Tottenham Hotspur manager Antonio Conte has claimed the January transfer window weakened his squad despite bringing in two new players.
The North London club signed Rodrigo Bentancur and Dejan Kulusevski from Juventus on the January transfer deadline day, having previously looked like going the month without doing any business – losing out on some of their targets including Luis Diaz.
Bentancur joined Spurs on a permanent deal, signing a four-and-a-half-year contract to 2026, while Kulusevski’s move is an 18-month loan with an obligation to buy for just under £30m if certain conditions are met (not all are currently known).
For some Spurs fans the moves were positive deals, Tottenham trying to sort out some of the problems in their squad with two promising young players that could become long-term stars if utilised right.
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But not everyone at the club is happy, in particular Conte, who has been looking at the wider picture to include Spurs’ outgoings in January. While Bentancur and Kuluveski came in, Spurs saw Giovani Lo Celso, Bryan Gil, Tanguy Ndombele and Dele Alli all leave the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. For Alli, the departure was permanent, calling time on his seven-year association with the club after 269 appearances, having fallen out of favour under recent managers.
Ndombele was another to fall out of favour and his loan return to Lyon, with an option to buy, could be a source of humiliation for Spurs who have struggled to get the best from their club-record signing. Giovani Lo Celso and Bryan Gil also made loan moves, the latter just six months after joining Spurs.
And with four players leaving to be replaced by two, Conte has seen his squad weakened.
“This Tottenham at the moment, I am certainly happy with the way we are working,” Conte told Sky Italia.
“I think we are doing a lot but I am realising being inside the situation that it will take time and patience because there are many young players even at their first experience in the Premier League who need to grow, gain experience and raise their level.
“I saw some situations from the outside that could be developed, but when you get into it, you realise something,” Conte told Sky Italia.
“What happened in January is not easy. Four players left in January. Four important players for Tottenham, two have arrived. So even numerically instead of reinforcing yourself you may have, on paper, weakened.
“Then precise choices were made for many reasons. But I certainly never expected that in January four players who I still considered important would change their shirts for a thousand reasons. This shows the difficulty.”
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Conte also appeared to criticise Spurs’ transfer strategy of building for the future rather than the now. Despite feeling as though he has been around for ages, Bentancur is only 24 and is still approaching his peak so will need to be nurtured by Spurs to ensure they get the best out of him while he also adapts to a new league.
Kulusevski, meanwhile, is just 21 and didn’t really get going at Juventus, struggling to make his mark on a squad filled with attacking starts having shone as the big fish in a slightly smaller pond at Parma. The potential is there for everyone to see, but Conte wants more experienced players in his squad.
“It is inevitable that in January it is very difficult to get two players like Bentancur and Kulusevski to sign who, I repeat, are the ideal prospects for Tottenham,” Conte added.
“Because Tottenham is looking for young players, players to be developed, not ready players. That is the issue.
“The vision, the philosophy of the club is this. It is inevitable that if you want to grow faster and if you want to be competitive more quickly you need players with a lot of experience because they also lead to an increase in experience in your team. But then again, the vision of the club I realised is this and will continue to be this.”
But Conte did end what appeared to be a rant with a calming note for Tottenham fans, saying: “For this reason it will take a lot of patience, and I continue to explain it to the whole environment and to the fans.”
This isn’t the first time Conte has appeared to be at loggerheads with his board and it won’t be the last. The Italian is very strong on his opinions and would ideally like more control of the incomings and outgoings at his club, and will make it very clear when he isn’t happy. Chelsea fans won’t have to think back too far to remember his treatment of Diego Costa and unhappiness at getting Alvaro Morata when he asked for Romelu Lukaku.
And Spurs fans appear to be backing Conte in this fight, a battle they themselves have grown accustomed to seeing.
No one hates Tottenham more than Tottenham fans, so maybe Conte is one of us after all.
— James Harris (@JamesCHarris97) February 16, 2022
Conte is doing exactly what everyone hoped he would; calling out Daniel Levy and the board.
— Sonny's Army (@sonnys_thfc) February 16, 2022
Imagine watching 8 years of Ben Davies, 7 years of Eric Dier, Years and years of Winks and thinking Conte who won Serie A with Inter last season is a problem. Our fanbase will never recover from this mentality ENIC and Levy has brought into this club.
— Jordan (@COYSJordan94) February 16, 2022
Antonio Conte fully ripping into the board. Love to see it. No yes man at the helm for once.
— LP (@thfclp__) February 16, 2022
How people are slaying Conte for what he has said. Finally a manager to put it to this horrendous running of the club.
— Perchy (@ThePerchy) February 16, 2022
"The situation is not simple"
"The level of the Tottenham is not so high"
"We will struggle to take 3 points from games"
"1% possibility of top 4"
His message has been consistent from day ONE, & people out here thinking Conte is suddenly submarining our season with the TRUTH.
— ᑕOᗪY ᗰᗩᑕ (@CoMacDo) February 16, 2022
Conte also admitted a lack of confidence has been behind Tottenham’s poor spell in the Premier League that has seen them lose three straight games – the first time he has experienced that since his time in charge of Atalanta in 2009.
“It is always difficult to make comparisons, but surely when you take the job in a team that hasn’t won for a long time it is inevitable that you will lack confidence,” he added.
“The confidence is down and many times, at the first obstacle, you throw yourself down and many times the negativity increases even more. Sometimes you grant goals that you struggle to accept.
“This has been happening to us in the last period. This is part of a process of a team that has to grow a lot to try to be competitive.
“Right now we are one of the many teams that are in the middle. They need to work a lot and this does not scare me at all.
“It is inevitable that certainly the situation compared to the past for me is very different in terms of perspectives, ambitions, in terms of fighting to win. I realised that it’s a totally different situation anyway.”