Tottenham manager Antonio Conte admitted it was “difficult” for his side to play their 1-0 win over Brighton on Saturday, which came days after the death of their fitness coach Gian Piero Ventrone.
It was announced on Thursday morning that Ventrone, who was nicknamed ‘The Marine’ for his intense fitness sessions, had passed away at the age of 61 following a short battle with leukemia.
Tottenham paid tribute to the Italian coach by wearing a tribute shirt to Ventrone before their match at Brighton on Saturday, with captain Hugo Lloris holding up a shirt with ‘Gian Piero’ on the back in front of the travelling fans at the end of the game.
Tottenham head coach Conte, who was emotional after a minute’s applause for Ventrone moments before kick-off on the south coast, revealed that he will be attending Ventrone’s funeral on Sunday and that the players were “devastated” by the news that Ventrone had passed.
“Tomorrow is the funeral. We are going with the staff,” said Conte. “I want to give big hugs to them [the family], to tell his son and daughter that they need to be strong because Gian Piero was strong, a strong character. He doesn’t want to see us unhappy. It’s difficult to make him happy because we are really devastated by the pain.
“I have to be honest, it was really, really difficult for us to be here and to focus on the game because what happened in the last three days was incredible. I knew that the situation was really problematic after the game against Frankfurt [on Wednesday] but no one could have expected this situation because no one knew.
“It was an illness but under control and then it is very difficult because the situation hit me a lot in the emotional aspect. When it happens, it is very difficult to cover your feeling with the players and with the people that work in Tottenham. At the same time, I have seen a lot of solidarity.
“The players were really devastated by the pain and the whole Tottenham environment, the feeling was really bad because in only 10 months I think Gian Piero got through the heart of everybody.”
Ventrone arrived at Spurs with Antonio Conte in November 2021. The fitness coach was at Juventus from 1994 to 2004 – during which time Conte played for Juventus – working under Marcelo Lippi and Carlo Ancelotti. The fitness coach was also part of Lippi’s staff when Italy won the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
He has also worked for French club AC Ajaccio, Italian side Catania and in China for JS Suning and Guangzhou.
The Italian oversaw a complete overhaul of Tottenham’s fitness, with Conte’s side having ran more than any other team in the Premier League this season.
Conte said that the last time he spoke to Ventrone was “last week on Thursday” when he asked to be excused from training due to illness.
Kane and Sessegnon dedicate win to Ventrone
Tottenham striker Harry Kane celebrated his winning goal by pointing to the sky in tribute to Ventrone in what was an emotional occasion.
“It’s been a difficult week and it was nice to get the win,” said Kane, who was holding back the tears at full-time.
When asked if the performance was for Ventrone, man-of-the-match Ryan Sessegnon said: “Yes, 100 per cent.
“We knew we had to perform today and obviously we wanted to win because of him, and thankfully we did that.”
Before the game, Tottenham’s players warmed up in shirts with the words ‘Always in our hearts, Gian Piero’.
Sky Sports’ Lewis Jones at the Amex:
“It’s hard for onlookers who had no foot in the Tottenham camp to understand truly just how much the staff has been hit by the sudden death of popular fitness coach Gian Piero Ventrone. We can gauge the clear sadness from the tributes posted online by the players and, of course, the clear holding back of tears by Harry Kane when interviewed after the game. But it’s hard to truly feel it from a personal standpoint.
“Yet, a moment did hit me quite hard. It was hard not to get emotional walking down the steps from the press box at The Amex, long after the final whistle had gone and witness the Spurs substitutes doing their warm-down. To the backdrop of an empty stadium, the players were undertaking their first post-match fitness duties since the passing of their guru.
“A part of the puzzle missing. Gone. There was an eerie silence as the nine substitutes were put through their paces by two members of the coaching staff. He no doubt would have been proud of Tottenham’s performance.
“The man nicknamed ‘The Marine’ because of his rigorous training regimes would have liked what he saw.
“A fitting tribute, indeed.”