Antonio Conte took to Zoom for his press conference ahead of Tottenham Hotspur’s Europa Conference League match against Stade Rennais tomorrow night. The press conference was short, lasting only ten minutes and with Conte speaking emotionally about the COVID-19 outbreak that is raging through the Spurs squad.
What started out as reports of six COVID-positive players has ballooned up to eight, and possibly now more. According to Conte, Tottenham are down to ten senior players available for tomorrow night’s match against Rennes, and more positive results are coming with each passing day.
Conte was, predictably, worried, and afraid, and furious.
“Eight players and five members of staff. But the problem is that everyday we are having people with Covid. People that yesterday weren’t positive, today were positive and we continue to have contact with people we think are negative but the day after become positive.
“I think this is a serious problem, and it’s a pity because during the press conference I’d like to talk about football and the next game and not about Covid.
“But the situation is serious. Everyday we are having positives. Today one player and one member of staff. I think the worst is we don’t know and we continue to have contact with people that the day before weren’t negative. For sure this is not a good situation. We have a training session to prepare for the game against Rennes, but it’s very difficult.
“At the end of the training session today, again one player positive. Another member of staff is positive. Tomorrow who? Me? Another player? Another member of staff? And we continue in this way. The situation is serious but I don’t know and it’s a pity because I repeat during the press conference I want to speak about football and now to speak about Covid I think this is not a good thing for you, me, our fans, for all of football I think.”
The club has announced that it will appeal to the Premier League board to postpone this weekend’s match at Brighton, but UEFA regulations currently state that for European matches, clubs are expected to play if they can field 13 players from either List A or B. That means that as things currently stand, the match is still on.
Tottenham are in a position where they need to beat Rennes in order to be assured progression out of the group stage of the event. However, this uncertainty means that there’s no guarantee that more players, or staff, or even Conte himself, won’t test positive tomorrow.
“Yes but surely it is difficult. But now we have 11 players available and today we prepared the game with one player that should play then we finished the session and this player was positive.
“It is not simple but, I repeat, it is very difficult to speak about football because the situation is so strange and incredible that to speak about football is very impossible and this make me for sure upset because I’m here to speak about football, my players, the atmosphere that I want to see tomorrow and instead we are talking about people who have Covid.”
We don’t know what Tottenham will do tomorrow. Rennes, having already won the group, is likely going to field a rotated side. Spurs could put out a makeshift squad of senior players who are still negative plus players from the U23 squad to make up the numbers. They could also forfeit the match, and their place in the competition, but could face further financial sanctions from the federation according to UEFA regulations.
However, if Tottenham are smart, they should strongly consider forfeiting the Rennes match and leaving the ECL for good. The club needs to weigh the tangible rewards for playing the match and continuing in the competition with what would happen should they crash out in the group stages. If they play and win, they would need to play a home and home series against one of the third place teams that crash out of the Europa League group stages just to make it to the Round of 16. Winning the competition is a trophy, but is it worth the additional crush of matches heading into the spring of 2022, with likely at least two Premier League matches already needing to be postponed?
Some might say it is worth continuing. I am starting to think that it is not. Bowing out of the competition now would allow Spurs to save face — no one would blame the club for not playing a match due to a significant public health hazard — and would also free up the schedule significantly, allowing Conte and Spurs to focus on what’s really important — the league.
We’ll continue to post updates on this story as we learn more.