What do you make of Newcastle’s transformation under Eddie Howe?
I think for sure Newcastle is another team now. I know well the Newcastle manager. We played against him when he was the manager with Bournemouth. He’s a young manager but you can see his idea about football. I think that he’s a really important prospect as a manager.
Newcastle signed good players during the transfer window and now for sure they’re another team. We have to pay great attention on Sunday. They lost the two games but before they got points with all teams, low, medium or top teams. So for this reason we have to pay great attention. It won’t be an easy game but we know this and we have tried to prepare very well for the game. We know that from now on, there are nine games and for us it’s very important to get three points because we want to finish as high as possible in this league.
How important for you is it to get Champions League in terms of your plans for the summer and Harry Kane?
Before it’s right to underline that this target is very, very difficult and we are not the only team that wants to try to do this miracle. There’s also Arsenal, that in this moment has an advantage and then there is United.
United is the team that in this season are struggling a lot. Last season was Liverpool. Otherwise in England, I continue to repeat, you play for other targets, because there are four teams, a top four, who at this moment for me these are stronger clubs than the others, for many reasons. Chelsea, Liverpool, City and United.
Last season Liverpool struggled to reach a Champions League place, but then Liverpool have taken this place and this season it depends on United.
Now in this moment we are among the teams that have to try to stay really close to the top four and try to exploit if someone fails this season. If you ask me about the past, about our possibility to reach a place in the Champions League, I could say to do it would be very, very, very difficult.
But now after five months I’m seeing a great improvement of my team and I think we have to fight now until the end. We have the possibility to reach this target and it’s important to have this type of ambition and to put pressure on ourselves for this target.
I think to play Champions League next season is important. It’s important for me, it’s important for the club, it’s important for the players, it’s important for the fans, for everybody. Because to play Champions League is totally different to Europa League or Conference League or not playing in UEFA competition. It’s an important target for many reasons, for the club, because for sure you can plan important things.
What is your view on the new five substitutions rule for next season?
My view now is that it’s right to take a decision now for next season. Honestly, I was negative to change the rule during the season, because it was a period of time that someone tried to change and bring three substitutions to five.
I think honestly it was unfair. When you start a season with rules, you can’t change the rules during the season or you give advantages to the top teams. Now, I think that it’s okay, because other leagues there are five substitutions and the most important thing is for everyone to know this, and then in the summer, every team has to know very well that you have to strengthen your squad.
Because with five substitutions, you can totally change the game during the game, tactically, physically. At the moment only top teams can do this because they have big squads, but the other teams, with five substitutions they have to try to strengthen their squad because I repeat with five substitutions you can change the game. You can change half the team. If the squad is strong on the bench, you can change. Five players, this decision is an important decision for football because in this way you can influence the game in an important way.
What is the team news, any fitness concerns or updates?
Good news for Oliver, for Skippy and Sessegnon. They are very, very close to being back with the team. They’re improving a lot. They’re having important training sessions. Not with the team, apart, but I hope next week to have both players with the team, Ryan Sessegnon and Oliver Skipp.
Do you feel the connection with the Spurs fans is strong and positive?
But it’s vital this connection with our fans. I have to be honest, our fans in every moment they are with us in a positive and negative situation. For sure, in the last nine games it’ll be very important. To play at home, create a great atmosphere that we felt in the game against West Ham to try to push us from the start to the end. But honestly we have great fans who support us home and away, every moment, and I repeat they deserve great satisfaction about our performance and the results.
Will Newcastle be direct competition for Tottenham, Man United and Arsenal next season?
Yeah, for sure. We’re talking about a club that now wants to invest. I know very well these people decided to come into football not only to participate but because they want to win and to be competitive For sure they want to invest money to bring Newcastle to another level. In England when I speak about a tough league, a league where the difficulty is very high. Every team wants to improve the team, not only Newcastle next season.
There are many teams. Aston Villa wants to improve the team. This league is very difficult and for this reason you have to work very hard to build something important and then go season by season to improve the quality of your squad. You have to continue this idea to improve the quality of your squad. This is the only way to be competitive in England. Otherwise important clubs risk to slip in this league and slip in the relegation zone in England. When happens this, it’ll be good to fight for this target. It’s not easy.
Is that what made you want to come back to England and stay in England?
I always said this. Yes, it’s a big challenge. In this moment, maybe it’s easier to win in Europe than England. Because for every trophy, you have to fight to try to lift the trophy. For example, the last final in the Carabao Cup, Chelsea and Liverpool. The FA Cup, maybe Man City against Liverpool or Chelsea. For the league, first now is Man City, second Liverpool, third Chelsea and then for fourth place there’s a battle.
You can understand to win a trophy in England is very difficult. I remember very well maybe five or six years ago, Carling Cup was a trophy for top teams used this trophy to give more time to young players or players they usually don’t play. Now every top club wants to win everything. For this reason, it’s a big challenge for us. This type of challenge gives you great emotion to try to build something important. For sure, I’m trying to help the club build something important for the present and for the future.
Can you just clear up what happened with Cristian Romero during the international break?
(Laughs) I still didn’t understand this situation. I spoke with the player, and it was very curious. I was the coach of a national team and for this reason I prefer not to answer about the situation. For sure, it was a strange decision for the player. But now he’s here and he had a good training session with us this week. The most important thing is this. Argentina is qualified for the World Cup and I think this is the most important thing.
If you win on Sunday you go level on points with Arsenal, does that put pressure on them?
First of all, we have to win for us. Not look at others. This way you build a winning mentality. You have to look at yourself and not think what happens. For sure, if you get three points and get continuity, you show that you’re becoming a stable team and the table becomes very interesting. But we have to win for us, for our fans and the work we’re doing for the club. This must be the first target. But for sure when you win you put pressure on the others. It’s happening with Arsenal in the last period because they lost to Liverpool but they won a lot of games and pushed a lot to United, to us and the teams that stay very close.
You’ve got a settled XI at present, how hard is it to manage a squad with players not playing?
Usually, I try to pick the best starting XI, that at this moment can be more insurance to get three points. But you know very well that during the season many situations can change. But we have a good squad and I have to make the best decision for the team. Sometimes there are players in good form and others not so good form.
Sometimes you want to change and give a bit of rest but at the moment we have only nine games in the league, we don’t have another competition. We try to pick the best XI but the players who stay on the bench we know they can change the game if I decide to send them into the game.
Are many players knocking on the door?
Yeah, yeah. This is important to create, when you want to be competitive and try to win something important, you have to create great competition in your squad, more players to create quality, to bring in mind difficulties about who should start. This is the only way. If you have only 11, 12 or 13 players, it’s not good for the team, the club, or for our target. When you start to have more players available to change the game it is important/
Are there any other injuries for players, such as those coming back from international duty?
No, at the moment we don’t have problems. Ben Davies came back with a little problem but he solved this problem and he’s available for the game against Newcastle.
Rob Page mentioned that you had seen Joe Rodon’s performance for Wales and had been impressed, can you tell us about that and what you’ve made of his season?
When our players go to the national team, my staff and I try to watch every game to understand the performance of our players . This session of the national team, we have to be pleased. To see the performance of Joe and also Steven Bergwijn, it means maybe we’re doing a great job with them. Joe is not playing many games with us but despite this he was fit.
Joe is a good player but a really, really great man. He has broken two ribs, not one. He did every training session. He was always available and I know very well the pain you feel when you break a rib. It means you’re a great man. Joe is improving a lot, he has to continue in this way, work hard and have this satisfaction. I repeat to play this way with Wales in an important game in World Cup qualification, it means you’re working hard and well. I always say this: I have a group of players working well, they’re very focused and working to improve the level.
Steven Bergwijn said he would see what his future holds in the summer. Is he part of your long-term plans?
We’re talking about a player of great quality, great potential. He’s different to the other players in the squad, good one v one. When the space is tight, he’s good at beating the man and scoring. Steven has great space for improvement, he has to try to give continuity and to continue to work in the way that he’s doing.
For us, he’s an important player, the type who if he starts or comes in, he can change the situation, because of a specific characteristic of superiority. Create chances for himself or the other. He has to continue to believe in himself more.
He’s a young player with great space for improvement. He has to continue to work, to improve with and without the ball. To help the team at every moment because football is a team game and you have to be ready at every moment to help the team with or without the ball.