Antonio Conte has admitted that he would have asked Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy whether he was joking if he had requested a top four finish this season when he first joined back in November.
Spurs are on the verge of a fourth-place finish if they can get a point or more at Norwich in their final Premier League game on Sunday afternoon. Conte has frequently labelled any such finish to the campaign as a ‘miracle’ and when asked whether Levy mentioned qualifying for the Champions League when he replaced Nuno Espirito Santo in November, the Italian explained how that request would have been met.
“I remember very well when I spoke with the club, with Daniel, at that moment the situation wasn’t so good and the club asked me to help them and to try to find a solution to improve the team in many aspects. If you remember, we didn’t score a lot, Harry at that period had scored only goal and we conceded a lot of goals, many, many problems,” said Conte.
“The only thing the club asked me was to try to improve the situation and to work to improve the players, to try to instil the good mentality and to bring this group of players in a level better than that moment because that moment, I remember Tottenham started with three wins in a row but then the last seven games, we did six points.
“It was for sure a difficult period. For sure, if he (Levy) had asked me ‘I want to go to the Champions League’, at that moment, to be realistic, I can tell him only one thing…’are you joking?’. This is the truth because we are talking about England and a situation in this league that is very, very difficult, because there are four top teams.
“If one of these top teams doesn’t miss the season, it will be very difficult to go inside, but we have to be proud, but I also want to say thanks to the club because in January it’s not simple to listen 100% to your manager and for this reason I want to say thanks because the club believed in what I said, in the situation we have to try to improve – not many things but the right things and I think we did this.
“I know very well that it’s not simple for the club to make the coach happy, it’s very, very difficult! It was the right case and now to repay the trust of the club, the trust of the players, the trust of fans, makes me happy, but there is the last step to be very, very happy.”
He added: “Daniel didn’t ask me anything. He asked me only how, with me in charge, how we can improve the situation. Not a target, but I think he knows very well that I’m an ambitious person and that I want to try in every situation to sit at the top, to fight for this. He didn’t ask me anything. This must be very, very clear because if you give me a target then I know that in this moment it’s very difficult. I must be honest with you, I don’t like to tell lies, but at the same time I try to do this because I like to put it on myself big, big targets, not minimal targets.
“I know me, I know myself and I need this challenge to give the best. If you remember in the last nine games, before the last nine games, I said now we are ready to fight for a place in the Champions League, we are in this race, I never said this before but I said it was a miracle and I said we must fight for a place in the Europa League, but in the last nine games, we understood something had changed in everybody.
“I put the pressure on myself and I pushed, I put the pressure on my players and we are here to speak about an important target for our club, but it’s important that the club don’t forget the past and what we did to reach this moment because, I repeat, we didn’t get a place in the Champions League. We must take the last step and we need to do this.”
Once Sunday’s final match of the season is done with, Conte will hold another meeting with Levy, as well as Spurs’ managing director of football Fabio Paratici, during which the trio will decide what comes next for the club and the head coach, who has a year remaining on his contract at Tottenham, continues to keep his cards close to his chest regarding his future.
“You know that first of all we want to finish the season because in this moment, to speak about other situations, it is not right for the environment,” he said. “We need to get this result because it’s vital for everybody – for Tottenham, for the club, for the players, for me, but I repeat I have a really good relationship with Daniel, with Fabio. They know very well that I will try to do everything for the best for the club.
“I enjoyed a lot and I am enjoying a lot to work in this club. Now the most important thing is to try to get this result and then for sure we will find the right solution for everybody, but I repeat – I am happy and I want to say thanks for the opportunity to work with this group of players and with this modern club, with these fans, with this atmosphere. It was amazing and for sure make me happy and this is important. If a situation make me happy, it’s important.”
Spurs go into Sunday’s match at Norwich with a stomach bug having worked its away around the camp, affecting Hugo Lloris, Dejan Kulusevski, Pierluigi Gollini and Harry Winks last week, Emerson Royal earlier this week before he returned to training and on Friday Harry Kane felt unwell and had to miss a session.
With the club making it clear that the cases over the past 10 days were not food poisoning but instead a virus, Conte had already stated that Kane will be available for the weekend’s game and that the problem was easing.
“I don’t like to tell you lies. We had a couple of situations this week with a virus, with a stomach problem but it’s a situation we are going to solve,” he said. “Now there is only Harry Kane’s situation. Only this, during the week we had another player who missed a training session but now he’s available. No worries. We have the same players like the last game available. It was the same like last week with Deki, Hugo and Gollini.”
This week brought the ugly side of football with fans attacking opposition players and managers after running on to the pitch to celebrate victories, raising questions about whether another is being done to keep them safe.
“It was very strange because England is a league that is amazing, the atmosphere around the stadium, because to have the contact with the fans and the people are very close to you and to have this situation is amazing because I know very well in other leagues they try to put the fans a long distance [away] to avoid this type of situation,” said Conte.
“It was very strange to see the people, the fans, to go onto the pitch. I understand it was an emotional moment, Everton fans were suffering a lot but I think the most important thing is always the respect. It’s important for the players, the staff, the coach to make us safe about this situation.
“It was a strange situation, I think after this we can be a good example to try to improve and don’t repeat. It is very strange in England to see this type of situation. Many people can say we want to make a wall [or barrier to fans]. I think this is not right because we lose the atmosphere. It is beautiful to play with the people so close to you, your fans or opposition fans. For this reason I think this situation we can learn to improve to be better in the future for everybody.”