Antonio Conte had mixed news regarding the fitness of two of his players and he also spoke about his captain and Tottenham’s status at his press conference to preview tomorrow’s FA Cup semi-final.
But prior to any questions being asked Conte delivered a message following the tragic news this morning that Tottenham’s Under-23 manager Ugo Ehiogu had died.
‘Before starting the press conference, I want to send my and the players’ and the club’s condolences to Ugo’s family,’ he said. ‘When there is this sad news it’s never good.
‘When this type of situation happens football is not important. It’s not easy to speak about this situation because it hits every one of us. Tomorrow there will be a strange atmosphere. It’s a pity because he was very young, only 44 years old, and a former player.
‘When this happens you start to think about a lot of things in your mind, and for sure not good things. I repeat we are very sad. We can remember him tomorrow and I think that is the minimum for us and for Tottenham and the fans.’
Attention then turned to the availability of two of his players, Thibaut Courtois and Gary Cahill. The goalkeeper missed Sunday’s game at Old Trafford with an ankle injury, while Cahill has been suffering from illness this week, which Conte provided some detail on.
‘This period is not a lucky period for us. When we started training on Tuesday he arrived at the training ground with a bit of a fever, and our doctor preferred to bring him to the hospital and check his condition. It’s not a serious problem. Now Gary is getting better and is improving a lot.
‘If you ask me for tomorrow my answer is it’s very difficult, yes.’
Courtois meanwhile has trained with the team this week and should be back between the posts.
Some journalists present wondered if John Terry could replace Cahill in the team tomorrow.
‘This season we have tried to have two options in every position,’ Conte explained. ‘I think the right position for John when we play with three central defenders is in the central position, in the place that David Luiz is now playing. I have to make the best decision for the starting XI tomorrow.’
The boss provided further words on the captain following the news earlier this week he would be leaving Chelsea at the end of the season.
‘I have repeated in every press conference that John has been very important for me in my first season. He is helping me on the pitch and off the pitch. He is a great captain for us.
‘The "problem" is that John wants to play regularly and for this reason we have to respect his decision. I was a footballer and I know when you arrive at this point of your career and your mind and your body tells you to continue because you feel you can, but you want to play regularly, it’s right to continue.
‘If you ask me if this is a serious loss for next season, yes, yes. I am seeing what he is doing this season and I repeat, for the changing room, for this moment of Chelsea where we are building a foundation, a player like John Terry is very important.’
Conte later said that it would be hard replacing not only Terry next season, but also two players, John Mikel Obi and Branislav Ivanovic, who left halfway through this campaign and have won so much at the club. Discussions about identifying additions to the squad who can come in and help ‘write new history’, as Conte put it, have started.
Regarding tomorrow’s Wembley showpiece, the boss said he didn’t think the result would have any impact on the remainder of the league campaign whoever emerges victorious.
He was more certain in his beliefs when told his opposite number Mauricio Pochettino had labelled his team underdogs ahead of the game.
‘Tottenham must finish being considered underdogs. They are a great power in English football. This is the third year for them working together and it’s the right moment to finish talking about themselves as an underdog and find this excuse.
‘Tottenham is a great team and they are, for the second consecutive year, fighting for the title. Last season they missed this, and this season they’re trying again. In the future Tottenham will stay to fight in every game for the title. They are full of great players. They are building something important and this is their third year.
‘There is a moment to finish considering yourself an underdog. This is the right moment.’