Spurs’ Antonio Conte feels the pull of family in Italy after personal trauma

Tottenham manager forced to reassess priorities after deaths of three friends: ‘This is making me reflect on my life and passions’

For Antonio Conte, it has been a traumatic period. The Tottenham manager has been rocked by the deaths of three close friends – Gian Piero Ventrone, Sinisa Mihajlovic and Gianluca Vialli – and they have led him to “an important reflection on my future”.

What Conte made clear as he opened up for the first time after Vialli’s death on the Friday before last was that he had been reminded of what was most important in life. It is family and friends. And as he has tried to cope with the bereavements – first Ventrone in early October, then Mihajlovic in the middle of December before Vialli – he has really felt the distance to his wife, Elisabetta, and their 15-year-old daughter, Vittoria, who have continued to live in Italy.

“For sure, this season is a difficult season from a personal aspect,” Conte said. “To lose in such a short time three people that I knew very well was not simple. When this situation happens it brings you to have important reflections.

“Many times we think and we give a lot of importance to our work and we forget the family. We forget that we need to have more time for us. This season is making me to have an important reflection on my future.

“When you work and the work is at the top of your mind and in your head, maybe we forget to stay with the family and friends. This is our passion and for the passion we lost a lot of things. But when this situation happens, you start to think that maybe it is good to give more time to your family and friends, and also to yourself. The work is not everything in life.”

Conte thought long and hard before signing a one-and-a-half season contract to succeed Nuno Espírito Santo at Spurs in November 2021 because he and Elisabetta were never going to uproot Vittoria at an important point of her schooling. That remains the case. Conte lives in a London hotel and gets back to Italy whenever he can. Elisabetta and Vittoria also visit at every available opportunity and yet the situation remains far from ideal.

Antonio Conte with Gianluca Vialli during their time as teammates at Juventus.
Antonio Conte (left) with Gianluca Vialli during their time as teammates at Juventus. Photograph: Fabio Diena/Alamy

“For sure to have my family in Italy is not good … not good,” Conte said. “But when you have a son or daughter and kids in school then you have to respect them because if every year or two seasons you have to bring your kids to change totally their environment … I don’t want to affect the life of my family.

“Sometimes it is important to make decisions to sacrifice and stay. I have a family who try to support me and come here in every moment that they can come. But this type of situation becomes more difficult when situations like these happen with Gianluca, Gian Piero and Sinisa.”

After Vialli’s death, the Spurs assistant manager, Cristian Stellini, offered an insight into Conte’s mindset. Stellini, who has known Conte for years, described him as a “tough man,” who “in this moment is more closed to show his feelings”. Stellini said that Conte could talk all day about football and work, but it was a different story when personal emotions were involved. “In the tough moments, maybe you don’t show … or the silence is more than words,” Stellini added. “We are in that moment.”

How to grieve as a Premier League manager? In most jobs, a period of compassionate leave might be an option. For Conte, the best that he could do was to stand down from a couple of press conferences. Ventrone, the Spurs fitness coach, and Mihajlovic, the Yugoslavia and Lazio legend, had leukaemia. They were 61 and 53 respectively while Vialli, who was 58 and a teammate of Conte’s at Juventus, had pancreatic cancer. Conte is 53 and it is inevitable that he has considered his own mortality.

Conte occupies a brutally hard professional space in which he knows he must deliver performances and results no matter what is going on in the background. It is draining, even more so when things are not going well on the pitch – as has broadly been the case for Spurs since the 2-0 defeat at Manchester United on 19 October. They go to Manchester City on Thursday night having won only three of their last nine games in the Premier League.

Conte has had his commitment to Spurs called into question because he refuses to say whether he wants to continue with them beyond the end of the season. Meanwhile, Mauricio Pochettino and Thomas Tuchel – both of whom are out of work – are touted as potential successors. Fun fact: Tuchel was a Spurs fan as a kid.

Conte must operate within the parameters of the club’s business model, which he has repeatedly said is fine by him. Yet from the outside looking in, it is difficult to square that with Conte’s obsession with turbo-charging towards the major prizes.

What Conte will do and has always done is fight every day. “About the commitment and what I give to the club where I work … no club was unhappy about this,” he said. “Usually when I leave the club, they regret me [leaving] a lot because they knew the way I work. It is normal that when I finish the day I am tired because I work a lot. For this reason the club want me to stay for a long period.”


David Hytner

The GuardianTramp

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