Conte finally learns what Spursy means
I wish I had made that up, but really, I didn’t.
Every world class manager that comes through Spurs’ doors seem to have some success at knocking that Spursiness out of the team, for a period of time. But like cockroaches that appear after a nuclear holocaust, Spursiness just rears its head again to remind you that it can survive even the best managers’ attempt to get rid of it.
WATCH: Conte admits Spurs have confidence issue after Southampton loss
The 2-3 loss at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was exactly that, a reminder that no matter who the manager is, Spurs are a team that would somehow find a way to knock even Rocky Balboa down, and usually in the final round just before he was going to win the match.
Sure, every now and then, we get a match like Spurs’ 2019 Champions League heroics against Manchester City and Ajax, and more recently, Steven Bergwijn’s impossible match winner at Leicester.
But any long-standing Spurs fan would tell you that’s just the way the team sucks you in, by giving you a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, this season is when we banish the word Spursy from the English vocabulary. Alas, season after season, it proves to be just a setup, so that they can pull the rug out from under you and laugh as you fall and crack your skull.
See, a mentally strong team would seize the advantage Spurs had last night. After surviving wave after wave of Southampton attacks - who to their credit, played like a side challenging for the title rather than one languishing in mid-table - Son Heung Min once again appeared to be Spurs’ saviour with a 70th minute tap-in, putting the hosts firmly in charge of the final 20 minutes.
You could sense the frustration in the Saints’ players, who knew that Spurs didn’t deserve to go ahead. A stronger team than Spurs would have gone in for the kill, sensing that Son’s goal was the twig that broke Southampton’s resistance. And you do that by either initiating a high press and waves of attack to find that third goal, or through what commentators like to call game management, but we football players in Singapore call playing monkey.
The idea ultimately, is to frustrate Southampton further.
But not Spurs. With Spurs, one always has a chance because somehow, after going into the lead, they go as flaccid as most men after an orgasm. Instead of increasing their intensity, perhaps in part because they realise they are always the most fragile after going ahead undeservedly, they sit back into a low block and try to hold on for dear life.
And Spurs are the worst team to play a low block. Unlike smaller teams that crowd their penalty boxes, Spurs tend to routinely leave men unmarked, especially at the far post where even the smallest of players can ghost in and get a free header - and Southampton did just that. Not just once, but twice in two minutes, in the 80th and 82nd minute. Which means, their low block is kind of like a low-ish block, with scores of white shirts hovering around the edge of the penalty box marking nothing but the green grass.
And typically, once that happens, they suddenly remember that, ‘hey we can play football too’, and turn on the heat, but more often than not, the King Power Stadium notwithstanding, it proves too little too late.
WATCH: Conte's reaction to Spurs' last-gasp winner against Leicester
Conte, in his post match conference, repeated his often used phrase that Spurs have a “long way to go”. And yes, he’s already started on that journey by making the team run further per match than ever before, and also got rid of players that he didn’t think would make that sort of endeavour, no matter how talented they are.
You would imagine that the likes of Spurs entertainers such as Glenn Hoddle, Paul Gascoigne, Dmitar Berbatov and David Ginola would all have been given the boot under the Italian’s regime. Indeed, he would rather have Forrest Gump in his team, because that guy sure can run.
He is not wrong though, Spurs do have a long way to go. I’m just not sure he knows how long.
See, unknowingly, that Spursy monster is also setting its eyes on Conte. How else do you explain his strange decision to take out Lucas Moura after going ahead and sending on a rusty new boy Dejan Kulusevski, who clearly lacks match practice given the lack of football he had this season at Juventus?
WATCH: Kulusevski's first training session at Spurs
Moura was easily the best player, and runner, of the night. Most of Spurs’ most productive attacks came through him, and he would often dribble his way past his markers, all while putting in a shift at the back to defend as well.
At 2-1 up, he would be the last person one would think of removing on the night. And yet, Conte did, and the momentum swung back to Southampton.
But, given how Conte has transformed a lacklustre Spurs team under Nuno Espirito Santo to one that, at least in attack, is pleasing to the eye, he is allowed mistakes, even the mistake of persisting with Emerson Royal, whose performances of late have been anything but kingly.
The longer one supports Spurs, the more one realises that perhaps what the team really needs isn’t just a world class tactician like Conte. I mean, yes, Spurs do need that for sure, but to make headway along that “long way”, that perhaps isn’t enough.
There’s this TV show called Billions, which is essentially about an asset management firm in the US and the dirty dealings they get up to to make, well, billions. In it, the company employs this psychiatrist named Wendy Rhoades. Her job is to motivate a bunch of emotionally fragile and somewhat entitled traders to produce results, and she’s a master of getting into their heads to find out why they are underperforming. Everytime I watch this show, I can only think about how Spurs can really do with a Wendy Rhoades in the dressing room.
WATCH: Behind-the-scenes in the Spurs dressing room ahead of training
A Sports Psychologist for Spurs job listing on LinkedIn is no longer accepting applications, which would imply that such a person has been found.
However, given that 14 months later, Spurs are still guilty of being Spursy, I’d advise that person to start updating his or her CV, because at some point, Conte is going to be looking at shipping out more than just players that don’t fit his regime.