Antonio Conte had a lot to say in his press conference after Tottenham Hotspur’s 1-1 draw against West Ham on Wednesday evening. Most of it was him being critical about VAR — we’ll get to that — but he also addressed one of the biggest criticisms levied against him after this match in why he decided to only make one substitute while West Ham manager David Moyes made five.
The difference was pretty stark. Tottenham didn’t play very well, clearly, but the West Ham subs meant that home team looked noticeably fresher in the second half than Spurs did. Conte’s only sub was Richarlison in the 75th minute, and it was notable that the Brazilian was probably Spurs’ brightest attacker all match.
When asked why he didn’t sub on any more players, Conte said that he was concerned about changing the dynamic of the team. But in that same answer he also said that he for sure plans to rotate his squad for this Saturday’s upcoming home match against Fulham.
“I think at that moment I didn’t want to change the balance of the team. Skippy was the first time with us. He trained with us for only two days, and I wanted to give him the possibility to come on the bench and breath the atmosphere and risk to play because Hojbjerg received a really bad tackle. Then I wanted to make only one change with Richy because in that moment, we needed energy, strong energy.
“In other situations, I prefer to keep the balance in that moment and also because in two (sic) days we have to play against Fulham and for sure I will make rotations. My players know very well, but they are ready, and we are ready to face this many games in a row, in two or three days.”
We don’t know what that rotation will look like. I would guess Richarlison will get his first Premier League start as a Tottenham player. We will probably see Ryan Sessegnon come in at left wing back, and maybe we’ll even see Matt Doherty on the other flank. We also have yet to see Barca loanee Clement Lenglet play a single minute for Spurs, so maybe that’s also an option. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see injured duo Cristian Romero and Oliver Skipp for at least part of the match as well.
But the bulk of Conte’s ire was directed towards VAR. Tottenham notably were denied a first half penalty that could’ve won the game after the match official whistled Aaron Cresswell for a handball in the box. However, after a VERY lengthy review, Peter Bankes was called to view the incident on the pitchside monitor, and he eventually waived the penalty off as the ball had ricocheted off of Cresswell’s face before hitting his arm.
Conte was hesitant to criticize Bankes directly, and even said he never would criticize an official’s on-pitch decision, but had some very harsh words for VAR as its implemented in England.
“It’s difficult also to explain because you know very well that I don’t like to comment on refereeing decisions. I never did this in England. But today, I like to comment on the decision because it was the right one, and I said to him at the end of the first half but with a smile, not in a polemic way. But with a smile, I said you have taken the right decision, and then the VAR called you, and the VAR for sure embarrassed the referee because to make him change the right decision was really, really strange.
“But for managers, for players to accept the mistake of the referee during the game is ok – because a refereeing decision can sometimes be positive and negative. At the end of the season, there is always a balance. But to accept this type of situation…
“Don’t forget against Nottingham Forest, the player went with his hand and penalty, clear situation, red card, no. Today was clear. I know the rule. The problem is when there are people behind a monitor with the video. They have a lot of time – they have taken a lot of time – I also listen to the crowd’s whistles. The crowd in England don’t like the VAR, no? This is very, very clear. But I think they are right. Because if these are the decisions, it’s incredible. Or they don’t know the rules.
“This is not the first time because I have seen many times, situations with VAR onside, the same situation offside in another game because there is one finger or the line is gone. In England, it is better to cut off VAR for the crowd and us. For me, for my players, for every coach, every player at all the clubs, you accept the referee’s decision, positive or negative, because these are human mistakes.
“With the monitor, you see the situation, and it can be a human mistake. I don’t want to think anything. But I repeat, I’m really disappointed, these people, they stay behind the monitor, they have to pay more attention, they have to study, I don’t know… In England, I spoke with the other managers, and no one is happy about this situation.”
The maddening thing about this particular call is that you just know that if the same situation had happened in a different match with different officials, the call very well could’ve been called differently where the penalty stands. That suggests to me that while VAR’s decision was probably the correct one by the letter of the law, it means that the law itself is dumb and bad. Conte’s point, and I agree with him, is that VAR is cheapening the game in the pursuit of perfection, when the rules themselves are not perfect. And until that ambiguity is erased, we will continue to have situations like this one that are perfect, but not good.
Tottenham remain in third place and are undefeated in the Premier League through five games.