One of the least surprising managerial departures of the season was finally confirmed on Sunday evening, as Antonio Conte exited Tottenham Hotspur after 16 months in charge.
The Italian officially parted ways with the Lilywhites by mutual consent but there was no way back for Conte after his post-Southampton rant in which he savaged everything from the “selfish players” at his disposal to the defeatist attitude permeating the club.
“We have 10 Premier League games remaining and we have a fight on our hands for a Champions League place. We all need to pull together. Everyone has to step up to ensure the highest possible finish for our club and amazing, loyal supporters.” – Spurs chairman Daniel Levy on Antonio Conte’s exit
WHO WILL TAKE CHARGE OF SPURS NOW?
Cristian Stellini will take charge of the team as acting head coach for the remainder of the season, with former caretaker boss Ryan Mason – who was in temporary charge at the back-end of 2020/21 – acting as assistant head coach.
WHAT’S STELLINI’S PREVIOUS AS HEAD COACH?
The 48-year-old Stellini has had limited managerial experience, although did sit in for Conte on the touchline and in press conferences earlier this season as the now-departed Spurs boss recuperated in Italy after surgery. Stellini, however, was still partly under instruction from Conte in terms of team selection.
“Today was a clear balance because Antonio is completely involved. Yesterday, the day before, he wants to listen and hear our feeling and our sensation. He gave us some advice during the match [through texts] and we ask to him sometimes, ‘we want to do this, we want to change this player,’ and he agree with us. He said sometimes wait and that’s it. We are in balance to decide and to listen what Antonio likes but he wants every time from me and Ryan that we say to him how we feel with the players, how we feel with the performance because the stadium is different to watching the game on the TV.” – Cristian Stellini, after the win over West Ham United in February – a match in which he deputised for Antonio Conte on the touchline
The new interim Spurs boss has had one stint as the bona fide head coach of a senior team, taking charge of Italian third-tier side Alessandria in 2017/18.
It didn’t go well.
Stellini didn’t even make it to the turn of 2018, being sacked after less than six months in charge after winning only two of his first 14 league matches.
Scoring goals was a problem, with Alessandria finding the net on just 13 occasions in those 14 fixtures – and four of those came in a rare victory over Olbia.
The Serie C outfit conceded 18 goals during that spell.
Stellini had previously taken charge of Genoa’s youth team for a more successful two years, winning 53% of his matches at the helm.
WHAT TACTICS DOES STELLINI PREFER?
“He started at the beginning of the year with a 3-5-2, then became 4-4-2 and changed to 4-4-1-1, which in the end is a 4-5-1 in disguise.” – Radio Gold on Cristian Stellini’s ill-fated time in charge of Alessandria
For a man associated with a regime that was (frustratingly, at times) religiously wedded to a 3-4-3, Stellini was actually quite tactically flexible at Alessandria and with the Genoa youth side.
A variation of a 4-4-2 was his most commonly used formation at both those clubs, although it’d be tough to pin him down to a preferred system given the frequency of change during his time in charge.
HOW DID SPURS PREVIOUSLY FARE UNDER RYAN MASON?
|May 23, 2021||GW38||Leicester||2-4||Spurs|
|May 19, 2021||GW37||Spurs||1-2||Aston Villa|
|May 16, 2021||GW36||Spurs||2-0||Wolves|
|May 8, 2021||GW35||Leeds||3-1||Spurs|
|May 2, 2021||GW34||Spurs||4-0||Sheff Utd|
|Apr 25, 2021||EFL Cup final||Man City||1-0||Spurs|
|Apr 21, 2021||GW32||Spurs||2-1||Southampton|
Mason will assist Stellini for the remainder of the campaign, and of course, has some top-flight managerial experience of his own.
The former Spurs midfielder won five of his seven Premier League matches in temporary charge after the departure of Jose Mourinho, also losing 1-0 to Manchester City in the 2021 EFL Cup final.
The Lilywhites were actually the joint-highest scorers in the division under Mason, sitting fourth for expected goals (xG). Golf’s own Gareth Bale scored six of those 16 goals, while Harry Kane (£11.8m) was joint-top in the division for Opta-defined ‘big chances’ en route to four strikes of his own.
Spurs ranked ninth for expected goals conceded (xGC), meanwhile.
While Stellini has been tactically flexible, Mason stuck to his guns with a 4-2-3-1 throughout.
CAN STELLINI EMERGE FROM CONTE’S SHADOW?
“Great for Stellini and he’s popular with the players.
“Spurs are clearly going to take their time over the managerial decision (again) before appointing in the summer. Few expected it to be Stellini because of his bond with Conte, but you would have thought he’s given it his blessing because of it being a mutual parting of ways.
“It’s going to be fascinating to see how much Stellini deviates from what Conte was doing in the weeks ahead. You’ll of course get more of a sense of him as a head coach without Conte’s input. Will he stick with the formation? Injuries might ensure he has to.” – Football London’s Tottenham Hotspur correspondent, Alasdair Gold
A well-liked member of the Spurs backroom staff providing a feel-good bounce after the departure of an outspoken manager whose tenure became toxic… it’s happened before.
Mourinho giving way to Mason had some success, with the brand of football easier on the eye even if results were mixed.
Whether Stellini can emerge from the shadow of the Contean regime he has become synonymous with is another question.
The stand-in Spurs boss has followed Conte around from Turin to north London via Milan, and is closer to his predecessor than Mason was to Mourinho.
His time at Genoa and Alessandria shows that he does have tactical ideas of his own, although the personnel now at his disposal – more natural wing-backs than full-backs, a dearth of fit central midfielders – may slightly force his hand regarding formation.
SPURS WITH STELLINI/MASON ON THE TOUCHLINE
|February 5, 2023||GW22||Spurs||1-0||Man City|
|February 19, 2023||GW24||Spurs||2-0||West Ham|
|February 26, 2023||GW25||Spurs||2-0||Chelsea|
|March 1, 2023||FA Cup fifth round||Sheff Utd||1-0||Spurs|
|March 4, 2023||GW26||Wolves||1-0||Spurs|
WHAT’S NEXT FOR SPURS
Spurs are one of just six clubs who don’t have a Double Gameweek still to come in 2022/23, although they do avoid a blank in Gameweek 32.
While the Gameweek 31 visit of Bournemouth leaps off the page, the fixtures around it aren’t the best.
Brighton and Hove Albion, Newcastle United, Manchester United and Liverpool are, like Spurs, all pushing for Champions League qualification.
Even a trip to Everton in Gameweek 29 is not the appealing fixture it once was, with new Toffees manager Sean Dyche getting a tune out of his troops and overseeing three 1-0 home victories in his four matches in charge at Goodison Park.
The Gameweek 35-38 run-in looks more appealing although again, there’ll be ‘doublers’ from Brighton, Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs who will be bigger transfer priorities from an FPL perspective.
So immediate fresh Spurs investment doesn’t look likely despite Conte’s exit.
The big question for Fantasy bosses will be over what to do with Kane, a consistent goalscorer and FPL’s second-highest points scorer in 2022/23 but an £11.8m asset where funds could be drawn from to reinvest on Double Gameweek assets elsewhere.
As the most-sold forward of Gameweek 29, many owners have already made their minds up.