant investment in the playing squad, Conte still appeared to be unhappy.
At the turn of the year at a pre-match press conference, he snapped and spoke of his frustration that “in England it’s a bad habit that only the coach speaks and explains.”
Taken in context with Conte’s post-match Southampton comments, it makes you think of when he started trying to “hide the situation”.
And then there is the personal strain the coach has been under.
A few traumatic months
It doesn’t take a psychologist to understand what external factors may have triggered Conte’s outburst.
He had just returned to the Spurs bench after undergoing major surgery in Italy, a health scare that came shortly after he lost three close friends to cancer in the space of a few months.
In October, Conte was hit by the tragic death of his long-time training coach Gian Piero Ventrone, then his friend Sinisa Mihajlovic passed away in December and finally Gianluca Vialli, a Juventus and Italy team-mate, died in early 2023.
“This season is a difficult season from a personal aspect,” he said of his friends’ deaths.
“Losing in such a short time three people that I knew very well, Gian Piero Ventrone, then Sinisa and now Gianluca, it was not easy.
“Certainly, when this situation happens it brings you to have important reflections.”
Conte, who did not want to uproot his family for what may not be a long period, has been living apart from his wife and daughter while coaching Spurs.
Such stresses are often overlooked by fanatical supporters and the media, although many accept that life is more than football.
Of course he is well compensated as Tottenham Hotspur manager, but all the money in the world can’t buy time with his family.
His friends dead made Conte think about this as well as the fleeting nature of our existence.
“A lot of times we put a lot of emphasis on our work and we forget the family, we forget that we need to have more time for ourselves,” he added.
“This season makes me have an important reflection on my future.”
We should consider this when analyzing his outburst. As well as being an elite level coach, Conte is a man separated from his family, who has undergone significant surgery and lost three of his close friends.