Gian Piero Ventrone’s death: Who was Antonio Conte’s trusted trainer nicknamed the ‘Marine’ by Spurs players

He made players gasp for breath but they still loved him because he made them better at their job.

As news came in from Italy that Antonio Conte’s trusted fitness Gian Piero Ventrone had died, the mood at the Tottenham training ground changed instantly, from the security guards at the gate to the trainers at the top.

Spurs manager Conte sank to his seat at the Enfield training base and informed head of football communications Anthony Marshall that he would not be able to carry out his media duties that had been scheduled for 2pm today.

The news hit the Tottenham boss and his brother Gianluca hard, as Ventrone was not only a key member of their inner circle, but was seen as a big brother figure who would run through walls for them.

Conte had insisted to Daniel Levy that the 61-year-old - who was known as the Marine during his time coaching Juventus in the 90s - had to be part of his project in north London.

They knew he was unwell as he flew back to his hometown of Naples for treatment of acute Leukaemia last week, but no one anticipated the sad news that would follow.

In many ways he exemplified the toughness and rigour of the methods behind Conte’s focus on optimum fitness before skill.

Conte and Ventrone first crossed paths when the Spurs boss was still a player at Juventus around 1994, and since then the ex-Italy manager has never been shy to say he was impressed with his professionalism and intense training methods that left everyone gasping for breath after on a daily basis.

Those days stayed with Conte and he reunited with him when he got the job at Tottenham, insisting that the Spurs players must get leaner. There was only one man in the world he trusted to do the job and that was Gian Piero Ventrone.

Key part of the Italy technical team that won the World Cup in 2006

One of the strong foundations on which Conte’s coaching ideas have been formed has been Marcello Lippi, the great tactician who won Italy their last World Cup in 2006. Lippi and Ventrone worked together for 10 years in two different spells at Juventus and the Italy national team.

The likes of Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero used to book him on occasions to whip them back into shape if they wanted to take their game to the next level.

He was adored in his homeland and was one of the reasons why Italy were the fittest of all the teams at the 2006 World Cup, and outran every other team from the round of 16 on their way to winning the trophy.

He was loved and respected everywhere he went. He spent time in France where he was the assistant coach of Ajaccio before taking up the role of fitness coach at Catania in Italy.

He moved abroad again in the era where the Chinese League attempted to lure top players by throwing money at them, and took up the physical trainer jobs at Jiangsu Suning and Guangzhou Evergrande before getting the call to join up with his former player Antonio Conte at N17.

Spurs players collapse to the floor or gasping for air after every session

Fans will remember that video of Spurs players collapsing to the floor and gasping for air during their pre-season training in South Korea, which was the work  of Gian Piero Ventrone.

He was a proper old school fitness coach, who enjoyed seeing athletes get to the level where the only winner was the one who wanted it more and not that most skilled.

He was brought up to fight for everything and that reflected in the relationships he kept and the way he worked on a daily basis. But he was also a father figure to most of the players he worked with.

At Spurs he quickly provided the support players who were struggling needed, and none more so than when last season’s Premier League Golden Boot winner Son Heung-min was struggling for form.

He would speak to him and crack a joke and encourage him to see the difficult spell as a test and not as a sign of decline.

His human side was felt across Tottenham’s training ground and Son paid tribute to him after he got his season off and running with a hat-trick against Leicester before the last international break.

The South Korean told LondonWorld he exchanged a long hug with Ventrone after the game against Leicester because of what the Italian had told him when he found out Son was dropped to the bench.

Son said after the Foxes clash: “I have a really, really good relationship with Gian Piero.

“So obviously his English is not perfect, sometimes he comes with his phone and translating into English from Italian.

“It means a lot. Not football-wise, I think life-wise he gives me so much advice, which I am really grateful for.

“He has been so helpful, always giving me a big hug in tough times and even great times he has always been next to me and every staff member.

“Even today before we left the training ground, the hotel, we had a couple of minutes of having a nice conversation which made me really comfortable and really grateful.”

The funeral is scheduled for this coming Sunday in his hometown Naples and as with every big club, Spurs will replace him but Antonio Conte will never be able to replace a man who trained him and also become his ally in this journey he has undertaken with Tottenham.