There was an Italian manager celebrating. Tottenham Hotspur stadium grass but it wasn’t Antonio Conte. Stefano Pioli was bouncing with an uncoordinated abandon. He was not his compatriot; not after the lameest and most tame Champions League exits Conte may look like the Tottenham manager who doesn’t want to manage Tottenham. They were largely unwatchable, as it was supposed to be a spectacular match against the seven-time European champion. MilanIt was torture. But then, an increasingly glamorous rendezvous in the Serie A-win series brought heavy cheer to this area of ​​north London.

There were reminders of what the night should be like. Steve Perryman was on the field at halftime. Tottenham’s record-breaking player was an uneven goalscorer, but scored a goal against AC Milan in a European semi-final half a century ago. Ten years ago, as stadium announcer Pete Abbott emphasized, Spurs became the first English club to lift a European trophy. Their histories are built on such achievements, and so is their identity. He had a glamor, a style, a romance. Not now.

In the days when they were still winning silver medals, they were the definitive trophy team. Inconsistent but exciting, they can wake themselves up for big events. Conte’s Spurs, by contrast, slumbered into a stalemate. Misguided as a Spurs manager, mistaking his fan base, missing the must-have entertainment that has been an integral part of Tottenham for years, one evening was a small universe of where his reign went wrong. A season unraveled amidst infertility and shyness. A team that rarely displays its ambition to win games has shown a self-defeating dullness. Not for the first time, Conte’s pragmatism did not seem pragmatic. Tottenham attempted to score two goals in a game they should have won.

In other words, the name that will play in the quarter-finals of the Champions League is AC Milan. A missed opportunity for Tottenham raises questions about when they will get another chance like this. Or, actually, who will be at the helm then. Conte and Tottenham is a loveless marriage leading to divorce; It’s just a matter of who petitions and when. The trial breakup may have come courtesy of gallbladder surgery, but his absence didn’t quite strengthen his heart. Chances are that neither of them will want to commit anymore. The ultimate short-term specialist, Conte signed up for just 18 months to get started. His heart wasn’t visible at Tottenham long before he had a gallbladder.

“The club knows very well what my vision is. It’s an area where they probably don’t fit in, as their vision involves spending large sums of money. We’ll discuss and decide at the end of the season,” said Conte. I have an ongoing contract and we’ll see how the season ends.” He may be joking, adding in native Italian. “You never know, the club might want to get rid of me early.” Even though the Spurs are still in the top four, that’s a plausible scenario: if Conte feels very toxic. , if the negativity is seen as too strenuous, if Tottenham would prefer to end the campaign as Ryan Mason’s replacement.

Conte brings a winning mentality at best, a culture of excuses at worst. He has released his current two favorites in two different languages ​​with the Spurs. Last season in the Conference League and that Milan are the reigning Italian champions. Every single one of them is true, but the attempt to portray the Spurs as the weaklings ignored the financial realities. One of these clubs spent £170m last summer, but that was not clear from Tottenham’s performance. They celebrated qualifying for the Champions League but made a loose attempt to stay in it.

“Right now, we don’t have a solid foundation to fight and be competitive to win,” Conte complained, with his usual inference that it wasn’t his fault. “Historically, these two clubs are on completely different levels. Milan won the Serie A title last season, while we miraculously moved up from ninth to fourth. So this is definitely a step forward.”

Yet 2023 brought wins over Manchester City, West Ham and Chelsea, but also setback, not progress: few fans booed at the final whistle seemed to see a third goalless game one step ahead. “I’m sorry for the fans, but we can’t invent the win,” Conte said.

For him it was a recession. A manager who likes to portray himself as a winner has little success in Europe. He reached the last 16 in the Champions League group stages with Juventus and Inter, and Chelsea and Tottenham. There was an element that wasn’t surprising in that, and there was a sense of acceptance between attempts to evade blame. Parting ways seems inevitable. It’s hard to frame it all as Daniel Levy and Tottenham’s fault.

“Perhaps they had higher expectations and they might be disappointed,” Conte seemed to sense a truth as he said in his native language. They were right to hold higher expectations, too. Conte and Tottenham have descended into realms of disappointment. And the best way to get out of them is definitely separately.