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ruthless Antonio Conte is already highlighting why Manchester United were so wary of him

Serial winner was never seriously considered by United chiefs, as they were wary of the reputation as a disrupter who only stays in a job if he gets his own way.

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Tottenham manager Antonio Conte. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Tottenham manager Antonio Conte. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Tottenham manager Antonio Conte. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

THERE was a primary reason why Manchester United walked away from the option of hiring Antonio Conte as their new manager - and their hesitancy may soon be justified.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's time as United manager was up long before his final farewell was confirmed and in the month before his exit, Conte and his advisers made it clear that he was ready to take over at Old Trafford.

Having won four league titles with Juventus, Chelsea and Inter Milan since 2013, Conte was the outstanding candidate to sweep into United and transform their fortunes in an instant.

Yet this serial winner was never seriously considered by United chiefs, as they were wary of the reputation as a disrupter who only stays in a job if he gets his own way.

United legend Gary Neville was among those who pronounced several times on Sky Sports that his former club would never consider appointing Conte at any cost - and that was not merely his personal opinion.

Neville was aware of the caution United chiefs had over an approach for Conte, as the firebrand character has a CV that suggests success and chaos are guaranteed wherever he goes.

The trouble with Conte is that, while he is a manager who sets the highest of standards and delivers trophies with relentless efficiency, he comes with a reputation and a price tag that frightens off potential employers.

Football has a grapevine that ripples with chatter, and not all of it is positive when it comes to the coach who is returning to Stamford Bridge as Tottenham manager this afternoon.

The word demanding is one of the more polite words that are often attached to Conte - and that's not just associated with the expectations he puts on the players under his command.

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Tottenham Hotspur's Italian head coach Antonio Conte (L) talks to Tottenham Hotspur's English midfielder Dele Alli during the English Premier League football match between Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur at St Mary's Stadium in Southampton, southern England on December 28, 2021. - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images.

Tottenham Hotspur's Italian head coach Antonio Conte (L) talks to Tottenham Hotspur's English midfielder Dele Alli during the English Premier League football match between Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur at St Mary's Stadium in Southampton, southern England on December 28, 2021. - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images.

Tottenham Hotspur's Italian head coach Antonio Conte (L) talks to Tottenham Hotspur's English midfielder Dele Alli during the English Premier League football match between Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur at St Mary's Stadium in Southampton, southern England on December 28, 2021. - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images.

His exit from Chelsea was a case in point, as his infamous text message, informing Diego Costa that he was no longer part of his plans at Stamford Bridge in June 2017, was a reckless act that dramatically reduced the player's value - and could have been viewed as a sackable offence.

Had Conte not guided Chelsea to the Premier League title a few weeks earlier, he would almost certainly have been axed by the Blues for his callous treatment of Costa.

Instead, the manager and his employer embarked on a final year laced with acrimony that ended with a high-profile court case after he left the club.

During that period, Conte regularly used his press conferences to snipe at Chelsea's hierarchy, with the legal battle that dragged on for the best part of a year adding to the sense of bitterness between both sides of the war.

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Chelsea argued in court that Conte's conduct in his final year, as he fell out with players and club chiefs, was a breach of his contract.

Yet the Italian's habit for winning shone through again, as he added an extra sum of cash to the £26.6 million Chelsea's accounts confirmed they were forced to pay out to get rid of Conte and his backroom staff.

Conte then had similar battles with the hierarchy at Inter Milan, as he quit after refusing to accept plans to sell off star names, following his stunning success in guiding the club to their first Serie A title in 11 years last season and he also had fallouts with the owners of Bari and Juventus.

It is a track record of success and animosity that Manchester United decided they couldn't embrace, but Spurs needed succeed at any cost and had to roll the dice with Conte.

His desire for control of the club he works for was also the reason why Tottenham failed to agree a deal with their chief candidate to take over last summer, as talks broke down in embarrassing fashion when Spurs chairman Daniel Levy refused to bow to the demands of the Italian.

Then, just ten games into the Premier League season, Spurs were forced to reopen talks with Conte after Nuno Espirito Santo was exposed as being ill-equipped in his role, and this time the star of the coaching show was in a position to force through his demands.

Only Manchester City's Pep Guardiola and Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp earn more than Conte's £13million-a-year Spurs deal, yet already the cracks are appearing for him in north London.

Only a month after he arrived, Conte made a curious statement, suggesting changes need to be made at Spurs "if" he remained in the job and those mixed messages have continued to flow since then.

Then, when asked whether he would still be the manager of the club next season, Conte offered this less-than-clear response earlier this month: "Honestly, I like to live in the present and not to think a lot for the future.

"The future is later. And later could be too much late for us. We have to be focused on the present. Then we will see."

Conte also suggested there was "no comparison" between the Chelsea side he will face today and the Spurs squad after their Carabao Cup semi-final earlier this month - and now he is using familiar tactics to put pressure on Levy and the club's owners heading into the final week of the transfer window.

"I've made evaluations about the squad. I have spoken with the club and I hope the club will listen to me," he declared on Friday, in what could only be viewed as a warning.

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ENFIELD, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Antonio Conte, head coach of Tottenham Hotspur speaks to the media during the Tottenham Hotspur press conference at Tottenham Hotspur Training Centre on January 21, 2022 in Enfield, England. (Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)

ENFIELD, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Antonio Conte, head coach of Tottenham Hotspur speaks to the media during the Tottenham Hotspur press conference at Tottenham Hotspur Training Centre on January 21, 2022 in Enfield, England. (Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)

ENFIELD, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Antonio Conte, head coach of Tottenham Hotspur speaks to the media during the Tottenham Hotspur press conference at Tottenham Hotspur Training Centre on January 21, 2022 in Enfield, England. (Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)

"After only two weeks I said we needed to improve the quality of this squad. I was sure after seven to 10 days about this. Then I had to make the evaluation over who I can count on and who I can't.

"The gap is very large and we need to work a lot and try to improve our squad."

It remains to be seen what happens if Levy and Spurs Sporting Director Fabio Paratici fail to give Conte what he wants this month, with history confirming he is not afraid to walk away from clubs he feels are unwilling to match his ambitions.

For now, Spurs still have a serial winner at the helm and already he has made his mark, as Conte is unbeaten in the Premier League after nine games as Tottenham manager.

The club that has not won the league title since 1961 and not even won an FA Cup since 1991 would be mad to allow Conte slip through their grasp, but Conte has never left a club on cordial terms with the owners - and it would be a big surprise if that narrative changed at Tottenham Hotspur.

CONTE'S BUST UPS

*JUST weeks after agreeing to a new contract extension after securing Bari's promotion to Serie A, Conte's time at the helm came to a sudden end after a fall-out with the club's directors.

*Conte resigned as Juventus coach after a successful spell at the helm in 2014 after declaring he wasn't happy with the direction the club wanted to move in.

* After a fractious final year of rows with the club's owners, Conte was sacked by Chelsea after guiding the club to FA Cup success. He went on to win a 'wrongful dismissal' claim in court against the club.

* Ending Inter Milan's long wait for a Serie A title last season was a glorious triumph, but Conte refused to consider selling some of his star players last summer to cut costs and walked out on the club abruptly.

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