Conte happy to take criticism - but not jibes at his Inter side


FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Serie A - Inter Milan v Cagliari - San Siro, Milan, Italy - April 11, 2021 Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte celebrates their first goal scored by Inter Milan's Matteo Darmian REUTERS/Daniele Mascolo

(Reuters) - Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte said that he does not mind if he is criticised personally, as long as his players are not the ones accused of playing negative football.

Former forward Antonio Cassano accused Inter of playing too defensively last month, insisting he would have walked off the pitch if the same tactics were used during his time at club.

With his team 11 points clear at the top of the Serie A standings and closing in on a first league title in 11 years, Conte brushed off the criticism as nothing he has not heard before.

"I understand. He (Cassano) said that I am the problem, I have come to terms with it," Conte told a news conference ahead of his side's clash at Napoli on Sunday.

"The important thing is that they (critics) don't touch Inter and my players. I can take it, as I have shown in the past when it has happened."

Conte has earned the right not to be affected by such talk, with his side looking to make it 12 straight league wins this weekend.

But the Inter coach is taking nothing for granted with an in-form Napoli, who are chasing a top-four finish, up next.

"We are not listening to talk that the Scudetto is done," Conte added. "We know our sacrifices. We must remain humble, which also applies to our fans.

"Napoli have one of the most important squads in Serie A. At the beginning of the season I put them among the candidates for the title.

"They have everything to fight for, and then there's Gennaro Gattuso, who is a very good coach for me."

One battle Conte is looking forward to in particular is seeing his top goalscorer Romelu Lukaku up against imposing Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly, someone Conte has long been an admirer of.

"We are talking about one of the three strongest defenders in the world. It is no coincidence that when I was at Chelsea I wanted to bring him to London," Conte added.

"On the other hand, Romelu has grown a lot, so it will be interesting to see these two quality players."

(Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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