As Gareth Southgate names England’s World Cup squad on Thursday, Antonio Conte has warned that Harry Kane is so fatigued he had to stop training to rest on the eve of Tottenham’s Carabao Cup defeat to Nottingham Forest.
The Spurs manager played the England captain for the first hour of a tired performance on a night when Jesse Lingard posted a reminder that he can help Forest continue their resurgence.
Conte said he had no alternative but to field Kane, who is not injured, as he had no other fit strikers and praised a selfless attitude that Southgate, the England manager, will recognise but not necessarily appreciate as he copes with his own injury crisis. Kane has started all 21 of Spurs’ games this season.
On a night when Lingard assisted Renan Lodi for Forest’s opener before scoring his first goal for the club since his free transfer from Manchester United, Spurs went two goals behind for the fifth successive domestic game.
But while Forest could toast a fourth consecutive home game without defeat and a place in the last 16 of this competition, the main talking point after this game was Kane’s fitness for a World Cup campaign that kicks off in Doha against Iran a week on Monday.
“This morning we waited to see if he could start or not,” Conte said. “In this situation he was the only striker. I can only say thanks for the availability they show me.
“In our hearts and minds was the desire to go ahead in this competition. But the difference was the energy. It was really different between us and Nottingham Forest.
“Other players maybe they could tell me I’m tired and don’t want to play and help the team. When I speak, I have a group of players who are before players they are men, and because of this another could be selfish and think for himself because in one week they have to play the World Cup. Instead, Harry Kane showed to be a really good man.
“No [he is not injured], it was a problem of tiredness. [He is] really, really tired and yesterday we had a soft training session and at one point he stopped to recover energy. But he’s OK, it’s only fatigue but normal because Harry played every game. When you have a player like him it’s difficult to decide you don’t play with him. Also if I wanted to start with another it was impossible because of injuries to Richarlison, [Dejan] Kulu[sevski] and Lucas Moura … two weeks ago, Sonny [Heung-Min]. It was difficult for Kane today.”
After a quiet first half, Forest caught fire with two goals in the first 15 minutes of the second. Lingard did well to steer Orel Mangala’s under-hit pass beyond Matt Doherty and Lodi, the Brazilian left-back on loan from Atlético Madrid, cut inside Davinson Sánchez superbly before swerving a powerful right-footed shot into the far corner.
Lingard had already blasted in a shot that Fraser Forster was relieved to punch clear and in the 56th minute he headed in his first goal for the club that put this tie beyond Spurs’ reach. From a breath-taking counterattack, the former Spurs right-back Serge Aurier crossed for Sam Surridge to head intelligently back for Lingard to nod over the line.
That was the signal for Conte to summon Kane away from any more danger of injury for country or club amid four prompt substitutions and Spurs could not capitalise on the late dominance that Mangala’s second yellow card afforded them.
Steve Cooper said of Lingard: “He was excellent. I thought his positional play was good. He found the spaces really well. And, more importantly, he did what you want your attacking players to do – you want them to be a threat and have end product at the end of it.”