Tanguy Ndombele and Dele Alli among Spurs players running out of chances to prove worth to Antonio Conte

It was a comment that was almost said in passing, but clearly had a point to it.

“You have to be good to try to change opinion,” Antonio Conte said, after his Spurs side laboured to a 3-1 win over Morecambe in the FA Cup . “If someone is disappointed with you, it’s normal. I was a player and it happened sometimes to me that someone was unhappy with my performance. This is our life. I repeat: it’s OK.”

The Tottenham Hotspur manager was addressing a question about how Tanguy Ndombele was booed as he trudged off following a second-half substitution, but it could have been a message to most of his starters against Morecambe.

Conte had calmed him down by then, and the comments were uttered in a relatively passive manner, but as can happen with the Italian there can be much more significance to what he says than initially comes across.

Many of Tottenham’s players should be well aware of the meaning of his words for their situations. They need to drastically improve to have another chance to prove themselves, let alone to get a regular chance of football.


All of Ndombele, Dele Alli, Japhet Tanganga, Joe Rodon and Pierluigi Gollini need to consider what next. Matt Doherty might be included in that list, but it is already anticipated he will be returning to Wolves, as Adama Traore goes in the other direction. This narrow win over Morecambe will have only emphasised that Conte needs much more movement.

Despite many now discarding the FA Cup, as well as the fact that Spurs ultimately averted what would have been their most humiliating ever elimination, this third-round tie meant a lot to Conte and should have meant a lot to those selected. The Spurs manager was giving most of his primary starters a rest but also giving a core of players an opportunity to prove themselves.

Many failed the test. Worse was the manner of it. Dele was poor. Rodon was haphazard. Tanganga and Gollini weren’t up to it. Ndombele wasn’t up for it.

It is known that Spurs were already looking to move many on, all the more so because they currently need to sell to buy. This will have made up Conte’s mind.

Tanguy Ndombele headed straight down the tunnel after his substitution

It is all the more damning for these players since one thing that can be said for certain about the Italian is that he is always willing to give anyone a chance. It is genuinely a blank slate with Conte – if you are willing to work for him, he is willing to work with you.

So many Chelsea and Inter Milan players proved this. Harry Winks is in the process of proving it. The midfielder has gone from a player who Spurs were more than keen to offload to someone who Conte now trusts. His equalising goal against Morecambe was a symbolic marker of that. Winks was one of the starters that raised it.

The same cannot be said of some of the others.

Conte has little patience for that. If he sees a player will not work, he just looks to offload them. The chances only go so far.

Conte ultimately looks to shorn any squad down to a group who will fully commit to what he wants, so there is no flab, nothing weighing it down.

While the Spurs manager was willing to treat all of these players as if there was no baggage, though, it is as if a few of them have brought their own.

Dele’s long-term issues simply continue. And what of Ndombele? Just trudging off the pitch to the sound of boos was bad enough. Worse, many Spurs fans in the ground felt he actually slowed down when he heard that reaction.

Whether it’s true or not almost doesn’t matter, because it sums up that many have had enough.

The problem for Conte and the squad, though, is that there are currently no takers for most of these players.

That even applies to the biggest names, who some managers could see potential for transforming. No one wants Ndombele. No one wants Dele.

The specific issue at a club like Spurs – who financially lie between the top tier and rest, despite very much seeing themselves as part of the former – is that it means Conte can’t have this overhaul as quickly as he likes. It stymies his project, meaning he only ever has a first XI to compete rather than the wider squad that is now needed.

That may change in the next few weeks, as chairman Daniel Levy discusses potential expenditure with owner Joe Lewis.


Conte will be pushing for it. He will also be pushing some of these players out the door.

The Italian didn’t get to say all he wanted. He probably, however, said all that was needed.

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