Conte is not a park-the-bus merchant. He improves clubs that are ready to be challenged. If he stays at Spurs he could annoy City and Liverpool on a regular basis – Darren Lewis

As always, the principle holds.

If you’re annoying your opponents with your tactics, you’re doing something right.

If you’re not allowing managers to ruffle your hair and praise the football you’re playing while pilfering the points, you’re doing your job.

Antonio Conte has upset more than his fair share of opposition bosses during his career in the dug out, largely because of his ability to win more than frustrate.

But anyone who has followed his success turning Juventus, Inter Milan and Chelsea into champions will know that he is more – far more – that a park-the-bus merchant.

Anyone who has seen Spurs smash Aston Villa 4-0 at Villa Park, Leeds 4-0 at Elland Road, Newcastle 5-1 at home or even City in that sensational, 3-2 win at the Etihad, will know that Conte has done spectacularly well to fashion a team to challenge for the top four out of the shambles left by Nuno Espirito Santo last November.

In Conte’s 25 Premier League games so far, Spurs have scored 51 times, the third highest total in the division. He has beaten City twice and stopped Liverpool from taking all three points in both their league games.

And actually, the one thing that has prevented Tottenham actually cementing a top four place long before now has been the inability of Conte’s players to defend. Even in games they managed to win during his first four and a half months in charge, they were a disaster at the back waiting to happen.

Witness the home defeats to Southampton and Wolves in February. Games that, on paper, appeared a guaranteed six points.

Or the surrender at struggling Burnley in the very next game after that shock City win. Or even the home defeat to Brighton last month which ended Tottenham’s four Premier League wins in a row.

Bearing all that in mind, it was quite ironic to see Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp annoyed by Saturday’s outstanding defensive display from Conte’s Spurs team.

It is a measure of just how much the Italian has improved the north Londoners.

And a testimonial to the man Manchester United felt would not be a good enough fit for their traveling circus.

The truth is Conte would have shattered the entitlement and self-indulgence – on and off the pitch – that has engulfed the Reds to such an extent that they now sit four points behind the team they smashed 0-3 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in October.

Back then, Spurs were three places and two points behind fifth-placed United. In March they were five points and three places behind fourth-placed United.

Now the tables have turned. Spurs are fifth – with two games in hand – and four points ahead of sixth-placed United, who are likely to relegated to seventh by West Ham.

Tottenham could yet find themselves in the Champions League if they can win their final three games and Arsenal lose to Newcastle.

So don’t buy into this idea that Conte is anything but the answer to Tottenham’s long-standing inability to lay a glove on the biggest teams in the country.

The promise of this season could be turned into title-chasing reality if billionaire Joe Lewis sanctions the kind of summer spending that hands Conte even more of the weaponry with which to go to war.

It can be done. Liverpool came from fourth, 25 points behind City at the end of the 2017/18 season, to get to within a point of Pep Guardiola’s side a year later. The following year they clinched a first title in 30 years.

Spurs won’t win the title next season. But to get anywhere near the top two, Conte will need two new centre-backs, a right wing-back, another central midfielder and at least one more striker.

Not all of them need to cost a fortune. There are some bargains to be had on free transfers and good players out there on expiring contracts.

But Tottenham this summer have the opportunity to decide what kind of club they want to be – nearly men under a compliant manager, less likely to challenge the hierarchy, or regular trophy contenders under Conte, the great disruptor.


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