Tottenham Hotspur boss Antonio Conte has held clear the air talks with Richarlison after the forward took aim at his manager in the wake of Wednesday’s disappointing Champions League round-of-16 exit against AC Milan.
Conte agreed with Richarlison’s comments regarding his underwhelming debut season at Spurs, although he said the Brazil international was “selfish” to focus on his own situation rather than the team.
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“First of all I watched the interview of Richarlison. He didn’t criticise me. He said his season was s— and he’s right. His season has been not good,” Conte said in a news conference on Friday.
“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 [Premier 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.”
He added: “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.
“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.”
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.
There is mounting speculation about Conte’s future at Spurs, with his contract due to expire in June, and he said on Wednesday the club could end his tenure before the end of the season.
However, when talking to reporters ahead of Saturday’s home Premier League game against Nottingham Forest, the Italian coach said he is “ready to die” for the club to try and salvage a top-four finish.
He opted not to go into detail about his own future, other than saying he retained a good relationship with chairman Daniel Levy.
Spurs’ season has imploded in the last 10 days, going out of the FA Cup to second-tier Sheffield United, then losing to Wolves 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 have drawn criticism from fans and pundits, and he admitted that the patience of 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,” Conte said.
Spurs remain in fourth place in the Premier League but Liverpool are only three points behind with a game in hand.
‘Selfish’ Richarlison made mistake with jibe