Antonio Conte: UEFA’s decision to throw Tottenham out of Europe is disrespectful

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  • Tottenham Hotspur
    Tottenham Hotspur
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  • Antonio Conte
    Antonio Conte
    Italian association football player and manager

Tottenham boss Antonio Conte says UEFA’s decision to throw them out of Europe shows a lack of respect to the club.

Spurs exited the Europa Conference League after the governing body decided they “forfeited” their final group game against Rennes when they called it off due to a worsening coronavirus outbreak, awarding the French team a 3-0 win.

Spurs had nine first-team players with the virus at the time and were told to shut down their training centre by health officials.

Tottenham had to call off their game with Rennes after nine players contracting coronavirus
Tottenham had to call off their game with Rennes after nine players contracted coronavirus (Zac Goodwin/PA)

They tried in vain to rearrange the game before the December 31 deadline but came up against stumbling blocks in the shape of the Premier League, who would not allow Spurs to postpone a fixture, and Rennes, who played hardball over a possible new date.

Conte is incensed by the decision, says the players are disappointed and is keen for the club’s lawyers to take the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Their journey in the inaugural third-tier competition began with a qualifying trip to Portugal in August and Conte says his side deserve to end it on the pitch.

“It’s very difficult to understand this decision. Every club works very, very hard,” he said.

“Tottenham started to play in this competition from this summer and now it’s unfair for a decision that is not in our hands and to tell Tottenham, ‘Thanks very much, you went here, here and here, but now you lose 3-0’.

“Because why? Why? We honoured the competition to play and to go around Europe. But now UEFA is taking a decision that I don’t like. It is lacking respect about our job. It’s not fair.

“We are confident that something can change in the future because the players, the fans, the club want to play the qualification on the pitch, not in the court.

“Don’t forget, the players ask me why. The players are very, very disappointed in this decision.

“We are all confident because I think you receive a punishment if you deserve it, if you miss something, but we prepared for the game against Rennes.

“We did everything to play the game. But if someone else stops you for an important reason – a Covid reason – then I don’t understand why Tottenham has to pay this situation.

“This is unfair and for sure, we will fight against this decision because we want to play. We want to play the qualification on the pitch – not in the court.

“We have to play. If we don’t win, it’s right to go out of this competition. It’s fair. We deserve to play the qualification on the pitch.”

Spurs are back in action in the quarter-final of the Carabao Cup against West Ham on Wednesday and are potentially three games away from winning a trophy, should the EFL agree to make the semi-finals just one leg.

Conte looks a good bet to be the man to end Tottenham’s trophy drought, but is looking at the bigger picture.

“To win trophies is always important but I think in this moment, at this period for Tottenham, it’s more good to think it’s time to rebuild something important,” he said.

“This is the most important thing. Then for sure, if you ask me if trophies are important, they are for every club.

“If you don’t start to build a team in an important way. A trophy is only one situation that can help you.

“For me it’s important to build a solid base, a foundation, to have a team in a short period who can be competitive, to fight for all competitions and fight for all competitions you play.”

Spurs have improved under Conte and Son Heung-min has been one of the standout players.

The Italian says he has realised Son is even better working with him close up.

“We are talking about a really world-class player,” he said.

“I have seen him before becoming manager of Tottenham only on TV. He impressed me a lot. But when you have the possibility to train him and become his coach, you can see really the quality of this player.

“It’s fantastic because he had quality but also run, intensity, the resilience also, and I think that Sonny is a top player.

Son Heung-min celebrates for Tottenham
Son Heung-min (pictured) has impressed manager Conte (Adam Davy/PA)

“Not a good player – a top player. For sure I try to improve him, to help him, but we are talking about a player that is now already at an important level.

“He has to continue in this way and have this anger, this desire, because we need to have players with ambition. If you have ambition it means you are never happy about your performance.

“You want always more, more, more and we need these players to improve the level of Tottenham. Sonny is one of these players.”

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