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RJ 2W MARTIN SAMUEL: Even for Daniel Levy, Antonio Conte to Tottenham is a deal fraught with problems – Man Utd
June 18, 2021

Man Utd

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MARTIN SAMUEL: Even for Daniel Levy, Antonio Conte to Tottenham is a deal fraught with problems

10 min read

If Tottenham end up with Antonio Conte as manager and Manchester United stand idle this summer, what does that say about the ambition of the two clubs?

Conte is, without doubt, the managerial catch of the close season. He has delivered the title — five of them, in fact — at each of his last three clubs.

In the circumstances, Tottenham would be very lucky to have him. Manchester United? They should have been first on the telephone. 

Tottenham target Antonio Conte is, without doubt, the managerial catch of the close season

Tottenham target Antonio Conte is, without doubt, the managerial catch of the close season

They can promise Champions League football and a Champions League budget, which Tottenham cannot. They can promise a squad that is not far off contention and Tottenham cannot.

Conte, however, rocks the boat. Conte makes demands. Manchester United seem happy with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer because Solskjaer knows this is the best gig he could get right now and probably keeps his head down.

It is no great surprise that Solskjaer is indulged by his employers in a way his predecessors were not. How much easier it must be to deal with him. Conte is high maintenance. Conte would have Ed Woodward working flat out during his notice period and might perhaps judge him publicly, too. Yet with Conte in charge, United’s title chances would improve immediately — or maybe the club is not about that any more. Leaving Tottenham on pole. But who in his right mind would go to Tottenham if Manchester United were interested?

Already, there seem to be two incompatible conditions. To agree terms at Tottenham, Conte wishes to keep Harry Kane and have assurances over funding to rebuild the squad.

To agree terms at Spurs, Conte wishes to keep Kane and have assurances over funds to rebuild

To agree terms at Spurs, Conte wishes to keep Kane and have assurances over funds to rebuild

Who is going to tell him?

The money for Kane is the funding to rebuild the squad. Certainly at the level Conte requires.

The Premier League is not a competition in which a manager can buy cast-offs like Matteo Darmian, Christian Eriksen, Alexis Sanchez, Ashley Young, and win, as Inter Milan did. Conte knows that, too. During his time at Chelsea there was an outlay of roughly £360m on transfers, of which £131m was net spend.

Tottenham don’t have that sort of money without selling Kane. If keeping Kane and improving the squad are non-negotiable, the Conte deal is dead before it has begun.

For Tottenham must be straight here. If we know one thing about Conte it is that it does not take much for employer relations to sour. He fell out with Chelsea because they did not make good his wishes in the transfer market and with Inter Milan because they wanted to sell £80m-worth of his players.

The moment he is at odds with the board, the relationship is done. Conte’s second season at Chelsea was a 38-game farewell, but they haven’t won the title since he left — the joint-longest spell without one in the Roman Abramovich era.

Might Conte be placated? One report this week linked Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus with a move to Tottenham, plus cash, if Manchester City got Kane. 

Raheem Sterling (right) and Gabriel Jesus (left) have been linked with a move to Tottenham, plus cash, if Manchester City got Kane – might Conte be placated?

Raheem Sterling (right) and Gabriel Jesus (left) have been linked with a move to Tottenham, plus cash, if Manchester City got Kane – might Conte be placated?

There might be other members of Pep Guardiola’s squad Conte would want even more. Riyad Mahrez, Benjamin Mendy and Aymeric Laporte have also been mentioned as potential makeweights.

Yet certainly in the case of a player like Sterling, why would he sign for Tottenham if Kane was travelling in the opposite direction? Kane is Tottenham, or he certainly has been these last few seasons. In this campaign, he had the most goals and assists in the Premier League, despite a mid-table position. Why would Sterling join a club who offer only Europa Conference League football next season?

Whatever promises Tottenham place in front of Conte, there is no guarantee of delivery. And what happens then? Given his record, it could be the shortest appointment in their history.

This is a fabulous opportunity for Tottenham, one the club could hardly have expected given their season — but the complexities are vast. Daniel Levy is famed for his negotiating skills. If he gets this over the line and somehow keeps Conte and Kane happy, he really will deserve the praise.

Rafa can swap red for blue

The reasoning is clear, but it is still an enormous pity that Carlo Ancelotti has left Everton for Real Madrid. His appointment at Goodison Park represented a potentially game-changing moment for the club, a shift in dynamic, a look up at the stars rather than the darkness below. 

Of all the successors mentioned, only Rafa Benitez fits those criteria — a league champion with Valencia, a European champion with Liverpool. He may not have the cache of Ancelotti but he might maintain a transfer policy that brought players of the calibre of Allan and James Rodriguez to the club. 

Benitez never had the funds to support his ambitions at Newcastle but Everton, while not top six, are proven investors. Crossing the red-blue divide is the outstanding issue. Yet it is 11 years and four managers since Benitez left Anfield. Why not? 

Rudiger has to shoulder some blame

Kevin De Bruyne will miss the first match of the European Championship after a body-check from Antonio Rudiger in the Champions League final left him with significant facial injuries. 

‘I’m really sorry,’ said Rudiger. ‘Of course, this was not intentional from me.’ That’s not strictly true. No doubt Rudiger did not intend to cause significant damage but it is very obvious he knew what he was doing by initiating shoulder-first contact. 

And once a player does that, the rest is out of his hands. One day, football will take the threat of head trauma seriously. Post-match, there should be a charge. 

De Bruyne left the field in tears after colliding with Rudiger in the Champions League final

De Bruyne left the field in tears after colliding with Rudiger in the Champions League final

Now we’ll find out if ECB is just playing to the gallery over Robinson

A full investigation has been promised by ECB chief executive Tom Harrison, after offensive, historic tweets from England bowler Ollie Robinson came to light. But an investigation into what, exactly? There is no question Robinson sent the posts. No question, either, that they were offensive. 

All there is to decide, then, is whether the ECB sanction him further or decide that the embarrassment and condemnation he is currently suffering for misdemeanours nine years ago is punishment enough.

Nobody is defending Robinson. He was 18, so old enough to know better and the year was 2012 so not exactly before the dawn of enlightenment. At the same time, one of the charges against Robinson is that of hypocrisy. 

Before the match with New Zealand he appeared with his team-mates in an ECB T-shirt that read, ‘We stand together against racism, religious intolerance, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, ageism.’ Yet did Robinson ask to make that statement or was it just presented to him as a fait accompli? 

Imagine the backlash had an England player refused to participate. So it isn’t necessarily a sincere or universal stance. It’s just what players have to do these days to satisfy their bosses and it binds them to a level of moral rectitude that some cannot hope to meet. 

In their desire to be on the right side of the new morality, the ECB as good as sets the players up. Ageism? So any historic tweet in which a young man or woman blames the older generation for, say, Brexit or getting held up at the supermarket is now fair game?

A number of racist and sexist posts on Ollie Robinson's Twitter timeline have been discovered

A number of racist and sexist posts on Ollie Robinson’s Twitter timeline have been discovered

Robinson, it is said, used ‘the n-word’ in one of his tweets. Yet the n-word he used ends in ‘a’, not ‘er’. Neither sounds great coming from an 18-year-old white guy, but if we’re picking over language, we’re also considering context and nuance and the n-word with an ‘a’ has wider connotations similar to ‘gangsta’, indicating male toughness. ‘Real n***as don’t let the microwave hit 0.00,’ Robinson tweeted. 

No, me neither. When my porridge does for precisely 90 seconds in the morning, I don’t hear the beep as an assault on my masculinity. But there’s a joke in there, somewhere, trying desperately to get out. 

Poorly expressed and not very funny, but it shouldn’t be treated as if Robinson wrote: ‘I hate n***ers’. Maybe these gradations are what the ECB are going to investigate, in which case Hiram L. Smith’s 2019 paper for Duke University, ‘Has N***a Been Re-appropriated as a Term of Endearment? A Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis’ may be of use. Then again, they might just be looking to make some trite gesture, like those T-shirts, in which case expect a reaction that plays further to the gallery. 

Campbell gunning for England role

Sol Campbell has offered his help to England, specifically to work with the central defenders. 

‘I see things that maybe some people don’t,’ he said. England’s manager Gareth Southgate was a centre-half, too. And quite a good one — 57 caps to Campbell’s 73. Surely Campbell can see that? 

Sol Campbell has offered his help to England, specifically to work with the central defenders

Sol Campbell has offered his help to England, specifically to work with the central defenders

UEFA fail to take action once again

Sending 16,000 fans across Europe turned out to be a potential super-spreader event. 

Seriously, who knew? Oh, that’s right — everybody involved in the decision-making process. They just didn’t care. 

…And Ceferin still doesn’t understand historical qualification impact 

That UEFA chief Aleksander Ceferin hasn’t ruled out historic qualification places in the revised Champions League means only one thing — he still doesn’t get it. 

The English season would have been dead, top and bottom, on the night Fulham were relegated if unsuccessful big clubs qualified on co-efficient ranking. 

If Liverpool or Chelsea were going to get in no matter where they finished, the compelling end to our season would have been no more than a sequence of dead rubbers. 

‘Quite a few now think it would be better to leave the two positions to champions of smaller leagues or countries,’ said Ceferin. ‘I am personally not sure what is better.’

Really? Perhaps it is time to remind him. You know what to do.

Newport robbed at Wembley

Newport County were absolutely stiffed in the League Two play-off final, but that won’t matter to the EFL who continue to treat clubs in the lower echelons with contempt. 

Newport should have had a penalty when Morecambe goalkeeper Kyle Letheren arrived second to the ball and instead delivered a double-fisted punch to the side of Scott Bennett’s head. Having missed this, the penalty referee Bobby Madley then gave Morecambe in extra time was incredibly soft.

John O’Sullivan went down too easily and the initial contact from Newport’s Ryan Haynes may have been outside the area.

Morecambe goalkeeper Kyle Letheren delivered a double-fisted punch to the side of Scott Bennett’s head but no penalty was given

Morecambe goalkeeper Kyle Letheren delivered a double-fisted punch to the side of Scott Bennett’s head but no penalty was given

Yet because the EFL scandalously decided not to deploy VAR at Wembley — just as they scandalously decided to relegate Tranmere on points per game last season — justice on each occasion was denied. 

Still, as the glib of mind insist, these things even up over the season. Newport will surely win that other play-off game to enter League One. 

Blaming age gap will not help Osaka 

Given there is nothing journalists like more than a story about them, the number of column inches regarding Naomi Osaka’s mental anguish around press conferences is hardly a surprise. What shocks, however, is the fundamental lack of understanding about two jobs — tennis player and tennis reporter.

Many observers have commented that Osaka is often confronted by a room of, mostly, middle-aged writers and broadcasters. Yes and there is a reason for that. Osaka is in a job that rewards youth. She is 23. She won her first Grand Slam title at 20, an age when most prospective journalists are still at university.

At her age now, writers are in graduate trainee programmes, attending journalism schools, or on the first rung of the professional ladder with local newspapers and agencies.

Funnily enough, these are not the staff members trusted to cover a major sporting event like the French Open or Wimbledon. That’s a senior role.

To then cite the age difference between athletes and those who report on them is as ludicrous as it would be if journalists complained all they got to interview were kids who know nothing of the world beyond an insular bubble.

Race and gender are also getting mentions as if it is alien for men and women, or black and white, to be able to relate to each other, which is fine if our aim is to set humanity back centuries. 

World No 2 Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open after being fined £10,600

World No 2 Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open after being fined £10,600

To consider Osaka’s media duties as if she can only feel comfortable around people who look like her, is an insult to the intelligence. Equally, in a photograph of Osaka in front of a typical press pack used to illustrate one article there were four white faces, including one female, two black women and two journalists of Asian origin, one male, one female. Osaka didn’t look so other.

It is a great pity that she feels utterly overwhelmed by such a basic chore and we wish her well. But the problems of press relations are hardly insurmountable. Yes, some questions are poorly-phrased or crass and some are repetitive. But so are some answers and so are some tennis matches. Maybe we could all just recognise our many flaws and frailties and get along?

‘Sir Bradley will see you now’

Sir Bradley Wiggins says he wishes to become a doctor. We may mock but, let’s face it, he couldn’t be any worse than the doctor British Cycling had when he was at his peak. 

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