Tottenham are fighting to come to terms with the death of Gian Piero Ventrone, their fitness coach. The 61-year-old Neopolitan, nicknamed ‘The Marine’ because of his tough sessions, had leukaemia.
“We are devastated to announce that Gian Piero Ventrone has passed away,” Tottenham said on Thursday morning. “As lovable off the pitch as he was demanding on it, Gian Piero quickly became a hugely popular figure with players and staff. He will be greatly missed by everyone at the club and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this impossibly sad time.”
Ventrone joined Spurs in November of last year as part of Antonio Conte’s coaching team and he was credited with helping to drive a radical uplift in the players’ fitness. His most famous moment at the club surely came during the pre-season tour of Seoul when he pushed the squad through a brutal session in 30C heat, leaving many of them collapsed on the turf and some – including Harry Kane – throwing up.
The players could see the importance of his work, their respect for him was huge and it was evident when Son Heung-min celebrated with him after scoring a hat-trick against Leicester on 17 September. That Ventrone was in the dugout so recently illustrates how suddenly he was taken away.
“I have a really, really good relationship with Gian Piero,” Son said. “His English is not perfect, sometimes he is coming with his phone and translating into English from Italian. It means a lot. Not as football-wise, I think life-wise he gives me so much advice, which I am really grateful for. He has been so helpful, giving me always a big hug in tough times and even great times he has always been next to me and every staff.”
Conte cancelled his Thursday afternoon press conference to preview Saturday’s game at Brighton as a mark of respect. He has known Ventrone for many years, having worked with him as a player at Juventus; Ventrone was brought in by the then manager, Marcello Lippi, in 1994 and was instrumental in shaping the team that won the Champions League in 1996. Conte played for Juventus between 1991-2004.
Ventrone left Juventus in 2004, having also served under Carlo Ancelotti, and he went on to work as an assistant manager at Ajaccio in France. He returned to fitness coaching at Catania in Italy and Jiangsu Suning and Guangzhou Evergrande in China before his move to Spurs.
Ventrone got his ‘Marine’ nickname at Juventus, where he would play Ride of the Valkyries out of loud speakers as his players ran. He installed a bell of shame to be tolled by the first to drop out. He would recite motivational phrases such as “winning belongs to the strong” and “work today to run tomorrow”.
The affection with which Ventrone was held at Spurs was also captured by the defender Matt Doherty in Seoul. “It’s the hardest pre-season I’ve had, not like anything I’ve done before,” he said. “It’s funny because normally when you have a fitness coach like that who is running you ragged you start to not like him – but we all absolutely love him. We’ve got so much respect for him that we do whatever he tells us to.”