Cristian Stellini recalls coaching refugees to put Spurs ‘crisis’ in perspective
Cristian Stellini believes Tottenham’s current problems pale into insignificance as the new acting head coach reflected on his time coaching refugees in Turin.
Spurs have endured a “chaotic” fortnight, in the words of their latest interim boss, after Antonio Conte left last week and managing director of football Fabio Paratici was forced to take a leave of absence after his ban in Italy was extended worldwide.
Crisis has been a word associated with Tottenham for much of March but Stellini has a sense of perspective given his life experiences.
“You cannot feel it’s a crisis when you have a club around you, when you have fans around you,” the 48-year-old said.
“We know very well it will be tough”
Cristian Stellini previews Monday night's clash with Everton 🗣
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) March 31, 2023
“Crisis is a different thing. Crisis means you cannot play football. When we had Covid, that was a crisis for everyone.”
Stellini had just finished recalling his time in charge of refugees – many whom played without boots – from all over the world.
Conte’s former number two wiped away tears when remembering the stories he discovered during a difficult time in his own personal life.
Former Genoa defender Stellini was serving a suspension from the Italian Football Federation for allegations of match-fixing and used his time out of the professional game to give back to others in a less privileged position.
He admitted: “It’s very emotional talking about that experience. It allowed me to grow as a man, not as a professional, because they were not professional, they were refugees.
“They tried to have something new in their life. It’s really emotional for me.
“What I learned was that back home, they had more problems than me. Obviously, I was sad for my situation but they smiled, they worked hard, they came.”
One refugee from Afghanistan remains at the forefront of Stellini’s memory even a decade on, with an incredible tale of three failed attempts to get to Turkey on a dinghy boat before he made it to Greece after hiding in a spare lorry tyre for 24 hours.
“He was a boxer and also not a perfect man. He was guilty of something and he had to hide in Italy and he needed a lawyer, but he came to train every day with a smile,” Stellini revealed.
“And he called himself ‘Robben’. He said, ‘You have to call me Robben, you have to call me Robben’. But they taught me a lot of things about enjoying your life.”
Spurs’ recent lack of silverware is well documented and, while Conte has often been described as a serial winner, Stellini tasted success during his season in charge of the ‘Survivors’ after they won a tournament called Mundialito in Turin.
It occurred thanks to a goalkeeper who was blind in one eye saving penalties in the semi-final and final.
Stellini added: “I don’t try to tell a fake story, this is real life. I lived this.
“I used football to create a unit. It was a big experience. I could write a book.”
So when Spurs’ problems are listed in front of the former Juventus and Inter Milan assistant, he is able to ignore the pessimism.
In fact Stellini said his first aim, once all the Tottenham squad gathered back at Hotspur Way following national team duty, was to put smiles on the faces of his players.
“We know that we are up and down for a long time. We had a small part last season where we were not up and down and it was at the end of the season,” the Italian noted.
Eyes on Merseyside 🔜 pic.twitter.com/BXlsZio8kO
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) April 1, 2023
“What changed between now and that moment? Nothing, because we work in the same way. We have to try to be the same team we were in that moment.
“In that moment you could feel the energy we had. We have to recreate that. Smiling faces are important for that, players with good behaviour, players that help each other.
“This is one of the first things I said to the players, ‘I don’t want sad faces here, ‘I want only players with smiles’.
“Because we are playing football. We are playing for Tottenham. We are in a good schedule. We have to stay there.
“The desire has to be to reach the target because the target can give energy and a future to everyone.”