An emotional Antonio Conte celebrated his “top men” after watching Tottenham honor the late fitness coach Gian Piero Ventrone by winning 1-0 at Brighton thanks to Harry Kane’s first-half header.
It has been a difficult week for Spurs, who lost at rivals Arsenal last Saturday but were rocked on Thursday when it was revealed Ventrone had died aged 61.
Conte had known the highly respected Italian for almost three decades and was in tears after a minute of applause for his friend.
A brilliant start from Tottenham was rewarded when Kane headed in a cross from Son Heung-min after 22 minutes and – despite chances for Brighton on either side of half-time – the visitors keen to return to winning ways in the Premier League.
“I have to be honest, it was really, really difficult for us to focus on the game because what’s happened in the last three days has been incredible. I knew the situation after the game against Frankfurt was really problematic. But nobody would expect this situation,” said Conte.
“But I’m really proud of my players. I think in those circumstances they turned out to be really important people because I know I was trying not to push them to play that game.
“We’ve often tried to find the motivation to push those players and create a situation and increase the tension. Today, to be honest, I didn’t do anything in that regard.
“I left them to face the situation and they showed me that I’m really good people, top men. I just told them that I’m proud to coach this team because, above all, we have top men and really good players.”
Kane was one of several players to pay tribute to Ventrone on social media, pointing to the sky after scoring for the eighth time this season.
The goalscorer held back tears during a post-match interview with Sky Sports, and Tottenham captain Hugo Lloris – who made saves to deny Moises Caicedo, Danny Welbeck and substitute Kaoru Mitoma – held a shirt with Gian Piero at full-time high.
“It’s been a difficult week to say the least,” Kane said.
“It was a bit of a bumpy goal. Sonny whipped you in with a lot of pace and when you’re feeling good you’re in and out but really proud of the boys.
“It’s been a tough week but getting here, a really tough place and we haven’t played as well as we know we can but we’ve dug deep when we had to and (it’s) a great goal from the lads and a really important win.”
Conte and his staff will fly to Naples on Sunday to attend Ventrone’s funeral, with chairman Daniel Levy also in attendance.
He added: “My players were really devastated by the pain, but in life sometimes many situations happen, not just to us but to many people and life isn’t good sometimes.
“At the same time you have to try to manage this situation as best as possible and it has to be like that for his family, for his wife Cinzia, his son Ivan and his daughter Martina, and then I’m sure that Gian Piero will stay with us forever. I am sure.
“Tomorrow is the funeral in Naples, we are going with the staff.
“I want to stay with his family and give them big hearts and especially tell them that his daughter, son and wife must be strong because Gian Piero was a really strong person.”
New Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi, along with his opponent, paid tribute to compatriot Ventrone after suffering defeat in his first game at the Amex.
The Seagulls enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and created a number of chances but were unable to beat Spurs thanks to a superb final tackle from Matt Doherty, who saved Leonardo Trossard three minutes from time.
“It was a really good game and my players were fantastic. I don’t think the result is fair,” said De Zerbi.
“Obviously when we talk about football I have to talk about the game but the loss of Gian Piero Ventrone is much more important than football.
“We are all very sad for his family, for Antonio, for the club and everyone.
“Ventrone has been the reference for all other Italian coaches for many years. He changed the vision of training for everyone.”
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/antonio-conte-harry-kane-arsenal-son-heungmin-roberto-de-zerbi-b2198632.html Antonio Conte praises ‘top men’ as Tottenham end a tough week with win at Brighton