Cristian Romero admits there was a rift between the Tottenham players and Antonio Conte and that he has turned down offers to leave this summer, as he slams suggestions he is choosing country over club.
While the Argentina international is excited by what he has seen in the early days of the Ange Postecoglou era, he admits that when he returned from winning the World Cup in Qatar in December, he could sense a change in the camp around Conte. Spurs had begun to struggle under the Italian, exiting every cup competition and had begun to slide down the table when the former Chelsea boss left in March.
In the end, Tottenham would concede 63 goals in the Premier League last season, with Romero admitting his own share of the defensive woes and finishing eighth, meaning there is no European football this season for the first time in 14 years. The 25-year-old said the change in mood around the club had already become apparent when he returned from the mid-season tournament in Qatar.
“After winning the World Cup I came to Tottenham and the group was a bit separated from the manager, but I feel responsible for the bad season we had,” he said.
“I’m not happy that the season ended like that and I’m getting ready to repay all the trust the club has given me and I’ll work to do my best.
“The new manager has brought us renewed hope, the group looks fantastic at the moment and we will try to have a great season to drive Tottenham as high as possible.”
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Despite returning after lifting world football’s biggest prize, Romero further explained that it was not his own drive that had fallen, but a clear separation between the players and their Italian head coach.
“No, nothing changed in terms of my motivation. It was always the same. It was just that it was different circumstances. When I came to the club, the group was somewhat separate from the staff. It is very difficult,” he said.
“My first match [back] was Spurs vs Villa at home. That’s where it all started. We won one match, then we lost two, and when things are divided and not everyone pulls in the same direction; coaches, players not pulling in the same direction, it will be very difficult, but of course, as I said before, I am the first to take responsibility for the bad season we had.
“These things that happened are in the past, we have to use it as an example so we don’t do it again and this season we have to try to do things the right way so we can make sure the club is as successful as possible.”
One suggestion that clearly irks Romero is the claim by some Tottenham fans that his motivation lies more in playing for Argentina than for his club. It’s a theory based on the World Cup winner’s unluckily timed injuries during his two years at Spurs, which have seen him miss the end of both seasons before leaving to join his national team.
Also towards the final stages of the pandemic, with South America still red-listed as a destination, Romero, along with Giovani Lo Celso and Davinson Sanchez, went to play for Argentina and Colombia respectively and had to be quarantined for 10 days on a Croatian island before they could return, missing Tottenham games in the process.
The mere suggestion that he is giving anything less than 100% for Tottenham is not one that will be well received and he admits he has turned down offers to leave the club this summer.
“I think the people who say this clearly don’t know me because I have a contract with the club for many [more] years. I always try to do my best,” he said. “Obviously last season wasn’t always great and you accept that. When things aren’t going well, you’re the first to raise your hands.
“As I said before, I’ll take it, but I always try to give absolutely everything on the pitch. I always try to repay the trust that the fans, the club and everyone else have put in me and I’ll try to come back next season by playing good games so that we can push the club as high as possible.
“If I didn’t feel the same passion [for Spurs as I do for Argentina], I would look to leave the club. Obviously I’m not happy with how last season ended for me and as I said before I’m the first to put my hands up and say it wasn’t the best season but when I got offers from other clubs to move away for the coming season I said no because I want my best years here. I really like the Premier League, I really like Tottenham and I want to be here for many more years.
“Now the group is in a good way. When I arrived at Tottenham I felt the group was the same. I see a manager here who has brought back hope because he wants to compete, wants to win and I think things have not worked for the club in the last few seasons but still made significant progress and did good things because it is not easy to start winning overnight but I believe things will continue and we will make great progress every day.”
His new boss Postecoglou certainly appears to have left his mark on a defender who believes the Australian is exactly the right manager at the right time.
“We have renewed hunger with the new manager. We know he is a very good manager from the first few days we have worked with him,” said the Argentine. “The group is in good shape. I feel we have recharged the batteries. Last season was not good and we are ready to have a great season.
“I think he is exactly the manager that the club needed and we will try to give the best of ourselves to get Tottenham as high as possible, to give the fans the opportunity to feel that we are all in it together and that they can support us in the way they always do and we will try to do our best in the coming season.”
Romero does not believe that Postecoglou has changed too much in the way the Spurs players work, but that he has moved the overall philosophy and the way he wants to play the game to the fore.
“The biggest changes, well I don’t think they’re significant changes, but it’s a style of play that I think Tottenham have always had. It’s about taking more risks, taking control of the game, trying to control the games,” the centre-back explained.
“We know the Premier League is a very tough league, but we will really try to push ourselves in every game in the way we weren’t able to last season and with the new manager, right now, I see the team looking really good.
“Obviously there are still a lot of things to improve, a lot of things to learn in terms of what the manager is asking us to do, but I think we are on the right track.”
Tottenham and Romero are likely to lose their captain Hugo Lloris this summer, with the Frenchman asking to be left out of the club’s tour of Australia and Asia to find a new club after publicly stating that after 11 years he needed a new challenge.
Romero admits he will be extremely disappointed if the embarrassing defeat at Newcastle, in which Lloris was injured in the first half, ends up being the captain’s last game for the club. He felt the game at St James’ Park, when Spurs collapsed in the rain under a hail of goals, was just one of many examples of how the team had begun to fall apart.
“I think before [the Newcastle defeat] the group was already in a bad way and as I said there was a divide between the players and the coach and in a competition like the Premier League if you’re not all pulling in the same direction it’s really tough and you saw that not only against Newcastle but also in the Liverpool game. In the first 20 minutes, the three of them passed us. Against Manchester United they were 2-0 up in the first half,” he said.
“I am not happy at all [with Lloris’ last game potentially being the one v Newcastle] because Hugo is a fantastic guy and he has given a lot to the club. I think he deserves the very best. I wish the best for him and his family.
“Of course I’m going to miss him a lot [if he goes] because he was a really important person for me when I arrived at the club. He always helped me and he still helps me now. So of course I will miss him a lot if he goes, but I wish him and his family the best of luck in the future.”
Cristian Romero spoke at Perth Children’s Hospital, Western Australia’s specialist pediatric hospital, which provides medical care for children aged 15 and under. Romero took the time to meet with patients and staff as well as deliver gifts on behalf of the club.