Tottenham Hotspur won their Premier League football match over Brighton & Hove Albion, a 1-0 away victory that could be an important one at the end of the season. But the post-match press conference barely mentioned the match at all.
Instead, Spurs head coach Antonio Conte used his time in front of the assembled media to speak at length about his friend Gian Piero Ventrone, Tottenham Hotspur’s fitness coach who tragically passed away last week at the age of 61 from leukemia. His passing left an absence that was difficult to fully express... but Conte sure gave it a try.
“I spoke with [Gian Piero] last week on Thursday, the last time when I arrived at the training ground he wanted to speak with me. And to ask to stay at home because he had a bit of a fever. And it was incredible because he was really, really worried about missing training. And I said: Gian Piero, we are talking about your health. And that moment, he told me about his illness. And I said: this is your health, you have to try to have the right checks, and don’t worry. His first problem was about missing training!
“For this reason, I think he was in the heart of every single player. My players were really devastated by the pain. But in life, sometimes, many situations happen, not only to us but to many people. Life sometimes is not good. At the same time, you have to try to cope with this situation in the best possible way, and it has to be so for his family, for his wife Cinzia, his son Ivan and daughter Martina, and then I’m sure that Gian Piero will stay with us forever, forever, I’m sure about this.”
Ventrone was wildly popular at the club both with players and staff. In the days after his passing, several Tottenham players took to social media to talk about Ventrone. As fitness coach, Ventrone was quite possibly the person who was toughest on them physically, and yet you don’t have to look too hard to find effusive praise and love for this person who physically ran them into the ground and caused them so much discomfort. Because of that connection, Conte said that it was tough to prepare his squad for today’s match after the news broke.
“It was really difficult because when it happened when we knew the morning that he died, I communicated the bad news to my players. It was really, really difficult for everybody. We didn’t have the training session. We didn’t have the training session because we were too emotionally involved on Thursday. Then, we prepared for the game on Friday, but for sure, it was a tough time.
“Tomorrow there is the funeral in Naples, we are going with the staff. I want to stay with his family and to give big hearts to them and to tell them, especially his daughter and his son and his wife have to be strong because Gian Piero was a really strong person. He was a person with a strong character, and he doesn’t want to see us not happy. It’s difficult to make him happy because we are devastated by the pain, but at the same time, we know he will stay with us for the future, with me for sure.”
Conte said that the team didn’t train on Thursday due to the emotional impact of Ventrone’s death, and he implied he backed off of the pressure in motivating his players to play. He was pleased with his team’s response. After the final whistle, club captain Hugo Lloris walked over to the away supporters’ section, holding a Tottenham home jersey with “Gian Piero” on the back, allowing Spurs’ traveling support to express their condolences.
And in his post-match interview alongside Ryan Sessegnon, Harry Kane could barely keep his emotions in check when recalling the events of last week.
The Spurs players’ reactions did not go unnoticed to Conte.
“I’m really proud of my players because I said to them I know that before having good players, I have really good [people]. Many times I repeated this concept. I think in these circumstances, they showed to be really important [people] because I know I tried not to push them to play this game.
“Many times we tried to find the motivation to push these players and to create a situation and to increase the tension. Today honestly, I did nothing under this aspect. I left them to face the situation, and they showed me to be really good people, top men. I said to them just now that I’m proud to be the coach of this team because, first of all, we have top men and really good players.”