Antonio Conte has refused to offer assurances over his future at Tottenham, saying his focus was purely on the present and nothing later because “later could be too late”.
The manager, who signed only a 20-month contract when he succeeded Nuno Espírito Santo in November, is keen to upgrade his squad during this month’s transfer window, having repeatedly described it as not strong enough.
Conte has applied not-so-subtle pressure on the chairman, Daniel Levy, with a string of messages about what he feels he needs and the one he delivered on Friday took in the apocalyptic fears of the club’s fans. They are terrified that Conte could quit if he is not backed by Levy with signings.
There is no suggestion that Conte would be ready to walk out in February if he did not get what he wanted – the summer window could be a different story – although he remained in the mood to be provocative.
“Honestly, I like to live in the present and not to think a lot for the future,” Conte said, when asked whether he could guarantee he would still be at the club after the January window and the one that followed in the summer, whatever happened. “It’s important to live in the present, to try to improve the situation … because the present is now, the future is later. And later could be too much late for us. We have to be focused on the present. Then we will see.”
Conte was pushed on the subject and he did say that he was enjoying his time at Spurs and had a “good relationship” with Levy and the managing director of football, Fabio Paratici. Conte added: “I want to work, I want to improve this team and, I repeat, we have to be focused on the present because, for sure, I want to improve, we want to improve.”
Conte tends to be more outspoken, more political, leading up to and during a transfer window and there is no doubt that he is manoeuvring from a position of strength. He is a proven winner, whom the Spurs support consider themselves fortunate to have, especially after the failed tenure of Nuno, whereas Levy has precious little credit in the bank with some of them. On the other hand, if history has shown us anything it is that Levy does not like to be strong-armed.
Spurs’s recruitment has been underwhelming since 2016-17 – the season when Conte first came to England to manage Chelsea – and, of their purchases who have cost more than £10m, perhaps only Lucas Moura and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg have been successes, although hopes remain high for Cristian Romero.
It is a major reason why Conte has complained that the club have slipped from contenders to what he calls a “middle” level. He is desperate for them to get their next signings right, to see his own ambitions matched.
“Yes, for sure,” Conte said. “I don’t lose my ambition and this must be very clear. I like to fight for something important. I don’t want to lose my will, my desire. Otherwise I will go against myself. I have to be the same person in every moment.”
Conte has cut an increasingly frustrated figure of late, despite his positive record in the league – five wins, three draws and no defeats. He has lamented the squad’s lack of depth, the gap to the top teams and, when asked whether he realised the scale of the task at Spurs would be so big, he started laughing.
“I decided to accept this job because to work in this environment, to work in a modern club, is good for every coach,” Conte said. “As you know very well, when you’re outside, you can imagine the situation. Then, when you are inside the situation, you can understand every aspect very well.”
It feels unlikely that when Conte was persuaded to take the role, he was led to expect a squad overhaul in January. He sidestepped a question on this, saying that because he had not yet lived through a transfer window with Spurs, he could not comment on what they had to spend.
Conte said: “I enjoy working at Tottenham because I found a fantastic environment, amazing stadium and fantastic training ground. For sure we have to bring the level of the team [up] to the same level as our infrastructure.”