Antonio Conte gave his clearest statement yet about his opinion of Tottenham Hotspur’s quality, and what the club may do in the January transfer window. Speaking in a press conference ahead of Saturday’s Premier League match at Watford, Conte was clear that he thinks Spurs’ squad needs an injection of new players and new talent, and that the process is likely to begin when the window opens on January 1.
“For sure. After only two weeks, I said we need to improve the quality of the squad and for sure we need to improve the quality of this squad. I was sure after seven days, ten days, two weeks about this. Then I made evaluations to understand which players I could count on and which players I can’t.
“For sure, the squad needs to improve quality but in an important way. Before we think about a place in the UEFA or Conference League because in this League the level is very high. Now we’re in the middle and we have to think to build something important. For this reason, I ask for patience and time because now the gap is very large and we need to work a lot, and also to try to build. And also improve the quality of the squad.”
One player who Conte confirmed is now well within his plans is Harry Winks. It’s a stunning turnaround for a player who had struggled under Mauricio Pochettino, and barely appeared under Jose Mourinho and Nuno Espirito Santo. With Conte giving him a fresh start, Winks has taken his opportunities with both hands, putting in a spectacular performance against Liverpool and looking significantly more at ease in the midfield.
Conte made it clear that he’s an admirer of Winks and that he will not be departing the club in January.
“Winksy is playing well and Winks has showed to be a reliable player. And for this reason, Winksy will stay here. I find players that are reliable, and then I can count on them and Winksy showed me that I can count on him.”
Contrast that with Conte’s response when asked about Tanguy Ndombele. A few weeks ago, Conte was direct in saying that Tottenham’s record signing needed to be more of a team player and less of a midfield maverick. While Tanguy has had a few appearances under Conte, and has played well in some of them, he didn’t get off the bench in Tuesday’s 1-1 draw at Southampton. When discussing Ndombele today, Conte was pointedly — and revealingly — neutral.
“[Tanguy] is a midfielder. I think… he is a midfielder.
“I pay the same attention to all of my players. In every single session, I pay great attention to every single player. My concentration is not only for 12 or 13 or 14 players, for the whole squad. And then, there are players that understand before, players that they understand very well. Other players, that they need more time, or could be [find it] difficult to understand some situations.
“I repeat [what I said] before to speak about the transfer market, about this topic. I think that it’s better for me and the club to speak together. And then we will have the situation more clear than now. Now, to speak about players that they can come, or to go, I think is not right, and is not honest.”
Well, that’s not great. It’s not what Conte said as much as what he specifically didn’t say, and especially in comparison to his full-throated praise for Harry Winks.
As a full-fledged founding member of Team Tanguy, I just don’t know anymore. It feels like we’re never going to fully disentangle how much of Ndombele’s failure to launch at Spurs is due to the club failing him via the disastrous hiring of managers like Jose Mourinho and Nuno Espirito Santo, and how much is simply Tanguy being an enigmatic player who just never clicked in the way that everyone expected him to. It’s almost certainly some from both column A & B.
But if we are to extrapolate anything from Conte’s comments, it’s this: it’s not working. Whether that leads to a change next month remains to be seen.