Cristian Stellini addresses Harry Kane decision as Tottenham crash out of FA Cup
Stand-in Tottenham boss Cristian Stellini has insisted he has no regrets about leaving Harry Kane on the bench after Spurs crashed out of the FA Cup against Sheffield United.
Barring a miracle in the Champions League, Spurs’ 15-year trophy drought is set to continue for another season after they went down 1-0 to substitute Iliman Ndiaye’s late strike in last night’s fifth-round tie at Bramall Lane.
Despite a wide open FA Cup draw, Kane was rested for only the second time this term, with Richarlison leading the line before the England captain was introduced in the 65th minute.
"It is not a regret," Stellini said of the decision to leave out Kane, who sat out the fourth-round win at Preston. "We need to look in the medium period, we have many games. Harry Kane played in the last six games, one time with fever, one time with a problem, we have to take care of our best player. It’s not about Harry because we played with Richarlison, Lucas Moura and Sonny. I think it is good enough to play in this competition and against this sort of team."
Spurs have been managing Kane’s training schedule following a throat infection which was made worse when he played in the win over Fulham in late January.
"Harry was ill one week ago and he didn’t train on some days because he was very ill," Stellini said. "After he played a game with a fever he was very ill, so he didn’t. For that reason we decided to keep him on the bench and maybe play a part of the match. A player like this also needs to work not only to play."
Stellini and Antonio Conte made six changes from the 2-0 win over Chelsea at the weekend, with Cristian Romero and Oliver Skipp also rested, and rare starts for Lucas, Davinson Sanchez and youngster Pape Matar Sarr.
Conte’s assistant defended their team selection and accused the players of a mentality problem, saying they lacked energy and underestimated the Championship side.
"The team we chose to play the game was fine," Stellini said. "The problem was the energy. When the energy is not at the same level as your opponent sometimes you can lose. This was the problem for the me. The problem was the energy we have to use in this type of game.
"I’m disappointed for that because our players are fitting in well. We used different players but our players have to show on the pitch the reality. The reality has to be different if we want to win. We cannot use the same team every game. We need to give responsibility to everyone. I’m disappointed not for the effort, not for the players we choose but for the energy. We need to stay at the same level to be consistent.
"It’s not about motivation. I don’t think it’s about motivation. It’s about maybe if you don’t play consistently, maybe sometimes you try to manage the energy to arrive at the end of the game.
"Or you drop the energy from the start because you think the game is easy. Our games are never easy. We need to be more consistent, this is about mentality."
Stellini apologised to the travelling supporters following a defeat which mirrored the 1-0 loss at Middlesbrough at the same stage of the FA Cup last season.
"We have to apologise to the fans," he said. "Today there were 5,000 of them here to watch our performance and we apologise because we missed a big opportunity."
Conte watched from Italy where he is continuing to recuperate from gallbladder surgery, but he is expected back this week, although may not return in time to take charge of Saturday’s game at Wolves.
The head coach is, though, definitely expected to be on the touchline for the Champions League last-16 second leg at home to AC Milan next Wednesday, when Spurs will look to keep their slim hopes of winning silverware this season alive.
"The last two or three performances were really high intensity but when you have this type of performance I hope it will be easy to explain to the players what we need to do," Stellini said. "Normally our team react after a game like this. It’s not the first time it happened and we have to react immediately. Saturday we have an important game and Wednesday another one and we continue.”