Tottenham Hotspur’s loss to Slovenian side Mura in the Europa Conference League on Thanksgiving Day was essentially a nadir for many Spurs fans. It’s hard to get much lower than getting bounced by the lowest-ranked club in a third-tier European competition that has only been in existence for a decade. Manager Antonio Conte gave chances to a number of reserve players that he hasn’t had a chance to see in action yet since his appointment, and if his post-match comments were any indication, he was definitely not impressed with what he saw.
“I think this team is very young but at the same time we have to work and improve because the details move the final result. I did not like what happened tonight, the performance. I must be honest and tell you that after three and a half weeks, I am starting to understand the situation. I can tell you that the situation is not simple.
“It is not simple because in this moment because for sure the level of Tottenham is not so high. There is an important gap to the top teams in England. Of this we must not be scared. I am here to work, here to improve the situation. I know we have to work hard but we have also to improve the quality of the situation, because if we want to be competitive.”
In a later press conference ahead of Sunday’s match vs. Burnley, Conte went on to say that he is evaluating his players, and basically warned them that he will decide who he wants to keep around.
“For sure we need players with the right mentality and with the quality, players that deserve to play for Tottenham and aspire to be competitive, to fight for this shirt, to win something. For sure, we need this. I’m making my evaluations and then I’ll speak with the club but I’m ready to continue to work in this way.
“It’s important that we have to know that the situation is not simple, simple, no. It’s not enough to do this [clicks fingers] and change the situation.
“We need time, we need passion, we need work and I’m here for this. It doesn’t mean that we have to change a lot. I’m ready to do what the club want 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. Tottenham fans have been referencing a “painful rebuild” since before Mauricio Pochettino left the club just over two years ago. Spurs also just appointed a manager who is legitimately one of the best in the world working today, who knows what he wants and how to get there. It’s not at all inappropriate to suggest that he was given assurances with regards to player sales and acquisitions as well as funding for such when he was appointed, and he has yet to have the opportunity to make choice about which players he wants to keep around and develop and which he feels are best served looking for new opportunities elsewhere.
In short, these quotes were a shot across the bow to his players — changes are coming, and I’m watching. It suggests that he could very well be preparing to gut the squad, or at least decide on who he thinks he can improve and who he’d like to offload. And frankly, I’m in a place right now where I trust Conte completely to make those decisions, even if it results in discarding or sidelining players I personally like. I didn’t fully trust Nuno to do this. I certainly didn’t trust or want Mourinho to do it. Conte is different.
After a humiliating loss, it’s completely natural to go into a temporary doom-cycle on the club, its players, etc. Notably absent from this particular doom-cycle is extensive criticism of the manager — it certainly seems as though Conte’s being given carte blanche to evaluate this Spurs squad. That said, I also feel like given time there are players on this squad who can become much better footballers given time under Conte. And I trust him to make those decisions, too.
So if the gaffer decides that Tanguy Ndombele is better off finding a new club, or that he can turn Harry Winks into a midfield world-beater, I’m on board. I’m in. Ring in the changes, and let’s see if Conte can turn this deeply flawed Spurs side into something more than the sum of its parts. But we have to give him, and the club time, even if that means a few more Mura-like humiliations along the way.