As Antonio Conte approaches the first anniversary of his appointment by Tottenham, he continues to live in a central London hotel and so the conspiracy theorists question whether he intends to stick around for the long term. The manager’s contract is up at the end of the season, although the club have the option to extend it for one year. So he’s off soon, right?
The jokers, meanwhile, cannot see past the Alan Partridge aspect of it – the big plate in the restaurant and all the rest – even if, with all due respect to the Linton Travel Tavern, Conte’s digs are a cut above.
What people are more reluctant to process is the element of sacrifice which, in Conte’s case, involves him being away from his wife, Elisabetta, and their teenage daughter, Vittoria, who have remained in Italy. They visit regularly but it is not the same. When Conte got the Spurs job on 1 November of last year, he and Elisabetta did not want to uproot Vittoria from her school and that is still the case.
“I have to respect her moment because she’s growing and to change many schools is not good,” Conte said. “I’m really focused. We decided to go in this way with my family, also in this season, and then we will see. We will see in the future to try to find the best solution. It’s right to respect the family and, sometimes, if you have to put the family in front of you … [you do it].”
Conte is determined to lead by example at Spurs. He wants his wholehearted commitment to the club and how he suffers to be the template for everyone, beginning with the players.
As he prepared for Saturday’s visit of Everton, he noted how they had spent a lot of mental energy in Wednesday’s 3-2 Champions League home win over Eintracht Frankfurt. This is the nature of the competition. It is draining. But quite simply the players have to dig deeper. They need to know their limits and go beyond them. Everton boast the joint-best defensive record in the Premier League. They will be a tough nut to crack. It does not matter. Spurs must find a way.
“Everyone can speak about mentality, about a winning mentality,” Conte said. “The difficulty is to transfer this concept every day through their work, their behaviour. To build a winning mentality is fatigue. You have to be available to do this path and it’s not for all. I’m enjoying a lot to work with these players and try to involve the whole Tottenham environment because a winning mentality has to be for the whole club, not only the players.”
So, every department of the club, every pore of the building at Enfield – and Conte wants it to extend to the fans in the stadium. One of the big pluses of the season has been the team’s 100% home record in all competitions. And it has not been lost on Conte that four of their six league games before the World Cup break are at home.
Conte has felt the energy of the ground at various times, most memorably in the pivotal derby against Arsenal at the end of last season, when Spurs powered to a 3-0 win that set up their Champions League qualification. Three days after that, they faced Burnley in a Sunday midday kick-off and everybody knew the atmosphere would be much flatter. It was, although Spurs did win 1-0. Conte wants a consistently intimidating home crowd and it is a goal towards which each fan can contribute.
“I know very well – because I was a player – what it means to play away in a difficult atmosphere,” Conte said. “I remember this season [in the Champions League] at Sporting Lisbon and Eintracht Frankfurt and then in England at Nottingham Forest … it was really difficult, a lot of noise. When we play at home, our fans have to be a 12th player for us. We have to try to exploit that.”
Conte revealed that Dejan Kulusevski was out of the Everton match and he did not know whether the winger would be back for next Wednesday’s trip to Manchester United. Kulusevski, who damaged a hamstring on international duty with Sweden at the end of last month, suffered a setback in training on Thursday.