Antonio Conte was in a somber mood (he’s always in a somber mood) at his pre-match press conference ahead of tomorrow’s home match between Tottenham Hotspur and Fulham. The closing of the summer transfer window provided the Spurs head coach his first opportunity to talk about Tottenham’s window as a whole, and to get an early update on the team’s prospects for this season.
Conte painted a picture on Tottenham’s league prospects that may not be as rosy as some were hoping.
“I think that first of all we have to understand that in this transfer window we did what the club could do. And I think that we did good things. But I have to be honest with you because if I see the other squads of the top teams there is still too much distance. And for this reason we have to know that we’ve just started this process to try to improve the squad.
“In this transfer window we tried to do this and also in January, with Rodrigo Bentancur and Dejan Kulusevski. In this transfer window, we tried to improve the squad in numerical and quality aspect. For sure to be competitive, to fight to be a title contender, but also to get a place in Champions League, you need at least three transfer windows more before improving and being at the same level as the other top clubs.
“But we want to continue to improve. We are working very well, I’m happy to have this group of players, this squad, the new players are totally inside the team, inside the dressing room. We did the right things. But if someone thinks we completed the situation...we are very far from this.”
There’s going to be a subset of Spurs fans who will leap onto these comments to suggest that the club has not fully backed Antonio Conte, or use it as evidence that Conte is dissatisfied with the summer transfer window. I don’t see it that way. These feel like very pragmatic comments from Conte — he recognizes that Spurs have done some very important work in the offseason to improve the club, but is realistic that it will take time and a lot of work to narrow the gap to Manchester City.
I think it’s fair to take a critical look at Spurs’ business in the window and be, if not disappointed, at least cautious about what Tottenham can realistically accomplish this season. If your expectations were that Tottenham should have taken the opportunity to spend (or overspend) scads of money in order to make a real title push, this may feel like a let-down. But I take this as a hopeful sign — Conte seems to be happy with his squad, and moreover making comments on the future implies that he’s willing to stick around maybe even longer than we hoped.
Conte’s pragmatism also extended to some of the fringe members of the first team, including Yves Bissouma, Djed Spence, and Pape Matar Sarr. Conte seemed pretty clear that they are not quite up to his standards and need to continue to improve before expecting significant minutes this season. Bissouma made his first start of the season against West Ham and struggled; Conte noted that he’s an important player but still has work to do to establish himself as a first choice regular.
“He needs to work, he needs to work. He needs to go totally into our idea of football. For sure he is a step behind Bentancur and Hojbjerg, but also the same for [Oliver] Skipp as Skippy worked with me all of last season. I’m pleased with what I have seen during the game. We are talking about a player with good skills, strong physically and a good engine.
“At the same time he has a lot of space for improvement and he can improve to become a thinking player because in that position is important to understand what the team needs with the ball, without the ball. We are talking about a player that for sure is a good signing for us and he can help us a lot.
“About Djed [Spence], I always tell everybody and talk about it being an investment for the club to sign a young player. When you sign a young player you know you have to wait, to work with him to try to improve. He is a good prospect, he is a perfect prospect for Tottenham but then if we talk about trying to be competitive to win, for sure we need other signings. This has to be very clear because otherwise we make confusion and I want to be very clear under this aspect. For sure, he will be a good player for the future for Tottenham.
“[On Gil and Sarr] we are talking about players that are really good prospects, but I was very clear with the club if someone go on loan, another player has to come in. Otherwise for me it’s difficult to have also the training sessions. We are talking about really good prospect, young players. They have to work like Spence to develop and then to be ready to be Tottenham players for the future.”
Conte had already told the media that he planned to rotate for the home match against Fulham, though we don’t know what form that rotation will take. That said, Conte also provided an injury update and noted that Cristian Romero is back from injury and in contention for this match, as is Rodrigo Bentancur.
“About Cuti Romero, he’s in the squad. He had two training sessions with us after the game against West Ham. Lucas Moura and Gil are still unavailable for the game against Fulham. Bentancur is OK, he has recovered 100 per cent.”
It’s possible that we’ll see Richarlison make his first Premier League start for the club in place of either the struggling Son Heung-Min or Dejan Kulusevski. We might also see minutes for Barcelona loanee Clement Lenglet, who has yet to take the field for Spurs through the first five matches, and maybe also Ryan Sessegnon and Matt Doherty.
The match kicks off at 10:00 a.m. ET (3 p.m. BST) on Saturday.