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Football London
Football London
Alasdair Gold

Fabio Paratici's unusual position, clever Harry Kane move, Pedro Porro and an important meeting

The fight Conte wanted

Antonio Conte had asked for his players to fight for him and the club and they did. In return the passion returned to the emotional Italian.

Conte has been beaten down by events off the pitch and on it in recent months and the fiery man who had tussled with Thomas Tuchel on the pitch at Stamford Bridge looked to be long gone. On Monday night, there were little embers that showed the flickers remain, he's still in there.

Watching him snarling and pumping his fists at the noisy Tottenham fans as they sang his name after the final whistle brought back memories of the Conte of last season in particular and there was much about the performance of his players that harked back to the battling, close-knit side of a year ago.

READ MORE: Tottenham player ratings vs Fulham: Harry Kane hits record goal but Son and Perisic quiet

The travelling Tottenham fans were certainly the 12th man, in magnificent voice throughout. They bookended the match with 'We want Levy out' chants - now a regular staple of recent Spurs matches - and sang for their head coach and players throughout, Harry Kane getting his own medley after joining Jimmy Greaves as Spurs' record goalscorer.

It was not a Tottenham performance that was pleasing on the eye, but it was an important one. Results elsewhere had gone the way of the north London side over the weekend but had Fulham won the game they would have leapfrogged Conte's men.

Instead the three points earned against one of the Premier League's most in-form teams pushed Spurs to within three points of third-placed Newcastle United and created a five-point cushion behind them to sixth-placed Brighton, who have two games in hand. It also keeps them seven points clear of Liverpool and Chelsea.

Spurs had to fight their way to the three points, just as Conte wanted. Fulham took the game to them in the opening 40 minutes without seriously testing Hugo Lloris as the defence held firm despite a few nervy moments.

Then the visitors finally began to find their footing and Kane struck before the break with the kind of finish that demonstrated the one real bit of quality that separated the teams.

The second half was a more even affair although neither side really troubled the opposing keeper, Bernd Leno having to tip over a Kane header straight at him being the most either stopper had to really do.

Conte had asked questions of his players in a meeting at Hotspur Way on Saturday that he will hope proves pivotal in the long haul and he got the answers he wanted on this occasion.

"Yeah a good answer, a good answer from my players," he told "After two defeats to Arsenal and Manchester City, don't forget we are talking about first and second in the table, I asked my players to show me some characteristics I saw last season.

"The desire, the will to help each other on the pitch and to suffer in the moments in the game you have to suffer. Today we didn't suffer a lot but I have seen that they were ready and they are ready so it has to be a starting point for us.

"Don't forget we played against a team who are in my opinion a real surprise this season. With a win, they could overcome us in the table. To win away here is not easy so for this reason I am really happy, really happy because I repeat I saw again the characteristics that brought us last season a place in the Champions League."

It had been a difficult week for Tottenham, with the verdict from Italy that saw managing director of football Fabio Paratici banned for 30 months by his country's football federation for what they saw as his part in financial irregularities at Juventus, a ban that they have asked UEFA and FIFA to extend globally. The ban as it stands also falls foul of the Premier League's fit and proper test for owners and directors at clubs.

On matchdays, Paratici can mostly be found sat behind the dugout among the first team staff and players, getting excitedly involved in proceedings and berating every decision against Tottenham, but on Monday evening he was unusually situated up in the stands, sat sedately among the directors.

It was perhaps a taste of the disconnect the 50-year-old could soon feel with Spurs bracing themselves for a potential wider ban than the current Italian one, which will be appealed by Juventus.

The club are yet to comment on the Paratici situation as he continues to work behind the scenes and it was made clear before Conte's post-match press conference that he would not be answering any questions about the club's managing director of football, who he worked with at Juventus previously.

It has been another messy week at Spurs that has brought questions over the future of Conte and Kane, as well as a small but noisy and passionate protest outside the club's Hotspur Way complex on Saturday morning against chairman Daniel Levy and majority owners ENIC.

It felt like a week in which all news Tottenham-related was bad news, but Conte and his team got together, created a bubble around themselves, refocused and battled to a win that came at just the right time.

Harry Kane celebrates after scoring the winner in the Premier League match between Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur at Craven Cottage ((Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images))

Kane on fire and a clever move

If ever Tottenham needed reminding just how fortunate they have been to have Harry Kane up front for so many years, Monday night provided yet another example.

There have been so many occasions in each passing season when Kane has been the difference. You look at teams who play good football like Brighton and now Fulham, among others, and you wonder just how good they would be if they had Kane at the front of it all, a world class striker to knit together their eye-catching football.

For in an instant Kane can turn a struggling team display into a victory, whether it be with a moment of magic to just grab the ball and burst away with it before setting someone else up or launching a clinical curling effort into the net.

At Craven Cottage, it was the latter and it was entirely fitting that the goal that brought the 29-year-old level with the late, great Jimmy Greaves on a record 266 goals for Tottenham Hotspur would be a trademark Kane goal.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg shifted the ball to Son Heung-min, who played a short pass in to the feet of the striker and he cut inside and curled an effort within the right-hand post that Fulham goalkeeper Bernd Leno could only watch helplessly.

It was also Kane's 300th Premier League appearance and his 199th goal in the competition. This season alone he has 16 goals in 21 league games. If it were not for Erling Haaland's start to life at Manchester City, then the Spurs man's goals would be getting far more attention because it doesn't matter whether Tottenham struggle or not, Kane comes up with the goods.

He even managed to do so on Monday night despite feeling worse for wear. Kane admitted after the game that he had endured a tough Sunday night "up every couple of hours [with] a bug or virus".

It's testament to just how crucial Kane is to Tottenham that even he knew he could not miss this match and yet with a fever the night before managed to play 90 minutes and score the winning, record-equalling goal.

"Today he was amazing," said Conte. "I think he scored a fantastic goal, the execution to control the ball, then to kick it in that way, only a world-class striker can score this type of goal.

"About the spirit that I spoke [about] before, I want to underline Harry today played with a fever and he was not so good but he wanted to play because he understood the moment. He understood that he is a point of reference for us, for me, for the other players.

"I think with Hugo, they are the two players who are a point of reference for the dressing room. Today I am really happy because I think he was rewarded with a goal."

He added: "We are talking about a player that has fantastic ability and skills. For sure, I would like to help him and me also and his team-mates to try to do something important, to win something with Tottenham because he loves Tottenham.

"Tottenham is in his heart and it should be good if together we were able to win something because then it is important to have this record but I think it could be more important if you are good to lift a trophy."

No man is bigger than a football club but the thought of life without Kane at Tottenham is a bleak one. After his winning goal hit the back of the net, the jubilant Spurs supporters sang 'he's just a one-season wonder'.

The ironic chant says it all. You're not talking about a player who has left a small imprint on life at Tottenham Hotspur, or even a couple of seasons. Kane made his Spurs debut 11 and a half years ago and when he began to start regularly in 2014 so the goals began to rain down.

He's become synonymous with Tottenham and to see him in any other club's shirt would be heart-breaking for the fans and for the club, who would have to buy two top quality, expensive players to replace the jobs he does on a pitch and even then there is no guarantee they could replicate his output.

Yet Kane's stance has never changed. He wants to win trophies with Spurs. and others reported this week that the striker remains clear in that objective and although there's no rush to resolve his future, with 18 months left on his current deal, those around him say that while he is currently focused on firing the club back into the top four and progressing in the Champions League and FA Cup, he remains open to discussing the right new contract if the club do as expected open talks in the coming months.

It's what the Spurs fans want to hear and it's also a clever piece of positioning from his camp as it keeps all the pressure on Levy and the club.

The supporters know Kane wants to win trophies in a Tottenham shirt so if he does not feel the club hold the same ambition as he does to make that happen and does not agree to sign any new deal eventually presented to him, then there is only one direction the finger of blame will fall.

You can't accuse Kane of not giving his all for the football club and in that scenario, few would blame the England captain if he did eventually move on if the club's owners have not given their all for him.

Harry Kane celebrates after the win at Fulham with Antonio Conte (Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

When asked about his future on Monday night, Kane confirmed that he still dreams of wanting to win silverware in a Spurs shirt.

"Of course, I still want to win trophies for Tottenham Hotspur. That's been my goal since I started playing first team football with them," he said. "It hasn't happened. I've been open about [how I feel about] that but I'll continue to try to achieve that.

"We have a really good squad, a fantastic manager and there's no reason why we still can't be successful this season. We've just got to put everything we can into it and see where we are come May or June."

On contract talk, he added: "There's not been much talk if I'm totally honest. I'm sure they'll be conversations over the coming months but to be honest I'm just focussed on this season and doing my best for the team.

"There's still a lot to play for, trying to get in the Champions League, we have the FA Cup and the Champions League still to try to win. My focus is on that. I know there's going to be rumours, a lot of talk and speculation about my future but I'm just focused on what I can do."

Kane forms bonds with most of his managers as they quickly realise just how integral he is to their team. Conte and Kane have a strong relationship and there have been suggestions in the media that the futures of the two men are intertwined.

"I'm not going to talk about the manager's future. That's down to him," said Kane when that was put to him. "I'm sure he'll have conversations with the club and assess where we are as a team.

"He's had a lot going on, on and off the pitch, so he probably needs time to assess it all. From my point of view, I really enjoy working with him and it would be fantastic if he did stay."

On Conte's tough season off the pitch with losing three close friends, Kane added: "It's always tough because the manager is the leader and the boss, the one everyone looks up to.

"Of course we know he's been going through a tough time outside of football and it's not been helped by some of the results we've had on the pitch either. As players we take responsibility for that. It's about digging deep and sticking together.

"Through tough times you find out who you really are and the last couple of weeks have been difficult, but we bounced back with a good win and we're going to need more of that if we're going to be where we want to be at the end of the season."

It's one of the biggest crimes in a football sense that a world class player like Harry Kane has no trophies to his name and that the club has not grown at the same rate as he has. He's given his career to Tottenham Hotspur and it's time they gave something back.

Cristian Romero was booked for a high boot on Aleksandar Mitrovic in Tottenham's game at Fulham (Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Defensive discipline and the Emerson and Porro situations

Tottenham needed a clean sheet on Monday and to do so amid plenty of Fulham dominance and Spurs nerves will have only increased the importance of that zero in the scoreline.

The under-fire Hugo Lloris needed it and so did the backline, even if Conte continues to make it clear that it's the whole team's responsibility to defend as it is to attack.

Spurs flip-flopped between some really good moments of passing around Fulham's pressing to scary moments when their nerves shone through. World Cup winner Cristian Romero in particular looked shaky for much of the first half when in possession.

However, he grew into the game and alongside him Eric Dier and Ben Davies were solid when they needed to be. Both players are perhaps more suited to the physical battle that comes with Fulham and Aleksandar Mitrovic and it would have been a welcome relief of sorts after the speed and trickery of the Arsenal and City attackers.

Lloris was confident in most of what he did, although his backline protected him enough that he was only called on a couple of times to make any meaningful saves.

The wing-backs had differing nights. Ivan Perisic again struggled to make an impact and with Son Heung-min yet to return to form, even if he did pick up his first assist since early October, the left-hand side for Spurs was often the place the away team's attacks came to a halt.

On the right, Dejan Kulusevski was more penetrative in his play, although still not at his top level yet, and behind him Emerson Royal put in a performance that will have pleased Conte.

The Brazilian has found himself back in the reckoning after Matt Doherty suffered with illness last week. On Monday night, Emerson showcased the great engine he has, racing up and down the flank and he forced Leno into a save in the first half and defended well at the other end, making one crucial interception in his own box in the final minutes.

This Emerson performance was well timed to say the least. Spurs are trying to sign 23-year-old Pedro Porro from Sporting and while there is a feeling the transfer could yet go either way this week, there has definitely been progress made with a belief that the Portuguese club have begun to shift away from their initial insistence on the all up front £39.5m release clause needing to be met.

For Tottenham to pay the wages of three senior right wing-backs for the remainder of the season, leaving Conte with an unhappy player or two in his squad, would seem unlikely and convincing a very happy and again regularly playing Emerson to move on is no easy task, although this recent display could also have acted as a shop window one for any potential suitors.

There was less of a desire from Spurs to move on Doherty this month but it will be interesting to see whether Emerson's reluctance to leave sparks any change of heart in that department if the Irishman feels his game time will dwindle.

Porro makes sense for Tottenham at a time when the future of Conte beyond the end of the season remains unclear. With his growing experience in the Champions League and more than 100 games in Portuguese and Spanish top flight football, the young Spaniard would boost Conte's options but is also a young player the club have liked since before the Italian's arrival. Porro, who is understood to be keen on the move, ticks both boxes as someone for the now and for a potential post-Conte era.

Spurs are understood to have offered players to Sporting in part-exchange for Porro although that leads to its own issues. Offer a right wing-back and it makes sense and perhaps they could cover for the loss of Japhet Tanganga on loan or permanently until the summer.

However, anyone else and Tottenham would have to replace them. For example, Davinson Sanchez will want to play football after such a lack of it in recent months, but losing the Colombian's experience to anyone this week without replacing him would be counter-productive.

Spurs' plan is to sign two centre-backs in the coming summer window, one for the left and one able to play on the right or centrally in a three. They would have to move up one of those plans if Sanchez were to depart.

Likewise, handing someone like Bryan Gil, who missed a second game after his training ground knock, a move for more game time would leave Spurs short even if they replaced him in the coming week with a new attacker as hoped, due to Lucas Moura's ongoing injury issue and time at the club coming to and end.

The prospect of Djed Spence heading off on loan just six months after arriving at the club continues to look likely with Bayer Leverkusen, Southampton, West Ham and Crystal Palace among the interested suitors. Still without a start under Conte, the 22-year-old needs to play football and if Porro does arrive then his already slim chance of minutes will become non-existent.

There are plenty of questions that Levy and Paratici need to answer in the week ahead.

An important meeting

Sometimes you just need to sit down and thrash things out when performances are not what you expect.

On Saturday at Hotspur Way, Conte laid it all out for his Tottenham players, let them have their say and showed them the differences in their play from last season to this and how in some aspects they had lost something from their performances as a team.

"I wasn't angry, this has to be very clear. In these situations, sometimes you are a bit upset but I wasn't angry," he said. "I showed only the stats and when there is the stats it's the truth, when it says 21 goals in the last 10 games, you have to accept and to understand that maybe we can do much more, but together and me also.

"Maybe I didn't work on some aspects and for this reason when I have a good relationship with the players and I tell them always the truth, they know that if I want to, they accept it because they're really good players and smart people.

"Then today they tried to give me an answer and today they give me an answer very well but this has to be not the only game despite a difficult game today against Fulham. For this reason now my expectation is to build on this win for the rest of the season, to be competitive and to make our fans proud of our team."

Conte admitted that he has also spoken with close friends about the different side to his team this season.

"Last season, it was the spirit and also many of my friends tell me, or people I ask to watch the game and I tell them to tell me their consideration, many people tell me the team compared to last season is not so solid, the will, the desire to defend, to get three points despite the difficulty, is not the same as last season," he explained.

"Because also my feeling is this but I repeat, when you concede 21 goals in 10 games, it means there is something wrong and can not only be a tactical aspect. For this reason I think that we work, we worked about the mentality and in the mind, in the heart and in the desire to sacrifice for the team to help each other.

"I think that it has to be a starting point this, but we will see quickly. On Saturday we have a tough game away and we have to be ready to show also that we learned about those two defeats against Arsenal and Manchester City."

Kane admitted that the weekend meeting, albeit a regular occurrence, was a chance for everyone to air their feelings on the season and where it was heading.

"We have meetings every week anyway but it was more just talking amongst all of us and voicing our opinions on getting back to keeping clean sheets, being strong, compact, fighting, digging deep if a fixture is like last night was," said the striker.

"There's going to be times when 1-0 is enough. I think especially coming off the back of being 2-0 up against City and not being able to see that through. When we look back at when we've been at our best last year and this year, it's when we've been compact and hard to break down. It was nice to come back and do that."

Conte will know that after facing Manchester City at home the fixture schedule is kinder to Spurs as they face most of the bottom six in a run of Premier League matches that leads all the way into April.

Last season, around the time in March when Tottenham beat Everton and then lost at Manchester United despite a good performance, Conte levelled up his ambitions and challenged his players to finish in the top four.

The way he spoke on Monday, while he did not go that far yet, suggested that in the meeting with the players there was a desire to aim higher rather than talk about being 'realistic' and knowing the club's level.

"I think we have to be dreamers. I spoke to the players and I said today has to be a starting point for us," he said. "Many times, many times especially after the defeats, you can learn much more than from a win.

"After the game against Manchester City and also especially the game against Arsenal, it was important to make good reflection with our players and to understand maybe something we lost. We lost something compare to last season.

"Not offensively because last season we were one of the best and today this season we are third in attack in the league but we lost something defensively. I repeat when I say defensively I want to involve the whole team.

"For this reason I spoke with the players to find again their resilience, to show again their desire and their will to defend the result. Yeah, I have intelligent players, smart players and good men. Today they gave me a good answer but I repeat it has to be a starting point.

"On Saturday we have an important game and we want to go to the next round, the FA Cup away against a Championship team is not easy. If we want to be the dreamers we have to know this is an important game for us because the FA Cup is a cup game, then we have also Champions League, 17 games to go in the Premier League and it is up to us.

"If I see this desire again, this commitment, this unity and the will to help each other, I think that we have time to have another good season."

Kane echoed Conte's thoughts after the game and wants Spurs to make something of the second half of the campaign.

"That's the way we've got to look at it. There's still a lot of games to play in the Premier League, we have an important FA Cup game at the weekend and the Champions League starts again in February," said the forward.

"In football, things can turn around really quickly and all of sudden you can be right in amongst two competitions and fighting for Champions League spots, and when we looked at where we were last year and managed to get in the Champions League, anything's possible still.

"Nights like last night will definitely help but it's about how we build on this now, and that starts with the FA Cup at the weekend."

The season is still there for Tottenham to make of it what they want. They need to improve the squad in the transfer market and they need to improve their displays on the pitch. If they do both then there's no reason why they can't give their frustrated fans something to really shout about.


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