FEATURE | Why it is good that Antonio Conte never joined Manchester United

Antonio Conte, currently the manager of Tottenham Hotspur, had previously been linked with a move to Manchester United but has never been close to joining the Red Devils in England.

Since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United have struggled to find consistency in winning trophies. Despite hiring David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the club has not been able to shake off their tendency to be fragile.

While Moyes did not turn out to be “the chosen one” that some including Sir Alex would’ve dreamt of, United took shelter under the shade of former Barcelona manager Louis van Gaal. But despite his noteworthy pedigree, the Dutchman succumbed to the club’s demands.

Mourinho endured the same consequences despite guiding the team to glories in the Europa League and EFL Cup. After engraving their names on a handful of trophies since Sir Alex’s departure, United took a bold step toward their new manager, subsequently promoting Ole Gunnar Solskjær to the first-team coach from an interim role after an incredible comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.

Solskjær’s side oversaw a steady improvement in results but never crossed the broader line as a defeat in the Europa League final against Villarreal was the closest they had come to a piece of silverware under the Norwegian.

The year 2021 was important for everyone, including United, Solskjær, and Conte. Spurs started their Premier League campaign with Nuno Espírito Santo as their manager. The former Wolverhampton Wanderers boss got the sack after just 17 matches in charge of the London-based side. Conte, who had recently left Inter due to the mismatches over multiple issues with the club hierarchy, came under the radar of Daniel Levy, who soon reached an agreement with the former Premier League-winning manager for Chelsea. Nuno Santo, ironically, was sacked after Solskjær’s United beat Spurs by a 3-0 scoreline, thereby marking a watershed moment in the history of the two sides.

Meanwhile, there were signs that United’s ship had started to crumble once again, and Solskjær would lose his job soon enough. That said, the Mancunian side finally dropped the hammer, with Solskjær parting ways with the English side on November 21. Had the decision been made on October 21 (one month earlier), the Stretford Enders could’ve seen Conte arrive at their club. But now, while looking back at how things panned out for Conte in England and how much improvement he has made with Spurs thus far, it was perhaps good after all that he never got to join Man United. 

Perhaps even Conte would’ve never survived for long and would’ve accepted the same fate as his predecessors had he joined United, why? Well, there is certainly more than one reason to claim so. First of all, it is how the club in Manchester works. While Conte, at Spurs, has built a team surrounded by the players of his choice, he would’ve never enjoyed the same freedom at United.

If history teaches us something, United let their managers choose their transfer targets, but the club eventually brings in the players who would fit their bill and marketing urge. Some notable personalities have even marked them as a club run like a ‘business organisation’. But with Conte getting a pair of Italian helping hands of Fabio Paratici (the Managing Director of Football at Spurs), the Lilywhites were able to wrap up their transfer business very early last summer, having only signed the players of the manager’s preferences.

From a structural point of view, working at United is tough, with the lack of footballing people being involved in making crucial decisions. But Spurs, with the inclusion of Paratici, have managed to bypass the Red Devils in the department. In a club that has always got the sticks for lack of transparency at the top level of management, one could scratch his head and imagine the utter level of chaos it would’ve created if a demanding manager like Conte had joined the 20-time English champions.

From being nowhere near the top four to ending the season with a Champions League qualification via a fourth-placed finish, Conte did show glimpses of his outstanding management abilities last season and has continued to do so this term. In a brilliant striker like Harry Kane, Conte has a gem at Spurs. In Son Heung-min, the Italian has a professional that would work hard like a maniac. Aggressive personalities such as Pierre-Emile Höjbjerg and Richarlison just give it the look of a traditional Antonio Conte side.

On top of everything, Conte’s outspoken nature might not have sit well with some of United’s leaders. And on the back of the club’s decision to part ways with Ralf Rangnick after the German took a swipe at the players last season and called out the club for incompetence from the top to bottom, it is very clear Conte would not have been tolerated on the hot seat for much longer, either. In conclusion, it appears as if the 53-year-old is fine where he is, and it is for good that he never got to join United. Otherwise, he would’ve been jobless by now for digestible reasons.


GIFN | Jyotirmoy Halder

More European Football News