The mere mention of winning the title drew a titter of amusement from Antonio Conte. ‘You want to win the title,’ he said with his eyes wide and grin wider. ‘Yes, yes, I understand but I am realistic.’
It is 61 years and counting since Tottenham were champions. Thirteen different teams have claimed the prize in that time. The other five of what we now consider the Big Six of English football have all won it this century.
Spurs retain a prestige beyond their recent achievements, enhanced by a fabulous stadium and training facilities. They have the London postcode.
Antonio Conte says that he is determined for his Tottenham team to be competitive
Conte admits it will be a tough season but says that Tottenham must try and improve
The England captain is up front but it is the Conte factor that is inspiring fresh hope. He is a coach with a reputation for winning titles. Give him what he asks for, allow him to do his work and he will deliver. That is the theory.
He did it with Juventus to restore pride after scandal and relegation. He did it in his first season in the Premier League at Chelsea after they had finished 10th and 31 points off the pace in the previous season.
Most recently, he did it in his second season with Inter Milan to end nine years of Juventus domination.
‘Juventus had for many, many years, created a gap with Inter of more than 20 points,’ said Conte. ‘In the first season, we reduced the gap. In the second season, we won but, in Italy, there was only one team to fight.
‘Here there are many teams. Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea. Chelsea last year won the Champions League and this year won the Club World Cup. Don’t forget Manchester United, they are strong, and Arsenal, also, going into the transfer market and spending money.
Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy have answered Conte’s demands for reinforcements
‘It will be a tough season and an exciting season but we have to try to push ourselves and try to improve. To improve in all the situations that can bring us to be competitive shortly.’
The Italian is striving to keep expectations in check. After finishing last season in good form and qualifying for the Champions League by finishing fourth, Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy has answered Conte’s demands for reinforcements.
Not only have Spurs signed players, they have signed them specifically to fit into his system. They are players with winning experience and Conte brought them in quickly so he could immerse them in his methods for weeks before the season starts.
Tottenham managed to finish in fourth place last season at the expense of rivals Arsenal
There has been a positive buzz around the camp in the first two weeks of pre-season and a quiet confidence about what might lie ahead, but Conte will start his first full campaign as Spurs boss with only modest ambition.
‘My target is to try to be competitive,’ he said. ‘My target is that when the other teams are going to play against Tottenham, they will be not scared but a bit worried. This is our target.
Richarlison, who joined from Everton, is one of six signings Tottenham have made this summer
‘Then I have a group of players that need to have ambition together and to go another step.
‘When I arrived in November, I said that if we wanted to try to go up in the table, we would have to go together, to improve the team together but, at the same time, the players have to go to another level. To grow, grow, grow.
‘I think we have a young team. We have many players that can play for Tottenham for three or four years together. We are trying to create a solid foundation, then to go step-by-step to improve and then in the end to fight for something important.’
Three or four years? It is Conte’s first hint at anything like long-term commitment to Spurs.
The contract he signed upon arrival will expire next year and there have been times when he appeared unlikely to reach its end without quitting in a fit of pique. Yet, here he is talking about building a team to be together for three or four years.
Clement Lenglet joined on loan from Barcelona to bolster Tottenham’s defensive options
Ivan Perisic, who was previously at Inter Milan, is another significant arrival at Tottenham
‘You know, football is always very strange,’ said the 52-year-old when asked about his own future. ‘In this moment I’m very happy to stay at Tottenham, I’m very happy to work with this group of players, to work with the club.
‘We don’t have a problem and we are trying to create a great group also outside of the pitch with the club. In this moment, we have only one target: to go together in the same direction. I think we are doing well with Daniel and with Fabio.’
Chairman Daniel Levy secured £150million of new funds in May and the managing director Fabio Paratici has closed deals for Ivan Perisic, Yves Bissouma, Fraser Forster, Richarlison, Djed Spence and Clement Lenglet.
Together with Dejan Kulusevski and Rodrigo Bentancur, who arrived in January, these signings have enabled Conte to forge the team and balance the squad with his 3-4-3 formation and style of play in mind.
Conte says sporting director Fabio Paratici has played a key part in Tottenham’s recruitment
‘We want to continue to grow with ambition,’ said Conte. ‘It is not simple for the club to go into the transfer market and sign players free like Perisic and Forster, sign players on loan like Lenglet, sign players with money like Richarlison, Bissouma and Spence.
‘When you go into the transfer market you try not to waste money but, up until now, I think we invested the right money. People have been surprised by the timing but when the vision is clear I feel confident. Fabio is helping a lot in this situation.
‘Then I go to train and try to improve the team and the squad. We are working very well but it is important to know we need patience. We have just started this path and other teams are signing important players and spending a lot of money.
‘We had the transfer window but so did they, and for years they have been ahead by 20 points, especially City and Liverpool.’
The Tottenham manager suggested that he could remain in charge for ‘three or four years’
Since Conte won it with Chelsea in 2016-17, the title has gone four times to City and once to Liverpool, four times with points totals over 90. Tottenham have only topped 80 once in the Premier League — 86 to finish as runners-up in 2016-2017.
They will have to break new ground. ‘I will push my players from the start until the end of the season to have ambition and be competitive in every game and every competition,’ said Conte.
‘If, then, after only one year and seven months of work, we are able to do something very special, I am the first to be very happy.’