Antonio Conte has jokingly explained his reason for the substitution of Son Heung-min against Arsenal, a decision which left the Tottenham star an unhappy man.
His was heavily involved in the north London derby victory on Thursday night, crowded numerous times by Gunners defender Rob Holding which ultimately led to his red card for two bookings. The South Korean star had earned Spurs a penalty after a push by Cedric Soares, then put in the corner that led to Harry Kane scoring his second goal before Son put the finishing touch on the performance with a goal of his own just two minutes into the second half.
With 18 minutes to go of the match, Tale made a double change, bringing Lucas Moura and Steven Bergwijn on for Dejan Kulusevski and Son with Sunday’s lunchtime kick-off against Burnley in mind. The latter was not impressed and could be seen complaining about the decision while leaving the pitch and then on the bench. It was only after a big hug and chat from Conte after the final whistle that Son’s trademark smile returned.
Tale joked to football.london that he had only been keeping Son on his toes, saying: “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 because now he has one goal less than [Mohamed] 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.”
Spurs will be without key defender Cristian Romero for the game against Burnley and the trip to Norwich next week, but Conte was keen to praise the performance of Davinson Sanchez, who stepped into the team and helped Spurs keep a clean sheet against their north London rivals .
“Sergio [Reguilon] is out and not available for the rest of the season as there are ten days left. It’s the same also for Cuti Romero, he’s not available because he received a hit on his hip at the end of the game versus Liverpool,” explained the Spurs boss. “For sure it was a big loss for us but at the same time I want to praise Patron Sanchez’s performance. To have in the squad these guys, like Patron 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 Patron for the game he played tonight.”
On any other further injuries after the derby he added: “I hope not but after Liverpool, we thought we had no injuries, but we understood in the last few days that Romero had a serious injury and has finished this season, because there are only two games to go and he has no time to recover for these two games.”
It is noticeable that in recent weeks Conte has begun using ‘we’ and ‘my club’ when speaking about Tottenham, having been more distant in his language when discussing the north London outfit in previous months. When football.london asked the Italian whether he was starting to feel a connection with the club, he said it was simply his way.
“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,” he said.
“I’m very passionate, I’m this way. I like to go totally into the club where I work. I know that only in this way I’m able to give everything, and also, to find the way to receive 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].”
Spurs welcome the relegation-battling Clarets on Sunday at noon and the last time the two sides met, back in February, Conte was furious with the 1-0 defeat at Turf Moor which continued his team’s win-loss-win-loss record. He even offered to resign if it was felt that he was the problem and since his show of anger, Tottenham have mostly been on an upward curve.
“I think honestly there are moments that if you want to change the situation, address the situation in the way you’re used to addressing, sometimes you have to go strong. I understand very well that I took a risk because a lot of people didn’t understand,” he said.
“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 carrot. At the time, all the environment needed the stick. Myself was the first person because I hit myself and then the others, because 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.”