While we’ve heard a lot of “insider reports” from journalists and others about the drama currently swirling around Antonio Conte and Tottenham Hotspur, one thing we haven’t really heard from is the players. That’s probably because many of them are currently with their national teams during the international break, and also because most of them are wisely refusing to comment while everything is going on.
But not Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg! General Ho was asked directly about Conte by Danish newspaper Tipsbladet (via SportWitness) and the brouhaha over his comments, one that is very, very likely to get Conte sacked this week. Ever the diplomat, Hojbjerg gave a pretty measured response that nonetheless might give some insight into his relationship with Conte.
Here’s his reply when asked about Conte putting the team on blast during his last press conference, after the 3-3 draw against Southampton.
“Haha, yes, how did I experience it? I think we’ve all seen it. Very honest and very open press conference he gave. It is because he is not satisfied. You don’t do that if you’ve reached the quarter-final of the Champions League and if you’re in the semi-final of the FA Cup.
“It comes from the fact that, unfortunately, we did not get the results we as a team and club wanted. We are still where we want and need to be in the Premier League. But yes, it’s hard, I should say.
“I understand that if you want to be successful as a team, you need 11 men who are committed to a project and a culture. But I think he has to elaborate on how he feels before you as a player can start measuring and weighing.
“The coach has not been satisfied, and that is what I will take with me. You do what you can to please him. What I do know about myself is that I am an honest player. I am a player who always gives 100% of myself for the team.”
“The coach has not been satisfied” might be the understatement of the year, lmao. I quite honestly can’t think of a more incendiary press conference from a Tottenham Hotspur manager, even from Jose Mourinho. Whether or not you think Conte spoke “home truths” to the press about the current state of the club, the truth was it was incredibly inappropriate of him to do so through the press and not communicate his dissatisfaction to the players.
Hojbjerg even confirmed prior reporting that Conte didn’t speak with the team after Saturday’s draw, letting the players learn of his comments via the press reaction.
“Let me put it this way: He didn’t tell us what he wanted to say at the press conference. But it is clear that you work with each other every day, you want the best for each other and you want to be successful together. And sometimes the waves go high in football.”
If I’m going to be charitable here — and why not be charitable? — these comments are Hojbjerg showing some of the leadership skills that led him to become Soton’s club captain before he left to join Spurs. It’s certainly a diplomatic answer. We know that a good chunk of the team is privately seething over Conte’s comments but a few of them are still in Conte’s corner. Maybe this implies that Hojbjerg is one of those who’d still like to keep the gaffer around? Or maybe General Ho just doesn’t want to burn any bridges (yet) via a Danish-language interview while he’s 1000km away from London. I dunno.
It probably doesn’t matter. Conte is almost certainly going to be shown the gate here in the next hours/days and we should give the players the benefit of the doubt until they start doing stupid things in public view. This is not that from Pierre — it certainly doesn’t hurt him to be diplomatic and wait for the chips to fall.