Ange Postecoglou criticising Tottenham’s ‘fragile foundations’ could go down as his Conte moment

After Tottenham pushed Manchester City all the way to the end, producing their best performance in months, it felt, for a few happy minutes, as if this could be the starting point for some optimism at Spurs. This pragmatic, innovative performance could even light the way for Ange Postecoglou’s second season at the club.

But when Postecoglou walked into his press conference soon after the final whistle, he instantly blew away any hope that this might be a positive evening for the club.

This was the most explosive press conference delivered by a Tottenham manager since Antonio Conte ended his tenure with that infamous performance in Southampton in March 2023. Postecoglou was brought in two months later to be the anti-Conte and while he was not quite as wilfully destructive as the Italian, you could almost hear the ghost of Conte in Postecoglou’s words.

It all started when Postecoglou was asked whether Tuesday evening’s performance could be the foundation for what Spurs do next season. (You could certainly see why it might be: Spurs tried a new formation, worked hard, restricted City and, on another day, could have taken something.) But instead, Postecoglou silenced the room when he said that “the last 48 hours has revealed to me that the foundations are fairly fragile”. It was the most surprising and jarring thing Postecoglou has said during his time at Spurs.



Postecoglou bemoans Tottenham’s ‘fragile foundations’ after City defeat

It was the type of comment that has to be unpacked but Postecoglou would only go so far in doing so. He said that “the last 48 hours have revealed a fair bit to me” and this means that he has “got to go back to the drawing board with some things”. Again, Postecoglou was asked to clarify and expand on who exactly he was angry with and why, but again, he did not want to get drawn into too many specifics.

Asked whether his frustrations were outside or inside the club, Postecoglou said they were “outside, inside, everywhere”. Asked again to move into specifics — whether he meant his players — Postecoglou again refused to engage. “I’m not going to tell you because it’s for me,” he snapped. “I probably misread the situation as to what I think is important in the endeavour to become a winning team but that’s ok. That’s why I’m here.” (At this moment, he could hardly have sounded more Conte, cursing himself for not understanding the size of the job in changing the mentality here.)

Ange Postecoglou, Tottenham

Postecoglou’s team were beaten 2-0 by Manchester City on Tuesday (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Clearly, Postecoglou was not happy with the sense that a lot of fans were relaxed about Spurs not winning this game because they did not want Arsenal to win the league. He was clear in his message on Monday that he had no interest in “bragging rights” when there was a game to be won and habits to instill. But here, after a night when Spurs fans were louder when they were losing than drawing, when Postecoglou himself got drawn into angry exchanges with a fan behind the dugout, he could not hide his feelings.

“Maybe I’m out of step but I just don’t care. I just want to win,” Postecoglou said, when asked whether the Arsenal rivalry had been a factor. “I want to be successful at this football club. It’s why I was brought in. So other people, how they want to feel and what their priorities are, are of zero interest to me. I know what’s important to build a winning team. That’s what I need to concentrate on.”

When asked whether Tuesday’s subdued atmosphere affected Tottenham’s players, given how loud the stadium was earlier this season, Postecoglou said yes. “Of course it does,” said the Spurs boss. “I can’t dictate what people do. They’re allowed to express themselves any way they want but yeah, when we’ve got late winners in games, it’s because the crowd’s helped us.”

But even then, frustration at fans cannot sufficiently explain Postecoglou’s comments. He said that his issues were outside and inside the club, remember. And he said that they would force him back to the drawing board. Fans are ultimately outside of the manager’s control, so did he mean an issue closer to home?

So Postecoglou was asked whether he had an issue with his players but he refused to criticise them in public. “Unless I was watching a different game, we matched it with the best team in the land for the last four years, unless someone saw it differently,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I be happy if we’ve matched the team that is kind of the benchmark? Yeah, I was happy with the application. Of course I was.”

Ultimately, Postecoglou left it open who exactly inside the club he was unhappy with. He must have known that by not making his complaints more clear, he would unleash a cycle of speculation about what exactly had upset him. Some may ask whether he was playing politics with the board over transfers — another Conte throwback — but Postecoglou insisted that this was “nothing to do with summer plans”, which are already in place.

Antonio Conte, Tottenham

Ex-Tottenham boss Antonio Conte branded his players ‘selfish’ in March 2023 (Clive Rose/Getty Images)

The generous interpretation of Postecoglou’s comments is that this is all part of trying to make this whole football club — board, staff, players, fans — make that mental leap into competitiveness and ambition. He kept coming back to the importance of becoming a “winning team” and after a few days dominated by talk about not winning, his sporting ego will have been challenged. So much of this season has been about positivity, shared ethos and goals, and perhaps Postecoglou decided it was time to switch to bad cop, to replace the carrot with the stick.

But many people will read this and fear this is a repeat of ‘the history of Tottenham’. So many Spurs managers have started well and seen their tenures descend into acrimony and frustration, exasperated by their inability to steer this ship where they want it to go. Postecoglou was meant to be different, replacing the friction of the Jose Mourinho and Conte eras with unity, togetherness and optimism.

But less than one year in, he is already making similar noises, criticising the mentality of those around him, as if he hopes to shame them into becoming more like him. It is a risky move and no-one who has tried it before has come out on top. The question is whether this is a new phase or just a brief moment after a strange few days at the end of a tiring first season.

(Top photo: Vachira Vachira/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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