Antonio Conte has said Tottenham’s Champions League push will not be derailed by a sickness bug as he closes in on an achievement he suggested was nothing more than fantasy when he took over at the start of November.
The club’s supporters were given a nightmarish flashback on Friday lunchtime when Gary Lineker revealed he had heard “there’s a food poisoning outbreak at Spurs”. Numerous players at the club had fallen ill on the eve of the final-day decider at West Ham in 2006 – in the notorious Lasagna-gate episode – when they needed to win to secure a top four finish ahead of Arsenal. They lost and Arsenal pipped them to the position.
This time, Conte’s team must avoid defeat at Norwich to ensure they qualify ahead of Arsenal, who face Everton at home.
Harry Kane did not train on Friday because of a stomach bug but Conte stressed that the striker would be fine. The virus had affected four players before last Sunday’s home win over Burnley – Hugo Lloris, Pierluigi Gollini, Harry Winks and Dejan Kulusevski – although they were fit enough to be in the squad. Lloris started and Kulusevski came on as a substitute. One other unnamed player missed training earlier in the week but Conte said he had returned.
“In my mind, it is not a problem,” Conte said, as the club stressed it was not food poisoning. “We are ready to fight and get a good result. For sure, Harry [Kane] will be OK. The availability of the players is the same as against Burnley. It [the bug] is a problem that lasts one or two days and then you are OK.”
Spurs were eighth when Conte replaced Nuno Espírito Santo, and the outlook was bleak. Daniel Levy, the chairman, did not set any targets for Conte beyond telling him to improve the situation. “If he had asked me: ‘I want to go to the Champions League’ … at that moment, to be realistic, I can tell him only one thing: ‘Are you joking?’” Conte said.
The manager is determined to see the job through, having been pleased with the development of his players, especially mentally. “In this aspect we have improved a lot,” he said. “I don’t forget my first game against Vitesse [a whirlwind 3-2 win with 10 men]. I said: ‘I don’t want to go crazy with this type of situation, the team showing not to be stable. It was really emotional but in a bad way. From that, we worked a lot.”
Conte will sit down to discuss his vision for the summer transfer window at some point after Norwich, with fears swirling that the hierarchy may not be able to match his ambition.
“I have a really good relationship with Daniel, with Fabio [Paratici, the managing director of football],” Conte said. “They know very well that I will try to do everything for the best for the club. I enjoyed a lot and I am enjoying a lot to work in this club. Now the most important thing is to try to get this result [at Norwich] and then we will find the right solution for everybody.
“I repeat – I am happy and I want to tell thanks for the opportunity to work with this group of players and with this modern club, with these fans, with this atmosphere.”