Antonio Conte’s astonishing post-match rant after Tottenham’s 3-3 draw with Southampton could have been a self-defence mechanism and influenced by the emotional stress he has been under this season, a leading sports performance coach says.
The Italian went on a 10-minute tirade against his players after they blew a 3-1 lead to draw against the Premier League’s bottom club. He accused them of being “selfish”, not being able to play under pressure and lacking fighting spirit, saying he could no longer “hide” his real feelings.
Conte, who looks certain to leave his post at the end of his contract in the summer, if not before, is the latest Spurs manager who has been unable to bring silverware to the club, something that will hurt him given his fierce winning mentality.
Sports performance coach Jeremy Lazarus, who has Premier League players, managers and top-level performers in other sports among his client list, believes Conte’s desire to protect his identity as a winner could have caused the extraordinary outburst.
“We have all got a sense of who we are and Conte will identify as a winner,” he told the PA news agency.
“If our sense of identity gets threatened we don’t all respond well to that. We will either put up barriers or do something to preserve our sense of self. He almost certainly identifies himself as a winner and he needs to protect that then he will come out all guns blazing.
“It could be a build-up of various factors and there is always a straw that breaks the camel’s back. And maybe what he saw on Saturday, compared to what he was expecting, was enough.
“And he thought, ‘I’ve had enough, I can’t keep defending the players’. That seems a pretty plausible explanation.
“I don’t think there was calculation there, it felt like he thought in his opinion his players weren’t giving their side of the bargain. I am not saying that’s the case, I am saying he probably thinks that.
“Some people may have said he was acting. It was not an act, he is a passionate guy and a winner. If he was acting then he is in the wrong profession – it was an Oscar-winning performance!”
Spurs’ difficulties on the pitch have been dwarfed by the personal trauma Conte has suffered this season.
Fitness coach Gian Piero Ventrone, a strong ally of Conte, and close friends Gianluca Vialli and Sinisa Mihajlovic all died within a few months of each other and then the Italian fell ill, needing emergency surgery to remove his gallbladder – all while living in a hotel in London away from his family.
“We have to look at the backdrop,” Lazarus added. “He has just had major surgery and in the last few months he has lost three very close friends, including the fitness coach.
“If that happened to most people, they would just chill out and take it easy and hide away for a few months, but Conte can’t do that so we have to bear in mind the human side of it.
“Having the loss of people close to you is one of the major stresses in life. It is completely feasible that it would be a factor.”
Conte, who has revealed previously that he often has strategies for his press conferences, did not speak to his players in the immediate aftermath of the Southampton game or before his outburst.
They will have seen it on social media as it quickly went viral and Lazarus says their reaction to it could go either way.
“There are undoubtedly better ways to do it,” he said.
“If you think about the workplace up and down the country, if your boss takes you to the side and lets you know they aren’t happy, then at least you’re aware of their feelings.
“If they make it public afterwards then at least they’ve told you first – you may not like it but at least you understand. To hear about it somewhere else first, then many people would be not happy with that.
“For some it could have the desired effect and they’ll want to prove him wrong, and for others it could see them go into their shell. He knows his players, but if in his mind he believes he has tried everything and it has not worked then he may feel that he had nothing to lose by saying what he said.
“Maybe he feels he only had one option.”