Conte’s back – determined to cure Spurs’ ills
Manager insists he’s fit and firing ahead of crunch clash with Milan
With his own health restored to the satisfaction of the doctors, Antonio Conte must now supply an instant remedy to rescue tottenham’s ailing season.
having slumped out of the FA Cup last week, all hope rests upon an improbable assault on the Champions League if Conte is to deliver a trophy to Spurs before his contract expires in June.
they are 1-0 down going into tonight’s last-16 second leg against AC Milan, in London, and the task is not easy. his team have been in spluttering form but at least have the boss back after an operation to remove his gallbladder.
‘For sure i underestimated the recovery after surgery,’ said Conte. ‘For my sense of responsibility i wanted to come back early but i underestimated the surgery and maybe i overestimated my body and myself. But now i am well.
‘i have recovered energy. i still have to recover weight but for the rest, i am OK. My feeling is good. i have a lot of energy and i’ll try to transfer my energy to my players because this is a vital game.’
Conte is on his second comeback since the operation on February 1. he rushed back too soon to be on the touchline for Spurs’ defeats at Leicester and in Milan, three days later, and was advised to step away because the physical strain was hindering his recovery.
then, he wanted to be back for Saturday’s Premier League game at Wolves, another 1-0 defeat, but
the doctors who witnessed him in pain at San Siro told him to give it one more day. this time, Conte did as he was told.
‘i should respect the doctors and tottenham’s doctors because they were really worried after the game against Milan,’ the 53-year- old said. ‘Many of my friends have had the same surgery but, for me, the difference was urgent surgery, not planned. For this reason, maybe i needed more time to recover.
‘But it’s OK. Previously, i’ve had a lot of sad news and when they said it was only surgery for this, i was happy. You never know what will happen when you are not in good condition.’
Conte has lost three close friends this season. Spurs fitness coach Gian Piero Ventrone died suddenly aged 62 in October. then Sinisa Mihajlovic and Gianluca Vialli, legends of italian football, died after illnesses, aged 53 and 58.
it has been a draining and emotional campaign for Conte. it
has also been underwhelming on the pitch. After finishing last season so well, then adding seven new players in the summer and another two in January, Spurs expected more.
But they crashed out of two domestic cups against opponents they would expect to beat. Last week’s FA Cup exit at Sheffield United, when they started without top scorer harry Kane, was a bitter blow, especially when they lost the next game at Wolves.
Even so, Spurs are clinging on to fourth place. if they can retain their Champions League status and beat Milan to reach the quarter-finals of the competition, they could still package it up as some sort of upward curve.
‘ Don’t forget last season we played Europa Conference League,’ said Conte. ‘Don’t forget the past and understand we need to go step by step.
‘if you ask me, “Do i want to win the Champions League?” i say yes but then there is reality. the obstacle is Milan and we have to beat them by two goals.
‘the pressure is normal and we have to live with this type of pressure. Maybe if there is one thing to try to improve here, it is to live with the pressure.’
Perhaps this hints at the future. the traumatic nature of this season, the fact his wife and daughter remain in turin, and slow progress on the pitch, combine to reinforce a feeling that he and tottenham will go their separate ways in the summer.
‘ this season represents a success if we fight,’ said Conte. ‘if we fight to be competitive to win something. this has to be our target. tottenham as a club has to have this target every season, to fight for something important, to fight to win. But you know it is not easy to win.
‘it is not simple and we are in the country where it is the most difficult to win something. Many teams are going to improve year by year and we have to be prepared to improve the level.
‘Every season i want to fight to be competitive to win something. if this does not happen, it is not positive for me.’