Tottenham face their latest crossroads as Antonio Conte deadline looms

Henry Burt
Conte won't settle for second-best
Conte won't settle for second-best / Catherine Ivill/GettyImages

A hard-fought comeback to draw away at one of the league's most consistent banana skins, in isolation, doesn't seem like a bad result. For Spurs, however, Brentford away was just another reminder of the distance between the club they are and the one they want to be.

How many times have we been here? How many more times can we end up here? How do we find our way out?

For a solid decade now, Spurs have teetered on the precipice of success. They have experienced title challenges, cup runs, a sodding Champions League final - yet time and time again, they have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, opening themselves up to untold mockery and scorn.

The problems with the squad are plain to see. It is not a squad capable of winning titles and, in truth, it's barely even Champions League quality. The rapid evolution of Newcastle and the revival of Arsenal threaten to undo the work that has been done during Antonio Conte's short reign at the club but, really, Tottenham's greatest opponent is themselves.

A large sub-section of the Spurs faithful will point the finger at club owners ENIC and the chairman, Daniel Levy - a man who, rightly or wrongly, has become synonymous with tight spending and limitation of growth. There is some truth to this, but it's important to put things in perspective. Spurs were a nothing club when ENIC took control, finishing in the bottom half of the Premier League table on a regular basis and facing decades of obscurity.

ENIC's approach was not flashy. They didn't make expensive signings or shoot for short-term success. The plan was simple: buy low, sell high and re-invest the funds into the infrastructure of the club. And it worked phenomenally well. For all the talk of 'projects' in the modern game, there is an argument to be made that the project run by ENIC from 2001 to 2016 was the most successful of all.

The problems began when Spurs finished second in the Premier League in the 2016/17 season. With a great manager and a young squad featuring world-class talent such as Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli, this iteration of Spurs was ready to take the next step and enter the big time. Instead, the summer of 2017 brought us the likes of Serge Aurier, Davinson Sanchez and Paulo Gazzaniga. The big club status had been achieved, but the transfer model stayed the same. The club failed to invest in talent that would improve the squad, and the backslide began shortly after.

It simply doesn't seem like Daniel Levy understands how to run a big club. Since the sacking of Mauricio Pochettino in November 2019, Spurs have lurched from manager to manager with no guiding philosophy to speak of besides the desire for success (read: trophies). Jose Mourinho was chosen not for his recent pedigree, but simply the connotations of success and trophies his name carries with it.

Though Conte has tasted success more recently than Mourinho, it feels like a similar story.

Conte is an elite coach with a pedigree to match - there really is no denying this. His trophy haul speaks for itself, and even the work he has done improving individuals at Spurs such as Ben Davies and Oliver Skipp tells us a lot about his passion and relentless drive. But Conte's success story is based on work done at big clubs with big budgets. It is no exaggeration to say that he has never inherited a squad that needed as much work as this Spurs side does.

This leaves Spurs at their latest crossroads: do they back Conte, and give their superstar manager his superstar players to match in a no-holds-barred push for success? Or do they re-evaluate, accept that Conte does not align with their current transfer policy and start again?

The latter option hardly seems very tempting right now. Most Spurs fans appreciate that there are very few managers better than Conte, and that to let him leave without achieving much of note besides a top four finish would be a tremendous waste. But hiring a coach like Conte and not backing him is more than just a waste of time - it's actively harmful, turning the atmosphere increasingly toxic as the manager continues to voice his frustrations and further the divide between ENIC and the club's supporters.

Levy is many things, but he is not stupid. He knows he has very little good will left at Spurs as far as the fans are concerned, and that there is not much time left before things get ugly in the vein of Manchester United's protests against the Glazers. How he handles the next two transfer windows could well define his time as Spurs chairman - particularly given that Conte's contract with the club expires at the end of the season.

The new stadium is stunning and the envy of the footballing world, but one of its selling points was that it would become a major revenue driver for the club going forward. This was the trade-off fans made with ENIC, accepting years of under-investment in the understanding that the stadium would allow the club to compete with the big boys further down the line. It's fair to say that the majority of Spurs fans do not possess an in-depth understanding of high-level finance, but it's also fair to expect heavy investment in the playing squad from a club with some of the highest ticket prices in Europe.

ENIC would argue that the investment is there, and point to the recent acquisitions of Conte, Cristian Romero, Dejan Kulusevski and more as examples of this. But spending without a plan is no better than throwing money away. Tottenham Hotspur need to start acting like a big club, making squad decisions without sentiment and moving on established names in favour of ones who will help the club challenge for major honours.

Nobody is throwing an open-top bus parade to celebrate the best fourth-quarter earnings in the Premier League. The story of ENIC and Spurs needs a happy ending - or else, what was the point of it all?