For many, Joe Rodon has become a “forgotten player” at Tottenham Hotspur under Antonio Conte. Rodon has barely featured at all since Conte’s arrival, leading some Spurs fans to worry that perhaps Conte doesn’t see the potential in the Welsh national and former Swansea City central defender, who joined Spurs last year.
Not so, says Conte, who was asked about Joe’s status in a press conference today ahead of Sunday’s Premier League match against Norwich City. While some have suggested that Rodon would make a capable right sided central defender (instead of, say Davinson Sanchez), Conte instead says that he thinks his best position is central — and that makes him an option in place of or behind Eric Dier.
“The first thing that I’m trying to do – and am doing – is try to find the right position for every player, and in every position is to have another player. For in the characteristic in my idea, I see Joe behind Eric Dier in the central position.
“For sure this position is a singular position. If you’re a central defender on the right or the left, you can have more options to play. To stay behind the central defender, you have only one option but Joe is a player who has showed me really, really great commitment, a will and desire to learn and improve himself.
“I think this is good. It’s a really good example for the other players. He’s a silent player that works and works because he knows that he wants to improve. I’m satisfied for the improvement that I’m seeing in the training sessions about him.”
It’s a fascinating answer, and again a refreshingly candid one from a manager who has not shown a lot of reluctance to talking in depth about his team choices. The central CB in Conte’s system is mostly tasked with man-marking opposition strikers and mopping up behind the rest of the defenders. They have to have good positional awareness and not make a ton of mistakes... it’s a very important role, and it’s both interesting and encouraging that Conte sees Rodon as someone who can step into that position if Dier can’t go or needs rotation. And with a busy holiday fixture season coming up, it does seem likely that we’ll see Joe playing there, probably sooner rather than later.
Conte went on to expound a little more on earlier comments he made about Son Heung-Min, specifically that he prefers not to use Sonny as a out-and-out striker in place of Harry Kane.
“For me, with this system we’re playing we’ve two number 10s, but for me, they’re two strikers. We’re playing with a number nine that is Kane, as a point of reference. Then two players very offensive, like Sonny and Lucas, in the starting XI because behind we have Bergwijn, Dele Alli, Lo Celso and Bryan Gil.
“For me, Sonny is a really, really good player, a top player. He’s a modern player. He has great quality. He’s fast, he’s resilient, he’s strong. When you have all these characteristics, it means that you’re a top player and Sonny has all these characteristics.”
Through his comments we’re starting to get a clearer picture of what Conte is trying to do with the players at his disposal. It seems like he certainly sees Sonny more as a player who can make runs in behind from deeper positions, with the 9 (Kane) able to hold the ball up and make passes into space, especially if the 9 isn’t able to create his own shot.
These comments go hand-in-hand with Conte’s comments after Thursday’s match, in which he talked about Tottenham’s forwards and use of space.
“When we have space, I think this team is very good because up front we have fast players with quality [who are] very good at exploiting the space. On the other hand, we have to try to improve when we don’t find the space to move the ball better, to find the right solution. We’ll have a session to find the right solution in both situations.”
“With space and without space, this team has the characteristics to exploit this situation. Without space, we have to improve.”
I love these answers, because it helps inform my tactically-deficient mind about what I’m seeing on the pitch and whether it’s a byproduct of instruction or something else. Hopefully we continue to get these kinds of tactical nuggets from Conte in future press conferences.