Antonio Conte believes Tottenham are moving in the right direction after a busy summer transfer window, but warned they cannot yet focus on closing the gap to Manchester City and Liverpool.
Spurs have made six major signings this summer after a strong finish to last season saw them beat local rivals Arsenal to fourth spot and Champions League qualification. They begin the new campaign at home to Southampton on Saturday, with the Italian trying to play down talk they could compete for the title this season.
“I think we’re going in the right direction but you know very well you need to have a bit of patience,” Conte said. “We know that in England it is difficult to fight to win but we want to try to be competitive, to try to improve on last season and this is our target.”
“If you ask me about City or Liverpool, my answer is we are talking about two of the best clubs in the world that are working with the same coaches for years,” the 53-year-old added. “Now they are in a position that is very difficult for the others to close the gap, but we have to do this. Also because [Spurs] have to spend £100m for six players, they go and spend that for one or two players.”
“You have to run behind and they stay in front of you, but they deserve to stay there because they work very well to have the same coach and to back the coach. Klopp, Guardiola and [Chelsea’s Thomas] Tuchel … to become a strong team you need to have stability and a vision. The idea has to be very clear, and then you go step-by-step and try to reduce this gap.”
After taking over at Tottenham in November, Conte experienced a number of highs and lows during his first few months in charge. The former Internazionale manager was able to guide Spurs into the top four but demanded his ambition be matched by the club hierarchy at the end of the campaign.
The response was the permanent signings of Ivan Perisic, Fraser Forster, Yves Bissouma, Richarlison and Djed Spence, while defender Clément Lenglet joined on loan from Barcelona. But Conte is not getting ahead of himself, adding: “Our target in this moment is not to close the gap.”
“It’s to try to be better compared than last season. We know that last season we reached fourth place and in my opinion it was a big, big achievement, especially as we finished the season with only 13 players. The first target was to try to improve the squad in quality and numerically.
“Then you know very well that you can’t reach the best, the optimum in only one year or only after seven months [in charge]. You need a bit of patience, but at the same time it’s important to have ambition to try to be competitive, to try to fight for the best. This ambition has to push us to give 120% in every day of our work.”
Spurs will be without Oliver Skipp on Saturday and need to check on new signings Perisic and Bissouma due to minor injuries. Fellow summer addition Richarlison is suspended, having been handed a one-game ban for celebrating with a flare during an Everton game last season.