Antonio Conte cut a very different figure in today’s press conference, held ahead of tomorrow’s Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Leeds United. After Wednesday’s loss at Burnley, Conte seemed to verbally rip his heart out of his chest and show it to reporters, suggesting that he wasn’t sure that he was the man who could successfully lead Spurs back to league prominence.
With the benefit of a couple of days to reflect, today Conte struck a different tone, essentially admitting that he was overly emotional and spoke his feelings in the wake of a very disappointing loss, and that he is not planning on leaving Tottenham Hotspur anytime soon.
“No [I’m not resigning], but I think my words were very, very clear. I said that it is not normal in the last five games, to lose four games. When happened this type of situation, for sure you have to refresh, no?
“To think, to start to make an evaluation, why it happened and to try to find the solution, to try to find an answer. I think this is normal also because I am not used to losing in this way, when I was player, when I was coach. For sure, this type of situation hurts me a lot and I hope also my players and also the club.”
Asked to explain his outburst, Conte explained that his reaction is just the way he deals with losing. Antonio Conte hates losing the way Harry Kane loves scoring goals — they are all-consuming states, if on opposite sides of the emotional spectrum. But it sure does make for some jittery reading if you’re a Spurs fan.
“When you lose a game, I’m not the person to have dinner with. You understand? I’m not the right person. When I lose a game my mood is very bad, I prefer to stay alone. I prefer to live the defeat, stay alone and metabolize the defeat. For sure I need one day to recover – at least. It’s me, you understand? I don’t like to lose. If you ask me what I hate in life, it’s to lose games.
“My mentality is to prepare myself, to prepare my players, my team and to avoid this type of situation because I suffer. There are many coaches that don’t suffer. Sometimes I envy this person because, I wanted to be a little soft but at the same time to be this way makes me a person that in his career I won before as a player and then as a coach.
“For sure when I lose, if you expect that I am happy or to come to a press conference and laugh, I am not this person. I am sorry if I show my disappointment because maybe it would be good to keep this inside and not show my emotion. I am an honest person, it is difficult for me to lie or hide the truth and for this reason sometimes after a loss my mood is not top. Sorry for this but I am this.
This, here, is the bargain Tottenham fans, and the club, has struck with Conte. In the Italian, Spurs have a head coach who is unequivocally excellent and good at his job, and without question the best manager Spurs could’ve possibly hired at the time they fired Nuno Espirito Santo. He has already taken a dysfunctional and underachieving Tottenham and dramatically raised their profile and performance metric, if not their results.
But the flip side of that is that Conte is a manager who is, well, emotionally unstable? A terrible, awful loser? Is that too strong? He hates losing, REALLY hates losing, and is apt to let his emotions get the better of him when things aren’t going his way or according to plan. That’s not too dissimilar to the kind of karmic bargain that Tottenham struck when they hired Jose Mourinho — the difference is that under Mou Spurs got all the negative emotional dysfunction WITHOUT the good football to go along with it. Unfortunately, at a club like Tottenham, Conte is likely going to get a lot of practice in processing those emotions, at least in the short to medium term.
“I have the right experience to face every experience. Here is a great experience because you have to build from the foundations and on one hand it could be very good and also to make me not happy but to be totally involved in this to build a new structure, a strong structure.
“On another hand for sure there is the will also to have a situation already made, already ready to fight to win but it’s OK. I repeat I like to work, I’m enjoying my time in Tottenham and I’m showing to enjoy this time in Tottenham especially when I show the disappointment after a defeat because it means I felt this commitment for this club.
“Others can think, ‘Yeah we win, tomorrow we lose’, one day have to go and he doesn’t care. No, I want to leave something important for this club. Sometimes I’m very clear with my emotion and when I show my emotion.”
It does seem as though Conte is only now realizing that he may have underestimated the amount of work it would take to get Spurs to be competitive at the top of the table. Maybe that realization is hitting him a little harder than we all expected, I don’t know. But today’s comments, while emotional whiplash, is much more in line with what we’ve come to expect from him this season. Does that mean that he WON’T quit this summer? No, and The Athletic (£) seems to suggest that he may not stick around. But it seems very unlikely that inflection point will come before the end of the season, if at all.
Meanwhile, Conte also confirmed that midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur will miss the Leeds match after sustaining an ankle injury at the wet Turf Moor pitch during Wednesday’s loss.
“Unfortunately [Bentancur] is not available for tomorrow’s game because he had a problem in his ankle. I don’t think this is a serious problem. And I hope to see him in the team very soon but for sure tomorrow he’s not available.”
Oliver Skipp and Japhet Tanganga are both still out with injuries of their own, meaning it’s all but assured that Conte will start with a midfield that will include Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Harry Winks. However, Conte did leave the door open for something unorthodox at the wingbacks, after ending the Burnley match with Steven Bergwijn and Dejan Kulusevski on either flank.
“We finished the game with Kulusevski, and also Steven Bergwijn, as wing-backs. We finish with an offensive solution because Steven Bergwijn is a number 10, is a striker. But at the same time I think he can do the last 15-20 minutes, especially if we want a solution in 1-v-1 on one side, or on the other side.
“Kulusevski is another player who can play in this role, and give us quality, and can be also a good solution for us in this position. I think he’s playing good games, and he is totally involved in our idea, together with Bentancur, and I’m very happy for what I am seeing, by these two new players.”