Antonio Conte’s assistant confident Tottenham boss wants ‘long’ stay at club amid contract wrangling

 (PA)
(PA)

Antonio Conte's assistant, Cristian Stellini, has veered off script by insisting they are confident of staying at Tottenham for a “long time” and dismissing the importance of the head coach's contract.

Conte has repeatedly refused to commit to Spurs beyond the end of his current deal, which expires at the end of the season, and has issued a series of threats to walk away from the club if he is not completely convinced by the board's ambition and “vision” - including after the New Year's Day defeat to Aston Villa.

But with Conte too upset to take Friday's press conference following the death of his former Juventus and Italy teammate Gianluca Vialli, Stellini deputised and insisted they are confident of being at Spurs long-term.

Asked about the prospect of still being at the club next season, Stellini said: “Every time we have confidence on this. It's not about the contract. It's about the project, it's about the future, and we are confident every time.

“Fifteen months is not a big period. We are in the way we expect after 15 months. For that reason we are in confidence.

“We are in the right moment after 15 months, if we compare our period to other periods in the past. We are in a good moment. We have to work. Like Antonio has said many times, we need passion and heart in the work. It's not the time of the contract that decides. Your behaviour is the work you do to decide the result.

“We are confident to stay here a long time because we are working hard and the players follow us."

The death of Vialli, with whom Conte won the Champions League at Juventus in 1996, is the latest in a string of affecting personal losses suffered by the Spurs head coach since the start of the season.

In October, Tottenham's inspirational fitness coach Gian Piero Ventrone died suddenly following a short illness, while Conte lost another friend in Sinisa Mihajlovic last month.

Stellini acknowledged that it had been a difficult period for Conte - who is still living in a London hotel, away from his wife and daughter - but said the tragedies would only motivate the 53-year-old to raise his intensity.

“It's hard to talk about this,” Stellini said. “Gian Piero was a really tough moment. Then came the moment of Mihajlovic. Antonio and Mihajlovic were friends. Now is the moment of Vialli. It is a tough moment. It's difficult.

“For us to speak about the moment you have in the deep. Antonio is a tough man. Maybe this moment is more closed to show his feelings. Only this. We have to stay close to him, stay together. This is a family behaviour. We are, we feel, like a family. After this type of loss, you have to stay so close to show love.”

Asked if he had spoken to Conte about his feelings, Stellini added: “About football? Yes. About work? Absolutely, we speak a lot. To speak about other things is more difficult. In the tough moments, maybe you don't show, or the silence is more than words. We are in that moment.

“He doesn't drop the intensity," Stellini added. "He can find new energy. Because this is the type of man. This is Antonio.”

Spurs face League One Portsmouth in the FA Cup third-round on Saturday, aiming to win the competition for the first time since 1991.