Tottenham boss Antonio Conte admits he was ‘the crazy one’ early on in his tenure after threatening to quit as boss following a rocky patch, and reveals he had to ‘go strong’ on his players to change the mentality as they chase a top four spot.
Spurs hammered Arsenal 3-0 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Thursday night to go within a point of their bitter rivals with two games to go. After the game, Conte was quizzed about his connection with the club having overcome difficult moments, with the team finally looking to have embraced his philosophy.
He said he was taking a ‘risk’ by coming to Tottenham and was driven ‘crazy’ by the team’s poor run of form between January and February that saw Conte lose four games in five for the first time in his career.
Tottenham boss Antonio Conte has admitted he was driven ‘crazy’ at the start of his tenure
He has turned Tottenham fortunes around and the club are now fighting for a top four spot after their thumping 3-0 win over bitter rivals Arsenal
That miserable run ended with a 1-0 loss away at Burnley on a damning night that left the Italian questioning whether he should be the manager anymore, saying he was ‘too honest to take my salary’.
Conte said he had to take a tough approach to get his message across to the players and change their thinking to bring about more positive results – and thinks the squad have ‘improved a lot’ during the last few months to get them back in the running for a top four finish.
‘I think there are moments that if you want to change the situation, sometimes you have to go strong,’ he said after the thumping win over Arsenal. ‘I understand very well that I took a risk because a lot of people didn’t understand.
Conte was furious with Spurs after a poor run ended with a 1-0 loss to Burnley in February
Conte even threatened to quit the club after struggling to get his philosophies across
‘I read that it only took two months for Tottenham to make Conte crazy! I remember very well [that] I was the crazy [one]. Sometimes coaches have a strategy and the strategy is the stick or the carrott. At the time, all of the environment needed the stick. Myself was the first person because I hit myself. And then the others.
‘Before saying something wrong about the players or the situation, the first to take the blame has to the manager. The manager has to address the situation. At the time, I thought it was right to go strong to try to change the situation. At the time, in my opinion no-one could think with two games to go, Tottenham could fight for the Champions League.
‘Instead now, we are there and from that step we improved a lot. Also, there are moments when everyone has to take responsibility. The manager is the first, then the players, the club and all the employees of Tottenham. Because we win and we lose together.’
Conte said he had to ‘go strong’ on his squad to change their mentality following dismal form
Tottenham must now win their last two games – at home to Burnley and away to already relegated Norwich – and hope Arsenal slip up against Newcastle away or Everton at home.
Conte’s name reverberated around the stadium during a joyous night for the home support, and the Italian was asked whether he feels more connected to life at Tottenham after months of rumours he could walk out.
He said: ‘From the moment I came into the club — and in every club I worked in in the past — I go totally with my heart, mind and head. Totally. 100 per cent and more.
‘This is my characteristic. I’m a passionate person. I think I showed this passion. I think to see me afterwards sometimes on TV, it’s not simple to see me in this way. I’m very passionate, I’m this way. I like to go totally into the club where I work.
He has managed to change the landscape at the club – they are now one point off the top four
‘I know that only in this way I’m able to give everything. And also, to find the way to recieve everything from my players, my club and the fans. Because if I’m the first person to give 200 per cent, then for sure I can ask for this [in return].’
Conte confirmed left-back Sergio Reguilon would be out for the rest of the season with a groin injury, while Cristian Romero – who missed the North London Derby with a hip problem – would also not play again in this campaign.
Davinson Sanchez stepped up in Romero’s place having not started a game since February, and Conte was keen to sing his praises for working hard in training and staying focused to put in a solid display despite his lack of action.
‘ For sure [Romero] was a big loss for us but at the same time I want to praise Davinson Sanchez’s performance.
Conte also sang the praises of Davinson Sanchez for his solid performance against Arsenal despite not starting for Spurs since February
‘To have in the squad these guys, like [Davinson] and like Joe [Rodon], players who if they don’t play every game, they stay focused and work very hard and then when there is the situation when they have to play, they show they’re in fantastic form. It’s right to praise [Davinson] for the game he played tonight.
He also addressed comments from Son Heung-min, who admitted he was ‘disappointed’ to be taken off in the 72nd minute despite netting his 21st goal of the season as he chases Mohamed Salah – who is on 22 – in the race for the Golden Boot.
Conte said the substitution was a ‘strategy’ to keep pushing Son to score more goals in the final too games – and that he was also eager for the South Korean and Dejan Kulusevski to have more rest ahead of two massive matches.
‘It was a strategy! A strategy because in this way I push him on Sunday to try to score and not be relaxed and stay top scorer,’ he said.
‘Because now he has one goal less than Salah. No, I’m joking. I wanted to give him and Deki a bit of rest because on Sunday it will be a sporting war. So to rest players for 20 to 25 minutes was important for us.’