FOR Antonio Conte, this always seemed like a marriage of inconvenience.
One that he had already rejected five months before he eventually acquiesced to Daniel Levy’s persistence.
And one that, in the eyes of many Tottenham fans, he gave the impression he felt he was too good for from the moment he committed to what he described just last week as a “strange” contract in November 2021.
That it has come to a divorce now is no surprise and probably a relief to all parties involved.
To the supporters, the majority of whom had had enough of his pragmatic style of play and evasive answers when quizzed on his commitment to the club.
To the players, whom Conte threw under the bus in THAT explosive press conference nine days ago after they had surrendered a 3-1 lead at Southampton, drawing 3-3.
To the hierarchy, who knew what they were getting themselves into when hiring a notoriously spiky manager but must have been becoming increasingly worried every time he spoke publicly.
And lastly to Conte himself, who never seemed truly convinced he was the right fit for Spurs and has had a hell of a six months on the personal front.
The Italian was first approached in the summer of 2021, following the season when fellow box-office boss Jose Mourinho had been axed.
When explaining why he turned Spurs down he explained to Gazzetta Dello Sport that June: “Money is not my obsession. I look at projects and I’m ready to stay at home if they don’t convince me.”
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Nonetheless, almost half a year later he had taken the role, ready to save the day after the miserable Nuno Espirito Santo experiment.
Yet even the terms he signed, a £15million-a-year, 18-month contract with an option of a further season, were designed for both he and the club to size up each other’s long-term suitability.
By and large, his first season was a big success but not without some bumps that hinted at trouble further down the line.
The media session at St Mary’s will be the abiding memory of Conte at Spurs, but his press conference at Burnley in February last year was also unforgettable.
Following a limp 1-0 defeat to a team that would eventually be relegated, the ex-Chelsea boss suggested he could walk, commenting: “Maybe I’m not so good”.
It was premeditated, designed to kickstart the club’s season after four defeats in five games, and blimey, it worked.
Spurs went on a storming run of ten wins from their remaining 14 Premier League games to snatch fourth spot on the final day from arch-rivals Arsenal.
Everything seemed so positive: from Harry Kane’s revival after his early-season mope after missing out on a move to Manchester City, to super Son Heung-min sharing the golden boot, to the stellar January signings of Rodrigo Bentancur and Dejan Kulusevski.
The football could be thrilling back then – it would be revisionist to suggest otherwise – as Kulusevski, Son and Kane combined for blistering counter-attacks.
Yet still Conte refused to say publicly he would stay beyond that summer, even ducking questions in the bowels of Carrow Road on the final day after a 5-1 win had assured a return to the Champions League.
He was placated with assurances money would be spent during the close season and that was backed up with six quick signings.
They even included Ivan Perisic, a 34-year-old with no resale value and on huge money – a very un-Tottenham signing – to satisfy their manager, albeit the Croat was a free agent.
Though, crucially, they did not sign the top-class central defender Conte wanted, missing out on Inter Milan’s Alessandro Bastoni, and instead deferring the problem for another year by loaning Clement Lenglet from Barcelona.
And it is rather damning to think that, at present, freebie back-up goalkeeper Fraser Forster has probably been the pick of the bunch.
While Conte made his feelings clear on new-boy Djed Spence, bought from Championship side Middlesbrough, when bringing up unprompted during the club’s pre-season tour of South Korea that the England Under-21 starlet was “a club signing”.
It was a comment he repeated last month when describing the January loan capture of poor Arnaut Danjuma, who has barely featured.
Yet despite around £170million being spent, this season has slowly gone pear-shaped.
There are extenuating circumstances with injuries to key players like Bentancur, Kulusevski, Hugo Lloris and new-signing Richarlison, as well as the interruption of the winter World Cup.
That tournament has meant a congested fixture list which seems to hit Conte’s sides harder than other managers. It is noticeable how much better his teams fare after a free week to prepare.
Conte was hit by three personal tragedies too with the deaths of close friends Gian Piero Ventrone, the beloved Spurs’ fitness coach, Sinisa Mihaljovic and Gianluca Vialli in a matter of months.
Then he was forced to miss five matches due to gallbladder surgery at the start of February.
In fairness to those who have questioned his commitment to the Spurs cause, he originally returned from going under knife far too early and was forced to take more time off to recover.
Yet regardless of what he or the team has been through, there is no escaping the fact that form and results have gone backwards this season.
Spurs were dumped out of the League Cup by Nottingham Forest, the FA Cup by Championship Sheffield United and the Champions League by hardly a vintage AC Milan side.
They are hanging onto fourth place but were conceding two goals a game during a ten-game stretch either side of Qatar.
Defensive solidity is the least you expect from a Conte team when the football is dull to watch, which it undeniably has been this season.
Most of all, Conte was brought in to win, given his reputation of being as close as you can get in football to a guarantee of silverware.
In that regard, he failed, even if those expectations were perhaps set too high, as he suggested himself earlier this month.
And with him torching morale with his incendiary presser at Southampton – where he took next to no blame for the team’s failings, devaluing any points he was making about the club long-term – it made sense he go now.
As ex-Spurs midfielder Danny Murphy said: “He’s been overpaid and underachieved.
“The feeling about the place isn’t good. It’s not a football club that feels on the up or harmonious and I’m a believer that that all comes from your manager.”
It feels as if Conte had been consciously uncoupling from Spurs for some time.
Whoever the club go for next in the summer, it needs to be a manager who is committed to them – and really means it.