ANTONIO CONTE issued a stark ultimatum to his Tottenham players — dedicate yourself to achieving my winning mentality or continue to wallow in mediocrity.
The new Spurs boss — a title winner with his previous three clubs — surprised many by taking over a side who have not been champions of England for 60 years, nor won any silverware since 2008.
Antonio Conte has warned his players they are not at the right physical and mental levelCredit: Getty
Conte barks out instructions with Cristian Romero (left) and Son Heung-min (centre) paying close attention
And Conte pulled no punches ahead of his first Premier League game in charge, at Everton tomorrow, when he accused his mid-table players of not being good enough mentally or physically.
When it was put to him that Tottenham’s poor mentality had been a long-term barrier to achievement, Conte nodded and smiled.
The Italian said: “For sure, this aspect we have to work to improve. It’s not easy because you have to work every day and you have to breathe a winning mentality every day.
“You don’t invent this, the winning mentality. It’s impossible to invent.
“It’s impossible to pay for. No money can buy a winning mentality.
“I think you have to take the right people to bring this into the club.
“You have to start to think about football for many hours of your life to improve results, to win.
“To start to think, ‘I want to win but I know that it means sacrifice, it means to suffer’. It means to work very hard.
“And if you start to think in this way, it means that you want to become a winner. Otherwise you continue to stay at your medium level.”
Conte claimed his predecessor Nuno Espirito Santo was sacked after just four months because his players were ‘too emotional’ and not fit enough.
He said: “I’ve seen in a few days that we need to work a lot to improve many aspects — for every single player, not only one, two or three.
“This squad has to work to improve their physical condition, to go into my idea of football, to have more order on the pitch and to not be so emotional during the game, to improve their capacity to suffer.
“We have to improve many aspects. For this reason, Tottenham decided to change something. Because when the situation is not good, usually the coach pays for this.”
When it was put to Conte — a title winner at Chelsea, Juventus and Inter Milan — that the Spurs job might be beneath his status, he insisted he fancied the challenge because chairman Daniel Levy would give him the autonomy ‘to work the way I like’.
Conte believes there is a sizeable gap between Tottenham and the four best Premier League clubsCredit: Getty
Conte kept his players training for an extra hour on Friday after they almost threw away a 3-0 lead against VitesseCredit: Getty
But he conceded that Spurs are a long way behind Chelsea, Liverpool and the Manchester clubs and that despite him having signed only an 18-month contract, he needs time and patience.
Conte said: “I know we need to take a bit of time because in the Premier League now I think there is a gap between us and at least four teams.
“But this situation must be an incentive for us to work harder to start to close this gap and to start to think that we have to be competitive — and then to try to fight for the title.
“At the moment, honestly, I can’t tell you that this team is ready to fight for the title. We have many teams in this moment that are more stable in football terms.”
On the unusually short length of his deal, Conte claimed: “I think my contract is not a problem — 18 months we decided. I understood also the sacrifices this club made for me.
“I think the best thing for us is to work together with the players, with the club and to understand that we can work together for a long time. I hope so.”
Conte also suggested that Tottenham may have got their balance wrong in spending ‘maybe too much’ on their world-class, £1billion stadium and training ground and not enough on their playing squad.
He said: “This is a big challenge. And I know very well that this club is not winning for many years. But I think that to win, you have to build. You must have vision.
“I think this club had a great vision outside of the pitch. Now I think we have to start to have a vision also on the pitch, on the football topic.
“The club has shown that they’re working very well with the stadium, with the training ground.
“I know I will need time to work, to change something here, on the pitch. Because outside of the pitch, it’s fantastic, it’s great — maybe too much.
“On the pitch, we need to change many, many things.”
⚽ Read our Football news live blog for the very latest rumours, gossip and done deals