Antonio Conte unperturbed by next Tottenham manager speculation as he repeats top-four vow
Antonio Conte has reiterated that finishing in the top four would make for a successful season for Tottenham but believes they are one of eight clubs fighting for two remaining Champions League places.
Conte’s Spurs face bottom club Southampton at St. Mary’s tomorrow, aiming to strengthen their grip on fourth place.
Spurs are four points clear of Newcastle, although the Magpies have played two games fewer, while seventh-place Brighton would theoretically go level on points with Conte’s side if they win their two games in hand.
Securing consecutive top-four finishes is the only remaining target for Spurs this season after they were eliminated from the FA Cup and Champions League, and Harry Kane is among the players to have said that competing for fourth place alone is no longer good enough for the club.
Conte, though, has previously said that finishing in a Champions League spot this season would be the equivalent to winning the title for Spurs and the Italian thinks eight clubs, including Manchester United in third and right down to 10th-placed Chelsea, are scrapping for two remaining places in the top four.
“To finish in the top four I think is a really, really good achievement for every club in the Premier League,” Conte said ahead of the visit to the south coast. “You can see the table, there are important teams that in the past won important trophies and now they’re struggling for a place in Champions League.
“The race will be really difficult this season. Don’t forget Brighton, because they have important players in the squad and they are on a good run. I think they’re involved in this situation. Brentford also are playing a fantastic season.
“Then there’s Newcastle, Liverpool and I don’t forget Chelsea. This season will be an important race for all the teams involved. There’s also United in this race. For sure it will be a good achievement to finish in Europe this season, like last season. I think in every season, to finish in the top four means you had a good season.”
Conte, who is widely expected to leave Spurs at the end of the campaign, insisted he is not perturbed by mounting speculation about the identity of his successor.
Luis Enrique, Mauricio Pochettino and Thomas Tuchel are all thought to be interested in the job should Conte leave Spurs at the end of his contract in June, while Marco Silva, Roberto De Zerbi and Thomas Frank have also been mentioned as potential candidates.
Asked if he was bothered by the reports, Conte said: “No, I think we have to accept every type of situation.
“The most important thing to know is you’re working very hard every day to improve the club you’re working. For a manager, this is important and to know you’re giving not 100 per cent but much more to improve the club that believe in yourself.”
Conte added that he is confident he will not be sacked before the end of the season and has insisted he was joking when he suggested that could be the case after last week’s Champions League elimination by AC Milan.
“[My comment] was a provocation, a joke,” he said. “You [the media] asked me about the future and I said to you that you don’t know what happens. Because maybe the club can sack me. But I don’t think the club is thinking this. The club sees everyday what me and my staff, we are doing for this club. It was only an answer about my future.”
Conte will again be without Hugo Lloris (knee), Rodrigo Bentancur (ACL), Yves Bissouma (ankle) and Ryan Sessegnon (hamstring) against Saints but has said that Lloris will still be number one when he returns to fitness, despite the impressive form of his understudy, Fraser Forster.