Antonio Conte has laid bare the depth of his anger towards Uefa over the decision to throw Tottenham out of the Europa Conference League, describing it as incredible, unfair, disrespectful and influenced by “personal interest”.
The Tottenham manager, who said his players were “very, very disappointed”, also made clear his determination to fight it at a higher level – in other words, the court of arbitration for sport. The club have confirmed they will think about going there with an appeal although, at present, it is nothing more than a consideration.
Spurs were unable to play their final tie of the group phase at home against Rennes on 9 December after they were affected by a Covid outbreak with eight first-team players and five coaches testing positive.
On the advice of the Health Security Agency the club temporarily closed the first-team area of their training ground. Uefa rules say games can be postponed if a club have fewer than 13 available senior players and no goalkeeper.
When Tottenham’s attempts to find a new date for the tie before Uefa’s cut-off of 31 December failed, the governing body awarded Rennes a 3-0 walkover, meaning Vitesse advanced from second place to a two-leg play-off for the last 16. Had Spurs beaten Rennes, they would have finished second.
“There are no positives [about easing a crowded calendar] and, for sure, this is an incredible decision,” Conte said, before Spurs’ Carabao Cup quarter-final at home against West Ham on Wednesday night.
“This decision is not fair. It wasn’t our fault. It was because we had many, many players with Covid and the government decided to stop our training sessions, to stop our training centre. We deserved to play the qualification on the pitch.
I’m very disappointed with Uefa because everybody knows the problem. It means that maybe someone does not know very well the problem that we are having. And I think only some personal interest.”
Conte was asked to explain what he meant by “personal interest”, although he did not really do so. “For me, it’s very, very difficult, it’s very difficult to understand this decision,” he replied. “Tottenham started to play in this competition from this summer and now it’s unfair – for a decision that is not in our hands – to tell Tottenham: ‘Thanks very much. You went here, here and here but now you lose 3-0.’
“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.”
Spurs said in a statement on Monday that, despite the disappointment, they had “to accept this ruling … Our focus now turns to the competitions we remain in”.
Plainly, though, Conte is not ready to give up. The winners of the Conference League will secure a spot in next season’s Europa League. “I hope that in the future, in the next step, with the court, something can change,” he said. “Now it’s not definitive. Uefa have taken this decision but then there is another step to confirm or not this incredible decision.
“Is the next step court? Yes. We are confident that in another step, they take a normal decision. Not a decision in our favour, a normal decision. It was incredible what Uefa did but also in the explanation. I have read [they said] that Tottenham couldn’t play the game for Covid cases and, despite this, they took this decision. But we are very, very confident for the next step. I can’t accept this [from Uefa].”
Conte, who reported all of his players were now Covid negative, has re‑energised the squad since taking over from Nuno Espirito Santo – nobody more so than Eric Dier, who has starred in the middle of the back three. “Eric can become one of the best players in the world in his position,” the Italian said. “This role is perfect for him.”