Tottenham Hotspur’s loss to Slovenia’s Moura in the European Conference League on Thanksgiving Day was a rock-bottom for many Spurs fans. It’s hard to get a much lower score for a bounce by a lower-ranked club in a third-tier European competition that has only been around for a decade. Coach Antonio Conte has given chances to a number of reserve players he hasn’t seen in play yet since his appointment, and if his post-match comments are any indication, he certainly wasn’t impressed with what he saw.
“I think this team is very small but at the same time we have to work and improve because the details drive the end result. I didn’t like what happened tonight, the performance. I have to be honest and tell you that after three and a half weeks, I’m starting to understand the situation. I can tell you the situation is not simple.
“It’s not simple because at the moment because Tottenham certainly isn’t very high. There’s an important gap between the top teams in England. We shouldn’t be afraid of this. I’m here to work, here to improve the situation. I know we have to work hard but we also have to improve the quality. The situation, because if we want to be competitive.”
In a subsequent press conference ahead of Sunday’s game against Burnley, Conte went on to say he was assessing his players, essentially warning them that he would decide who he wanted to keep.
“Of course we need players with the right mentality and quality, players who deserve to play for Tottenham and who aspire to compete and fight for this shirt and win something. Of course, we need this. I do my assessments and then I will speak with the club but I am ready to continue working in this way.
“It is important to know that the situation is not simple, simple, no. It is not enough that you do this [clicks fingers] And change the situation.
“We need time, we need passion, we need work and I’m here for it. That doesn’t mean we have to change a lot. I’m ready to do what the club wants to do, but now the situation is very clear.”
These are negative comments, but let’s look at this from a positive angle for a second. Spurs fans are referring to a “painful rebuilding” since before Mauricio Pochettino left the club a little more than two years ago. Spurs have also just appointed a manager who is legitimately one of the best coaches in the world working today, who knows what he wants and how to get there. It is not at all inappropriate to suggest that he has had assurances regarding player sales and acquisitions as well as funding for such when he was hired, and has not yet had the opportunity to decide which players he wants to retain and develop and which he feels is best served when looking for New opportunities elsewhere.
In short, these quotes were a shot across the arc for his players – Changes are coming, I’m watching. This suggests that he can prepare well to destroy the team, or at least determine who he thinks he can improve and who he would like to get rid of. And frankly, I’m in a place now where I fully trust Conte to make those decisions, even if it leads to the exclusion or marginalization of the players I personally love. I didn’t completely trust Nuno to do this. I Certainly He didn’t trust or want Mourinho to do that. Conti is different.
After a humiliating loss, it is perfectly normal to go through a temporary cycle of agony for the club, its players, etc. The notable absence from this agony cycle is a widespread criticism of the coach – it certainly looks as though Conte has been given carte blanche. To rate this Tottenham team. However, I also feel that given the time that there are players in this team they could become much better players if given time under Conte. And I trust him to make those decisions, too.
So if the coach decides Tanguy Ndombele is better off finding a new club, or that he can turn Harry Winks into a world-class midfielder, I’m on board. I agree with the changes, and let’s see if Conte can turn the deeply flawed side of Tottenham into something more than the sum of its parts. But we have to give him, and the club, time, even if it means more humiliations like Mora along the way.