Antonio Conte says Tottenham are still a long way from where he wants them to be as he delivered a scathing assessment of the club’s transfer market mistakes.
The manager thinks small steps towards clearing up the mess were made in January with the signings of Dejan Kulusevski and Rodrigo Bentancur from Juventus; players to make the squad more complete, to add depth in areas where it was needed. He said that Kulusevski could play at right wing-back, an area he was extremely keen to strengthen, as well as in attacking midfield. Bentancur will compete in central midfield.
But Conte did not hold back as he reflected on how the club had loaned out three recent signings during the window, including Bryan Gil, who only joined last July from Sevilla for £21.6m in a deal that saw Érik Lamela move in the opposite direction. A fourth player – Dele Alli – was sold permanently to Everton.
Gil has gone to Valencia until the end of the season while Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso have been loaned to Lyon and Villarreal. Spurs spent just under £60m when they took Ndombele from Lyon in the summer of 2019 while Lo Celso cost them about £57m from Real Betis at the same time, initially on loan.
“For sure, it was strange to send [three] on loan and sell one player in January because it means something went wrong in the past,” Conte said. “Usually you have to buy players to reinforce your team. But if you send away players on loan you bought in the last two or three years, it means maybe you did something wrong. It will be very important to not make mistakes in the future because in this moment many teams are higher than us.”
Asked whether he had expected so many departures, Conte said: “Before arriving at Tottenham [last November], I considered all the players to be important. We paid a lot for Ndombele and it was the same for Lo Celso and Gil. Then when you’re in the situation, you understand very well which is the best solution for the club and the players in this moment.”
Gil has struggled to adapt to the physical demands of the Premier League, where the 20-year-old winger is yet to start a game. The situation is an embarrassment for Fabio Paratici, the managing director of football, who made him one of his first signings – albeit for a different manager, Nuno Espírito Santo. Conte suggested the club had not done their homework properly.
“We’re talking about a really good player in Gil because he has good quality and he understands football quickly,” Conte said. “In this moment, this league is very tough [for him]. If you compare this league with other leagues, you play another sport here.
“For this reason, when you go to sign a new player, you have to consider many aspects. You can be good with quality, you can be creative but, at the same time, you have to be strong physically. You have to run a lot, to be resilient. The impact of this league is not simple. You have to check many aspects and not go on emotional things.”
Conte described Kulesevski, 21, and Bentancur, 24, as signings in line with the club’s philosophy who would develop and improve, but stressed they would need time. Both are fit for Saturday night’s FA Cup tie at home to Brighton, although neither is expected to start.
“The path in front of us is long,” Conte said. “It’s important to understand this … that we want to start to go on this path. I don’t like [it] if you ask me about the race for the Champions League. My ambition is to win the league, not to go to the Champions League. My ambition is to be competitive, to fight to win.
“At this moment I know very well that the situation is different. We are working very hard to try to improve the situation, to reduce the gap and also the mistakes of the past … to try to make good solutions [for them]. It’s important to know that this is a starting point. Honestly. And now we have to go if we want to go. Otherwise there are other solutions.”
Conte said Alli’s move was good for all parties as the player needed a new challenge. Asked if he was satisfied with the club’s January business, he said they had tried their best and it was not an easy window.