Conte calls Richarlison ‘selfish,’ Tottenham players ‘soft’

Tottenham's Richarlison is seen during the English FA Cup fifth round soccer match between Sheffield United and Tottenham Hotspur at Bramall Lane in Sheffield, England, Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

Tottenham manager Antonio Conte described Richarlison as “selfish” for complaining about his lack of playing time and said Friday the Brazil striker was correct to assess his season so far as “not good.”

In his first year at the London club, Richarlison has played just 661 minutes in the Premier League — starting seven of Tottenham’s 26 games — and has yet to score in the competition.

His only goals have come in the Champions League, which Tottenham exited on Wednesday after a meek 0-0 home draw with AC Milan that earned the Italian team a 1-0 win on aggregate in the round of 16.

After that game, Richarlison — Brazil’s starting striker at the World Cup — gave an interview in which he used an expletive to describe his season and hit out at Conte’s selection policy, saying “there hasn’t been enough minutes given to me.”

“He scored zero goals with us — only two in the Champions League,” Conte said at a news conference ahead of a Premier League match against Nottingham Forest on Saturday. “I think the guy was really honest to tell his season is not good.

“Our season is still not finished. He has the time to recover. If he deserves to play, I give him the opportunity. Otherwise we play another player.”

Conte said he watched the interview involving Richarlison and was struck by how often the striker spoke about himself and not about the team.

“When u speak with ‘I,’ ‘I,’ ‘I,’ and not with ‘us,’ it means you are thinking only for yourself and that you are selfish,” Conte said.

“I repeat to my players, if you want to win something important, if you want to try to fight for something important, be competitive and win a trophy, you need to speak with ‘we’ and not ‘I.’”

Conte was in a feisty mood, two days after Tottenham’s chances of winning a trophy this season effectively came to an end because of the team’s Champions League elimination.

Tottenham was ousted from the FA Cup last week and is looking vulnerable in fourth place in the Premier League after a 1-0 loss at Wolverhampton on Saturday. Fifth-place Liverpool, which has collected 13 points from a possible 15 in its last five league matches, is three points behind and has a game in hand.

Conte has yet to commit to staying at Tottenham beyond this season, with his contract expiring in June, and spoke Friday of supporters appearing to lose patience with a club whose last trophy was in 2008.

“We are far from aspiring to be competitive and to fight to win,” he said. “We need time, we need patience. I see here the environment has no patience. Or maybe the environment doesn’t want to understand the reality.

“No one wants to understand this, and for sure I don’t speak about my future because the club knows very well what my situation is, what my thoughts are.”

Conte also criticized his players’ mentality.

“I have good guys but sometimes it is not enough to be a good guy,” he said. “You have to show the right desire, to sacrifice yourself, to fight to win the game, to win the duels, to be nasty.

“Sometimes, we are a bit soft.”