When the ultimate whistle sounded within the goalless draw that confirmed Tottenham Hotspur’s exit on the last-16 stage of the Champions League, each sight and sound screamed the start of the top of supervisor Antonio Conte’s 16-month reign.
Spurs followers reacted furiously, the physique language mirrored a damaged workforce, the empty seats illustrated the brutal actuality of the discontent that bubbled beneath the floor all through what ought to have been a full-blooded and livid try to rescue their European aspirations in opposition to AC Milan.
The ramifications of this defeat over two legs could also be felt far and huge at Spurs, nevertheless it was the way of the efficiency that can convey justifiable criticism down on Conte’s head, his eventual exit now certainly a formality, whether or not it comes on the finish of the season or earlier than.
There isn’t any indication he’s keen to resume a contract that expires on the finish of this marketing campaign, and simply as considerably no signal that Spurs are determined for him to signal one.
It simply appears a matter of time earlier than Conte leaves.
His method and the passive, conservative gameplan of the primary 45 minutes sucked the life out of a Spurs help who had constructed up an outstanding ambiance earlier than kick-off. As an alternative, they sat again and allowed Milan to settle into their process.
In sharp distinction to the optimistic mindset adopted by Graham Potter’s Chelsea when confronted with an analogous task in opposition to Borussia Dortmund at Stamford Bridge 24 hours earlier, Spurs performed as in the event that they had been blissfully unaware that they really needed to rating a aim to remain within the Champions League.
Spurs’ motto ‘To Dare Is To Do’ was flouted spectacularly. No daring. No doing. And out they went.
The response on the finish left Conte and his gamers in little doubt about how Spurs followers felt, and who might blame them? The place was the urgency? The place was the depth? The place was the creativity?
Conte’s workforce lacked midfield spark. Son Heung-min was poor whereas Harry Kane was starved of significant service, although he virtually rescued Spurs and despatched the sport into additional time, solely to be denied by Mike Maignan’s magnificent save.
It might have been an undeserved reprieve for Conte and Spurs, as a result of nothing about their efficiency merited any alternative to safe a spot within the Champions League quarter-finals.
The midfield duo of Oliver Skipp and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg by no means lacked endeavour, however they might not present the form of provide line which might hassle Milan and permit Kane, specifically, to thrive.
This now has all of the hallmarks of a managerial reign that’s coming to a loveless conclusion except Conte can encourage Spurs into the Premier League’s high 4 – which shall be unlikely in the event that they present this lack of ambition and will have much more fallout additional down the road.
The whispers have already began that Kane might take into account his future if Spurs will not be within the Champions League subsequent season. This defeat condemned the 29-year-old club-record goalscorer to a different season with no trophy.
Spurs’ evening was summed up by the behaviour of defender Cristian Romero, a strolling yellow card who then turned it right into a purple one with a ridiculous late problem on Theo Hernandez.
Romero could also be a World Cup winner with Argentina however his villainous hard-man act is carrying skinny, mindless being a beneficiant technique to describe the wild launch that decreased Spurs to 10 males for the final 12 minutes. It was the act of a legal responsibility.
Spurs followers got loads of alternative to vent their frustrations, whether or not it was the aimless passing, the tediously sluggish build-up, the hopeful lengthy balls or the substitution of the favored Dejan Kulusevski for Davinson Sanchez – this was a totally dire evening all spherical.
There may be nonetheless a Champions League place up for grabs. Spurs are fourth however Liverpool look more and more ominous proper behind, three factors adrift with a recreation in hand. There isn’t any query which workforce has the larger ahead momentum.
Regardless of how unsure the long run seems for Conte, Spurs should in some way put this whimper of a Champions League departure behind them rapidly and even that comfort may very well be pushed past them very swiftly.
The overriding feeling, aside from the unrelenting distress and the frustration of Spurs’ efficiency and outcomes, is that the countdown to the Italian’s departure is now underneath approach. The clock is unquestionably ticking on Conte’s tenure as Tottenham supervisor after a really dismal Champions League exit by the hands of AC Milan in entrance of their very own livid followers.