If an agreement can be reached between Tottenham Hotspur and Antonio Conte, it would trigger the return to the Premier League of one of the most successful and tactically astute coaches in world football.
Conte left Inter Milan just three weeks after leading the Italian side to their first Serie A title in 11 years and has experience of lifting trophies in England, having won the Premier League and FA Cup during his spell at Chelsea.
But what would his possible arrival in north London mean for Tottenham’s squad? There is an acceptance that the group is in need of drastic surgery, whether Harry Kane stays or not, and Conte will no doubt have strong views on which players he wants to sell or keep.
On the basis of his work at Inter, and his time at Chelsea, it seems there are some obvious potential winners and possible losers within the Tottenham squad – if Conte is indeed appointed as their new head coach.
Kane’s stated aim is that he wants to win major trophies. It is this desire that has prompted him to tell Tottenham he wants to move this summer, with Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea all interested in signing the 27-year-old.
The possible arrival of Conte, however, could change Kane’s mind. There will be no guarantees of success under the Italian, of course, but it is unavoidably true that Conte is a proven winner of titles. As a manager he has won four Serie A titles, two Italian Super Cups, the Premier League and the FA Cup since 2012.
The same arguments were made in favour of Jose Mourinho, but Conte has enjoyed success more recently. At Inter, he also showed he can bring the best out of his primary striker: Romelu Lukaku scored 64 goals in 95 games over the last two seasons.
Conte is known for his 3-5-2 system, which should suit Doherty perfectly. Wing-backs are crucial to Conte’s approach and Doherty has played the best football of his career in that position, rather than on the right of a back four.
Indeed it was Doherty’s performances as a wing-back for Wolves that prompted Tottenham to pay £15 million for his services in August last year. Conte was able to convert Victor Moses into a highly effective wing-back at Chelsea and there seems to be no reason why Doherty would not thrive in this formation.
The 29-year-old endured a difficult first campaign in north London, starting only one of their final 12 matches in all competitions, but could be given a new lease of life if Conte is appointed.
Another beneficiary of Conte’s 3-5-2 formation could be Ben Davies, who has generally looked comfortable whenever he has played on the left side of a back three. Davies is a naturally more defensive option than most full-backs, and is better suited to playing as a left-sided centre-back in a three than as a wing-back.
The Welshman has the ability to step into midfield with the ball, bringing it out and passing forward, and would not be worried if dragged out into wide positions. A 3-5-2 shape would also mean there is space for both Davies and Sergio Reguilon, who is a more adventurous option for the wing-back role. Both players could thrive under Conte’s guidance.
At Chelsea, Conte often deployed a 3-4-3 shape. This could be another option for the Italian if he returns to the Premier League but, whether he chooses a three-man or a two-man strikeforce, Son has the flexibility to star in a Conte system.
If Kane stays, Son could easily partner the England captain in attack as he did on many occasions under Mourinho. They are one of the deadliest duos in the European game, and Conte enjoyed huge success by partnering Lukaku with Lautaro Martinez at Inter.
In a 3-4-3 system, Son could operate on the right or the left of the central forward. With wing-backs outside of him in attack, he would have the freedom to roam around the final third in search of the pockets of space where is so dangerous.
Unless Lucas can be converted into a wing-back, which seems unlikely, then there is no obvious place for him in Conte’s usual 3-5-2 system. The Brazilian was a regular starter under Mourinho but he has rarely offered the end product that Tottenham would have hoped for from a player of his calibre.
In the Premier League last season, Lucas offered only three goals and four assists. He was more effective in the Europa League but his form is unlikely to have blown away any potential new manager, particularly a coach as demanding as Conte. Unless he drastically changes his game, it is hard to see him playing a key role in a Conte system.
For many of the same reasons as Lucas, Bergwijn could struggle to make a significant impact in a Conte team. Again, the lack of out-and-out wingers would not work in the Dutchman’s favour.
The 23-year-old will not be helped by the fact that his goal return in English football has been so disappointing. In 32 matches in all competitions last season, Bergwijn scored just one goal and registered only three assists.
Winks fell out of favour last season as Mourinho pursued a more combative and aggressive midfield. Unfortunately for the Englishman, who has 10 caps for his country but was not in contention for this summer’s European Championship, Conte will almost certainly want a similarly physical and intense midfield.
On paper at least, it seems a manager like Erik ten Hag or Graham Potter (both of whom were linked with the Tottenham job) would be better suited to Winks and his technical style of play. The 25 year-old is more of a passer than a battler, and Conte will no doubt want power and energy in his midfield, where players are expected to charge from box to box.
Does Dier have the flexibility and mobility to operate in a Conte-style back three? Perhaps he could line up as the central defender, but the fear is that he would not be quick enough or sharp enough in possession to serve as one of the outside centre-backs.
With Toby Alderweireld looking the most obvious candidate for the central defensive position, and with other centre-back targets (such as Joachim Andersen) on Tottenham’s agenda, it is not easy to see where Dier would fit into the starting lineup under Conte’s management.