For the players who were seemingly on the fringes of Antonio Conte’s squad at Tottenham Hotspur, the two week COVID-19 pause might be one of the best things that could’ve happened to them. Last week we saw solid performances from Dele and Harry Winks that have propelled them from likely January loan targets and squad outcasts to contenders for starting positions.
Now it’s Steven Bergwijn’s turn. Stevie turned in an excellent performance in yesterday’s 2-1 home victory over West Ham in the quarterfinals of the Carabao Cup, tallying a goal and an assist, and was saluted by the home crowd when he was subbed off midway through the second half. Sky Sports is now reporting in their transfer tracker that the performance, plus the additional time Bergwijn has had to work with the Spurs coaching staff over the past few months has moved the player off the transfer list and back into Antonio Conte’s plans.
A recent spell at Hotspur Way in which Conte was able to work more closely with Bergwijn while other players were off with Covid has breathed new life into his Spurs career.
Sky Sports News has been told the Dutchman has trained very well during this time and is in some of the best shape of his career, which was evident as he scored and set up the other in Spurs 2-1 victory to book a semi-final tie with Chelsea on Wednesday.
Bergwijn was heavily involved in training during the COVID shutdown when eight first team players were out with positive tests. That allowed Conte to work more directly with Bergwijn, something that clearly has paid off. Around the same time, Conte had also commented in an interview that Stevie’s skills on offense were such that he could be a viable striker in relief of Harry Kane, should the need arise.
Those skills were very much in effect on Wednesday night. Bergwijn looked far from the disillusioned player, devoid of confidence, that plodded around the pitch during the Jose Mourinho and Nuno Espirito Santo eras — he was bright, direct, and progressive in his movements, and was looking not only for shots, but for passes. Compare that to the defensive winger position he was shoehorned into under Jose, a role he was clearly unsuited for and that likely sapped his confidence. It’s only one match, but Stevie looked like an entirely different person out there on Wednesday.
Conte noticed it too. In his post-match press conference, he was asked about Bergwijn and noted that Stevie took his chance to impress Conte in training, which has paid off.
“I think these two weeks that we had many players with Covid helped me and helped Steven Bergwijn to understand very well what I want from him and what I want from the other 11 players we had in training. Don’t forget, for many days we trained with only 11 or 12 players. On one hand, it was very difficult. On the other hand we exploited this situation to improve the players.
“We prepared to play the games with these players. For sure, Steven should have played against Leicester, against Brighton, the games that were postponed. With him and also other players, we tried to exploit the period when we were only 11 or 12 players, to improve these players. Now Steven is a player totally involved into what I want, into what I ask from my players.
“Don’t forget that I like to have a plan and I like to give options to my players. Every single player has to know what I want during the game offensively and defensively.”
It’s tempting to get too far out over one’s skis regarding Bergwijn. Or Dele, Winks, Davies... choose your Conte Redemption Tour target here. For sure, the key metric here is consistency rather than one single performance, and few of the players on that list have had enough time to show that they can replicate those enhanced levels of performance. Stevie in particular is going to have to do this again, possibly several times, to prove to jittery fans that he’s the real deal.
But, look at it another way — this really does show the effect that Conte and his system have had at Spurs in such a short period of time. And even if you think that players like Bergwijn, Winks, Dele, etc. are unlikely to take Tottenham to the promised land in the short to medium term, just imagine what he could do with an upgrade at those positions, given trust and a little time.