Antonio Conte has held clear the air talks with Richarlison after the Brazilian apparently criticised Tottenham Hotspur’s manager in the wake of Wednesday’s disappointing Champions League last-16 exit against AC Milan.
With mounting speculation about Conte’s future at Tottenham he also said he was “ready to die” for the club for the rest of the season as they try to salvage a top-four finish.
Richarlison, 25, came off the bench to little effect in the 0-0 draw with Milan and in an interview with Brazilian TV station TNT said he should have started the game and was surprised how little pitch time Conte was giving him.
Conte was jeered by some fans when he replaced forward Dejan Kulusevski with defender Davinson Sanchez late on with Spurs needing a goal and after the game suggested that he could be shown the door before his contract runs out in June.
He opted not to go into detail about his own future on Friday when talking to reporters ahead of Saturday’s home Premier League game against Nottingham Forest, other than saying he retained a good relationship with chairman Daniel Levy.
But he was far more forthcoming when asked about Richarlison’s comments.
“First of all I watched the interview of Richarlison. He didn’t criticise me. He said his season was shit and he’s right. His season has been not good,” Conte said.
“He had injuries, played and scored in the Champions League and then went to the World Cup and then had a serious injury. He’s scored no (league) goals for us. I think he was really honest to say his season was not good. His season has not finished yet. If he deserves to play I’ll give him the opportunity.”
Conte also expressed his disappointment at Richarlison for focussing on his own situation rather than the team’s woes.
“When you speak of ‘I’ and not ‘us’ you are being selfish. I say to my players if we want to build something important and win a trophy we have to speak with ‘we’ not with ‘I’, because otherwise you’re thinking of yourself,” Conte said.
“He made a mistake and he apologised and it was good for me to clarify again the importance of team spirit. In this aspect we have to improve. We have to be more of a team and show more positive spirit, especially in negative moments.”
Tottenham’s season has imploded in the last 10 days, going out of the FA Cup to second-tier Sheffield United, then losing to Wolverhampton Wanderers in the league in a blow for the their hopes of finishing in the top four.
They then went out of the Champions League with a whimper, managing only two shots on target as they tried to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the first leg.
Conte’s tactics were criticised, although on Friday he said the players needed to show more desire. He also admitted that the patience of the fans had been worn thin.
“I understood that here the patience is finished for the fans, for the environment and then we will see what happens in the future,” he said. “If you ask me now am I ready to die for this club? Yes. But I am not so stupid to kill myself.”
Tottenham remain in fourth place in the Premier League but Liverpool are only three points behind with a game in hand.