Tottenham have acted unusually quickly in the transfer market to reward Antonio Conte for last season’s top-four finish, which could leave them at an advantage for next season.
The Italian exceeded expectations after his return to the Premier League as he usurped fellow contenders Arsenal and Manchester United to secure Champions League football, but in the immediate aftermath of Spurs’ success, Conte refused to say he would stay on for the 2022/23 season, as rumours suggested that he was looking to put pressure on chairman Daniel Levy this summer.
Levy is not known for his enthusiastic alacrity in the transfer market, nor his largesse, so the turnaround might suggest that Conte has his support for the next season. Given Mauricio Pochettino was once treated to a summer transfer window without a single player brought in, the first transfer Spurs made this window is a notable change.
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Ivan Perisic may be a unique wide player, with pace, strength and height more usually associated with a central striker, but at 33 he may not have many years left at his peak. Indeed, he may already be in decline. He arrived on a free transfer from Inter Milan on a two-year contract, which may come back to haunt the club’s wage bill if he does not stay fit or offers little to the side.
Alongside him so far is Yves Bissouma, the impressive midfielder from Brighton who can offer more than the outgoing Harry Winks, who is set to leave North London after Conte accurately appraised his ability, and goalkeeper Fraser Forster.
The club need more than three players, of course. With Champions League ambitions and the need to stay ahead of those reinforcing below them, a striker to share duties with Harry Kane will be needed, and at least one full-back should help them improve given the problems they have with consistency on both flanks.
However there are reasons for optimism with Conte being given such early and committed support. Across North London, there must be the suspicion that Arsenal’s mid-season foray into the top four last season was an anomaly, with the club established as more prone to failure than success since around 2006, and they have plenty to do to replace Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.
Further down the league, Manchester United’s feted new manager Erik ten Hag reportedly has suspicions that the club will try to diddle him out of his main target, Frenkie De Jong, by pleading poverty after pursuing others such as Christian Eriksen.
Ahead of them last season were Chelsea, who are yet to show whether they are as effective in the transfer market as they were under Roman Abramovich. With Romelu Lukaku potentially bed-blocking their activity there is a chance to get the work done on the training ground early to start the season strongly.
While there is little chance they can compete with Liverpool and Manchester City, third place is a reasonable target, as is emerging from the Champions League group stages. The club appear to have modified their approach to next season and perhaps Levy has even learned from previous mistakes. Under Pochettino the club had a manager who deserved support, both Jose Mourinho and then Nuno Espirito Santo demonstrated that respectable coaches are nonetheless unable to achieve success in particular surroundings. With Conte a prickly and particular character, it is a risk to keep him around, but surely a bigger risk is to undermine him and invite him to start setting fire to the curtains before doing one amid the conflagration.
The Premier League was a far better experience when Spurs were a stronger proposition. They elevated what it took to get into the top four and they demanded higher standards from those around them. Bissouma, Perisic and Forster will not turn the club into title contenders, but perhaps they can once again be considered a club that creates problems for others rather than one that creates problems for itself.
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