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Spurs close to axing coach as players beg ex-boss to make shock return; Ange in the hunt

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Antonio Conte’s reign as Tottenham manager appears to be rapidly drawing to a close after the club’s limp Champions League exit at the hands of AC Milan.

The Italian was back on the touchline on Wednesday after recovering from gallbladder surgery but upbeat pre-game talk about infusing his players with energy came to nothing.

The club’s long-suffering fans are now coming to terms with a 15th straight season without a trophy following the 0-0 draw in the last 16 of the Champions League, which meant Milan progressed 1-0 on aggregate.

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The atmosphere at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium turned toxic, with the home fans angrily voicing their disapproval at full-time.

The result capped a disastrous seven days for Spurs, who exited the FA Cup last week away to second-tier Sheffield United and lost at Wolves on Saturday.

Those results, along with Conte’s health problems, have led to mounting speculation that the Italian’s tenure is coming to an end.

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The future of Spurs talisman Harry Kane remains under a cloud – and it could prove crucial to deciding the fate of manager Conte.Source: Getty Images

Sky Sports also reported that several players and staff members have reached out to former coach Mauricio Pochettino begging him to return to the club that sacked him in November 2019. Sky Sports News reporter Melissa Reddy said: “Also, a lot of players and staff have been speaking to the Argentine urging him to return and resurrect the club.”

Pochettino has been out of a job since being axed by Paris Saint-Germain last July, and has said in the past that he would love to return to Spurs. He said in April 2020: “But deep in my heart I am sure our paths will cross again. From the day I left the club, my dream is to be back one day and to try to finish the work we didn’t finish. We were so close to winning the Premier League and Champions League.”

Australian manager Ange Postecoglou is reportedly on the list of managers Spurs will consider hiring to replace Conte. Other options include Brighton & Hove Albion coach Roberto de Zerbi, former Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel, recently-sacked Spain coach Luis Enrique, and Marco Silva.

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It has been a frustrating season for Spurs and Conte.Source: Getty Images

53-year-old Conte, whose contract runs out at the end of the season, was cagey over his immediate future after the Milan defeat but admitted the club could sack him.

“This is not the right day to speak about the future but I have a contract with Tottenham and Tottenham know very well my thoughts and at the end of the season we will meet and make a decision,” Conte said.

“I have a great relationship with my chairman (Daniel Levy), with Fabio Paratici (director of football), but it doesn’t mean I don’t tell them which is my vision, you understand? Then we will see.

“Now we have to finish the season. I have a contract until June. I am happy to work in Tottenham but at the end will make a decision.”

Conte walked through the door at Spurs in November 2021 as a serial winner at Juventus, Chelsea and Inter Milan.

But his pragmatic approach has been criticised by fans who are not prepared to compromise on the club’s attacking traditions.

Conte has indicated unhappiness at Tottenham’s transfer dealings, while repeatedly making it clear he believes it is unrealistic to expect his side to compete with their big-spending Premier League rivals.

Tottenham’s Spanish defender Pedro Porro at the end of the Champions League defeat to AC Milan.Source: AFP

The Italian has often talked of the need to build the foundations of the club and again appealed for patience from supporters on Wednesday.

“I understand for the fans, they don’t have patience because for a long time Tottenham is not winning but what I can promise is we continue to work really hard for this club to continue to improve and then we see what will happen,” he said.

As well as a frustrating time on the pitch, Conte has faced an emotionally challenging few months off it.

His friend and Spurs fitness coach Gian Piero Ventrone died in October and he lost his former Juventus teammate Gianluca Vialli earlier this year – the third close friend to pass away in recent months.

That was followed weeks later by his own bout of poor health. Conte had to have his gallbladder removed and subsequently missed five matches across two spells of recovery.

Spurs still have a place in next season’s Champions League to play for but that looks fraught with difficulties.

They are fourth in the Premier League but a rejuvenated Liverpool are just three points behind them with a game in hand.

Do Spurs stick with Conte in the hope he will haul them over the line or do they sack him and hope a new manager can revitalise their push for the top four?

Club bosses have a huge call to make and time is not on their side.

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