‘We are devastated’: Tottenham fitness coach Gian Piero Ventrone dies aged 61

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 last November as part of Antonio Conte’s coaching team and he was credited with helping to drive a radical improvement in the players’ fitness. His most famous moment at the club 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.

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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.”

Gian Piero Ventrone with Son Heung-min last month.
Gian Piero Ventrone with Son Heung-min last month. Photograph: Tottenham Hotspur FC/Getty Images

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 and 2004.

Ventrone had two spells at Juventus – from 1994 to 1999 and 2001 to 2004. He was a member of Lippi’s staff when Italy won the World Cup in 2006. He went on to work as an assistant manager at Ajaccio in France before returning to fitness coaching at Catania in Italy and Jiangsu Suning and Guangzhou Evergrande in China. Then came the move to Spurs.

Ventrone got his ‘Marine’ nickname at Juventus, where he would play Ride of the Valkyries out of loudspeakers 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”.

On Thursday Kane described Ventrone as a “truly remarkable man” and wrote on social media: “His words and wisdom will live on with me for the rest of my life and I’m just grateful I had the opportunity to spend time with him. Rest in peace Prof.”

Kane’s fellow Spurs forward Richarlison said Ventrone had been a “huge inspiration” and had helped him “much more than he can imagine”. The Brazilian added: “We will continue to play for you, my friend, who taught us to never give up!”

Juventus described Ventrone, whose funeral will be on Sunday in Naples, as “one of the historic names at the club at the turn of the century”. They added: “He employed innovative methods in physical conditioning inspired by modern criteria, which led the way in Italy and abroad.

“We will always remember his attention to detail, his work philosophy and perhaps his greatest talent – the understanding that football and especially the fundamental components of conditioning and athleticism was gradually entering a new era. A new era that, in part, he helped write. Ciao, Gian Piero.”