Here is what separates Antonio Conte from his predecessors at Tottenham. He doesn’t make idle threats.
Mauricio Pochettino loved a bit of brinkmanship. The build-up to the Champions League final in 2019 was consumed by round after round of will-he, won’t-he, concerning his future.
It became all about the manager, whether he would get the guarantees about budgets, whether he would jump ship for Real Madrid or Manchester United. And then he went nowhere. It was hardly a surprise that Daniel Levy’s patience was swiftly exhausted.
Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy (left) has worked out that Antonio Conte (right) is different – he doesn’t bluff. Now that he’s backed him, the Italian could make Spurs contenders again
Then came Jose Mourinho. More politics, more disruption, allied to a scorched earth policy that has marked his later roles. Yet again, Mourinho did not jump, he was pushed.
Conte’s different. Conte means it. That is why he gets things done. We all know Levy likes a deal, and we all know when he likes to do them. Late. As late as possible. Come transfer deadline day there is always some poor soul standing in the pitch black outside Tottenham’s training ground waiting for 10.59pm and a puff of white smoke.
Conte took one look at that and didn’t fancy it. And unlike Levy’s previous managers he doesn’t bluff. If Levy was under any illusions about what Conte does if displeased, he only need look at his last job. Conte wasn’t impressed by what was happening at Inter Milan, warned he would walk, then walked. And he was sending those messages to Tottenham, too.
He wanted business done, and done early. And he got it. As a result, Tottenham supporters are enjoying their most optimistic pre-season in years. They love that Conte has his squad together.
Levy has signed five players already in the transfer window, including £60m-man Richarlison
It is pointless employing a gun manager like Conte (left), or an astute director of football like Fabio Paratici (right), if you then stand as the obstacle to their success
They love that there is no longer speculation around Harry Kane. They love having a manager with a winning track record. And they probably love seeing players worked to the point of collapse in training, too.
It all adds up to the picture of Conte as a serious manager, capable of making Tottenham contenders again. No more Spursy. No more lads, it’s Tottenham. They look further ahead than Arsenal and Manchester United, and who knows what Chelsea will be with so much recruitment ongoing?
It can be argued that, for Levy, the penny has finally dropped.
It is pointless employing a gun manager, or an astute director of football like Fabio Paratici, if you then stand as the obstacle to their success. Yet it also needs an uncompromising figure like Conte to make it work, to apply the pressure, to demand the focus that is required to reach the very top.
Levy may feel a little lost come September 1 if the phone isn’t ringing and nobody is eulogising his brinkmanship skills, but he is also still waiting for his first trophy as chairman since the 2008 League Cup. Conte might change that, too – and winning is easily as much fun as getting a deal done.
How Haaland was too big for Everton
Once Erling Haaland starts getting the goals for Manchester City, expect howls from Everton fans who have heard the story of how they could have signed him at the age of 15, for £60,000.
It’s true. The recruitment department thought Haaland was so big for his age that as he got older he would lose his effectiveness, as other youngsters grew up, too.
It happens. Chelsea didn’t rate Declan Rice and he was released to go to West Ham. Kenny Dalglish was rejected by West Ham and Liverpool before signing for Celtic.
Ruud Gullit, Paul Gascoigne and John Barnes all had unsuccessful trials at Ipswich, and Newcastle invited a young Alan Shearer to train, then played him in goal.
In 1978, Harry Haslam, the manager of Sheffield United, saw an outstanding 17-year-old Argentine and arranged a £200,000 transfer. The board wouldn’t pay the whole fee so Haslam bought Alex Sabella for £160,000 instead. The player he had tried to sign was Diego Maradona.
Erling Haaland joined Premier League champions Manchester City for £51million this summer
Lame excuse from Pogba, a talent who did not deliver
Paul Pogba blames his poor showing at Manchester United on the constant turnaround of managers.
‘When you change the coach every year, it’s quite difficult to adapt,’ he said. It’s just another lame excuse from a talent who rarely delivered.
Pogba was six seasons at Old Trafford and he didn’t have six managers in that time: he had two. Jose Mourinho was the first until midway through Pogba’s third season, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was his manager for three years after that.
It is pointless including Michael Carrick’s three games as caretaker because Pogba did not play in them, and by the time he participated in his first of 14 matches under interim Ralf Rangnick on February 4 – the FA Cup exit against Middlesbrough – he was deep into the process of running down his contract and a summer departure was expected.
There was actually very little upheaval at United during Pogba’s time there. In effect, the upheaval was him.
Paul Pogba blamed his poor showing across six seasons at Manchester United on the constant turnaround of managers – it’s just another lame excuse from a talent who rarely delivered
Keegan’s column that never was…
Piers Morgan may have to ditch an episode of his Life Stories series featuring Sir Mo Farah, because the athlete told the fabricated version of how he came to England. At least the interview was historic, though, conducted seven years ago when Sir Mo was still wrestling with the truth of his identity.
It could be worse. In 1995, one of my jobs involved ghosting Kevin Keegan’s column in a national newspaper. That January, I travelled to Newcastle to get his opinions on the title race, shaping up as a straight fight between Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United. Kevin talked brilliantly, as he so often did, saying he thought the difference between the teams was Alan Shearer.
United, he reasoned, did not have a goalscorer in his class and with no prospect of getting one, would fall short. Blackburn and United were due to meet that month and United’s next match was Newcastle. It was a great column. Punchy, opinionated, but reasoned, too.
That was Monday. The piece was scheduled to be published Saturday. On Wednesday I looked out of a train window and saw a banner for the Birmingham Evening Mail. ‘Cole shock £7m Man U deal.’ Keegan had sold his striker, Andy Cole, to United, therefore solving the precise problem he had discussed in such depth.
We all understand why public individuals want some information kept private. Unlike Sir Mo, however, Kevin’s dilemma could have been solved by pretending he had toothache for two days.
MLS is no place for Wayne
Wayne Rooney insists those criticising his move to DC United are disrespecting the MLS. This may be true, but there is a reason for that. The standard is well below the major European leagues.
It will keep Gareth Bale relatively fit, it will afford a nice pay day and an undemanding level of competition for those at the end of their careers like Steven Gerrard, but it is not where a promising young coach goes if he wishes to get noticed.
Patrick Vieira cut his teeth in New York but he had the backing of the City Football Group and it was his first senior job in management. Rooney has already shown capability at Derby and his natural progression would be to a bigger, or at least better-run, club here.
Wayne Rooney can’t afford to stay long in Major League Soccer if he is to be taken seriously
Vieira went to Nice before he arrived at Crystal Palace. New York City alone wasn’t going to open that door. Rooney’s name will always have cachet and maybe he believes that will be enough.
Yet few have been bigger in Italy in recent years than Fabio Cannavaro and he found no takers when angling for a job in English football. Why? A coaching career spent in the Middle East and China. It does not suggest a serious soul. Cannavaro had a good record, particularly in China.
Yet, like America, it is where good players go to retire or to bank a final payday. The quality cannot match Europe and it raises questions about ambition and commitment. Rooney can’t afford to stay long if he is to be taken seriously.
Sponsors have golf’s Saudi rebels by the balls
For those wondering why so many Saudi rebel golfers who wanted no part of the PGA Tour are now going to court for the right to return when it suits: balls.
Specifically, Bryson DeChambeau’s Bridgestone ball. He will be using it at St Andrews this week but without a contract, because Bridgestone have cancelled their arrangement with him since he deserted to the LIV tour.
This may be the most publicised consequence of the breakaway but it is unlikely to be the only one. Sponsorship deals are all tied to exposure and that comes at the big events on the big tours – the majors, the Ryder Cup. The rebels risk falling off that map, particularly if they are banned from the marquee tournaments.
Equally, there is reputational damage. It hardly helps Bridgestone if DeChambeau is regarded as a money-grabbing mercenary, intent on the ruination of golf.
It is why the PGA Tour is now being investigated over accusations of anti- competitive behaviour. The self-styled disrupters aren’t very keen when disruption happens to them – particularly disruption to their bank accounts.
Rybakina victory vindicated ban
If the invasion of Ukraine continues into next year, the word from Wimbledon is that Russian and Belarusian players will again be banned. So much for the posturing of those who said the All England Club had been made to look foolish when Elena Rybakina – born in Moscow, lives in Moscow, plays for Kazakhstan – won the women’s singles.
Far from embarrassing Wimbledon, the triumphalist claims from Russia after Rybakina’s victory showed exactly the propaganda coup being plotted in the event of Russian success.
The involvement of players such as Daniil Medvedev would have been used to normalise Russia’s foreign policy, and project the idea of Russian supremacy. So Wimbledon got it right.
They did everything in their power to prevent Russian aggrandisement winning the day. Their decision came at some cost but has been vindicated. We now know what Russian involvement would have looked like. It isn’t pretty.
Moscow-born Elena Rybakina won her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon this month
White dive not so noble
What a wonderful performance by England against Norway on Monday night. They look the best team in the tournament by some distance to here.
However, having read various missives about how noble the women’s game is, free of the diving and play-acting that blights men’s football, you may wish to review Ellen White’s tumble for the penalty that opened the scoring. Ashley Young would be proud, as would the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Masi too slow to go
The only surprise about the departure of Michael Masi from the FIA is the timing. As Formula One’s race director, his random logic and failure to implement the rules in the final race of the 2021 season corrupted the drivers’ championship and denied Lewis Hamilton his place in history. Seven months later, he is gone.
What took so long?
Wallabies masters of moaning
Nic White, Australia’s scrum-half, is predicting dirty tricks from England when the teams meet for their deciding Test on Saturday. Of course he is.
Whenever Australia are on the back foot, they moan. It is what makes their caricature of whingeing Poms so amusing. Australia are masters at it.
Wilshere can still shine
Jack Wilshere is desperately young to have retired from football but now he’s in charge of Arsenal’s Under 18 team, here’s hoping he can find the fulfilment as a coach that eluded him as a player.
I remember being told by one of Arsenal’s development team that they had found the next Lionel Messi.
He was never that, sadly, but on occasions, he displayed potential and vision like few contemporaries. If he can convert that talent to coaching, those teenagers will be lucky to have him.
Here’s hoping Jack Wilshere can find the fulfilment as a coach that eluded him as a player
British Rowing missed the boat with Sir Steve
China are the growing force in rowing with Sir Steven Redgrave as their performance director. Leaps of improvement correspond to his appointment three years ago.
Whoever would have thought a five-time Olympic gold medallist might know anything about his sport? Not British Rowing, apparently.
Time to mic up refs
It is forecast that Howard Webb, the new referees chief, will push for officials to be publicly accountable, explaining decisions and their thinking in interviews at the end of the match.
That can only be a good thing. Audio feeds, like they have in rugby, would also help – particularly for those inside the stadium. It shouldn’t be that, once again, the paying customer at the venue is the least informed.
One-game ban harsh on Richarlison
Just one match, but even so, the FA-imposed ban on Richarlison for throwing a smoke cannister back into the crowd during Everton’s fixture with Chelsea still seems heavy-handed.
It wasn’t a flare, it wasn’t a bomb, it was just a tin that releases coloured smoke and nobody was hurt or endangered. He has clearly learned his lesson and a warning would have sufficed.
FA handed Richarlison a one-match ban for throwing a smoke cannister back into the crowd