FA Cup specialists are hard to come by. Ashley Cole dominated the competition with a ridiculous and record-breaking seven triumphs, while Arsene Wenger also lifted the trophy seven times as a manager across his long reign.
But in a knockout competition as unforgiving as the FA Cup, it’s difficult for managers to consistently perform. Foreign managers that join the Premier League are often accused of being disrespectful to the world’s oldest cup competition. It’s why Antonio Conte, now Tottenham manager, deserves immense credit for his work so far in the tournament and why Spurs could be outsiders to go all the way this year.
Having joined in November 2021, last year’s FA Cup journey didn’t end how the Italian manager would have wanted. Having beaten Morecambe and Brighton and Hove Albion to reach round five, Spurs were beaten away at Middlesbrough in extra-time.
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Conte started his strongest XI but on the day his side were overcome by Chris Wilder’s in-form Boro, who had dumped Manchester United out in the previous round. Even in this defeat, Conte’s worst showing in the competition to date, the Italian proved how seriously he takes it. It’s a theory that should serve his current outfit well as they travel to another Championship side, Preston North End, in the Fourth Round this weekend.
His sole FA Cup run in North London may not have delivered success yet, but across the capital he was a roaring success. At Chelsea he secured a Premier League title in his first season that stole all the headlines, but his performances in the FA Cup seem to have gone under the radar.
In 2016-17, his first year, Chelsea reached the final at Wembley. They beat Peterborough United, Brentford, Wolves, Manchester United and Tottenham in a difficult run while competing for and winning the league title. The final itself, against Arsenal, didn’t go their way.
@Carra23 and @GNev2 debate Antonio Conte's future 🤔
In the days before VAR, Alexis Sanchez scored within four minutes despite a clear handball and questionable offside before Victor Moses was shown a second yellow after a horrendous dive. Diego Costa levelled things for the ten-men but Aaron Ramsey popped up with the winner to deny Conte the double.
If you thought that run to the final was a fluke, Conte went one better the following season. His side finished in 5th, 30 points behind champions Manchester City, but even with an underperforming side, he made it work in the FA Cup.
They scraped past Norwich on penalties in the Third Round but then beat Newcastle United, Hull City, Leicester City and Southampton to reach their second consecutive final. There they would face Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, who finished second in the league. In the end a solitary Eden Hazard penalty was enough for Conte to win the competition for the first time, even if it wasn’t enough to save his job.
He was sacked two months after lifting the trophy at Wembley before rocking up at Inter Milan where he would win Serie A and reach the Europa League final. Whatever you need to be able to produce in the FA Cup, Conte has it.
Spurs are desperate to end their 15-year wait for any trophy, and they’ve got the perfect man in charge to achieve that. The Italian has experienced three seasons in the FA Cup, got one runners-up medal, one winners medal and lost just once in normal time. That’s the sort of record that could leave Spurs ecstatic come May.
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