Tottenham’s European journey is over for another season after UEFA’s Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body decided that Antonio Conte’s team forfeited their match against Rennes.
Needing to beat the French side in their final Europa Conference League Group G game with Vitesse also fighting it out for second place, the match was called off due to a Covid outbreak in the Spurs camp which affected nine first-team players, five members of staff and many U23 players.
UEFA confirmed two days later in a statement that the match would not be played after the sides could not agree on a new date, with UEFA’s Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body given the task of deciding on the final outcome of the tie.
Well, it has been decided that Spurs forfeited the match and Rennes have been handed a 3-0 win, thus seeing Vitesse go through to the knockout round play-off instead.
A statement from UEFA read: “Following several positive cases of COVID-19 that were identified from players and staff of Tottenham Hotspur FC, the 2021/22 UEFA Europa Conference League group stage match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Stade Rennais FC – scheduled to be played on 9 December 2021 in London, United Kingdom – could not be played.
“The matter was submitted to the UEFA Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body, for a decision to be taken in accordance with Annex J of the Regulations of the UEFA Europa Conference League (2021/22 Season). Based on the Article 30 (4) of the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations and given the urgent circumstances of the matter, the ad-hoc chairman of the Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body referred the case to the Appeals Body.
“The Chairman of the UEFA Appeals Body took the following decision: To declare the 2021/22 UEFA Europa Conference League group stage match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Stade Rennais FC, that was initially scheduled to be played on 9 December 2021, as forfeited by Tottenham Hotspur FC, who is therefore deemed to have lost the match 0-3 in accordance with Annex J.3.1 to the Regulations of the UEFA Europa Conference League (2021/22 Season).”
So what does UEFA’s decision now mean for Conte and his Tottenham team?
Well, first of all, Tottenham are “disappointed” by the outcome but they “accept” UEFA’s ruling after Rennes were awarded the points.
Conte made it very clear speaking at his pre-match press conference ahead of Leicester that Tottenham wanted to play the game and also deserved to play.
As reported last week, football.london understands that Spurs wanted to play the Rennes match instead of their midweek trip to Leicester but the Premier League were unwilling to sanction that proposal.
Spurs even offered Rennes and UEFA every feasible date to get the game played and they had even offered to travel to France to play it, if necessary.
However, it has gone Rennes’ way and Tottenham are now going to have to do without European football for the remainder of the season.
Despite the disappointment over the final call, it can actually work in the Lilywhites’ favour as Conte looks to guide his team to a top-four finish after missing out in the past two campaigns.
Currently in seventh and six points off Arsenal in fourth after Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Liverpool, Tottenham crucially have three games in hand over their north London rivals that could prove pivotal come the final day.
New dates have yet to be found for the away games at Burnley, Brighton & Hove Albion and Leicester City but there will now be plenty of space in the calendar to reschedule them and, as a result, stop a potential fixture backlog in the final months of the campaign that could have derailed their season had they remained in Europe.
February now looks a lot less crammed with the team not having to play two Europa Conference League knockout play-off round ties against Rapid Wien, with March and April also not set to be as busy due to their European elimination.
The Lilywhites can really have a good crack at securing Champions League football for 2022/23 without so many distractions in the way and their top-four ambitions will only have been strengthened as a result.
Given the money that comes with a top-four finish, going all out for the Champions League and achieving their goal would be a lot more rewarding financially rather than winning the Europa Conference League and then unfortunately missing out on Europe’s premier competition via the league.
Winning trophies at Tottenham needs to happen but it’s imperative that they secure Champions League football as it would boost Conte’s summer transfer kitty and also help lure top players to the club in the process.
One positive the boss can take from his team’s Europa Conference League exit is that it will now give him sufficient time on the training pitch day in, day out with his players.
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As was the case with Nuno Espirito Santo at the start of the campaign and when Jose Mourinho first arrived at the club, the head coach has had very little quality time at Hotspur Way to get his ideas across due to their jam-packed schedule and European commitments.
Recovery sessions take place after matches and this ultimately means that there are very few days in the week when Conte can do intense training to get his ideas and philosophy across, thus explaining why double sessions have been on the agenda to get everyone up to speed as quickly as possible for him.
Tottenham are already making big strides under Conte despite a disrupted training schedule but they could really kick on another gear or two now that he is finally going to have the time he wants with his players at Hotspur Way.
Clearly wanting to play the Rennes game and clinching a place in the knockout phase in the Europa Conference League in the process, UEFA’s decision may in fact work in Tottenham’s favour between now and May.
The likes of Arsenal, West Ham and Manchester United will certainly now be very fearful of Conte’s Spurs side as the race for fourth heats up.