From refugees to Tottenham, Cristian Stellini tells his story

Conte’s heir in the London club recalls the experience of 2012-13: “I’ll tell you what a real crisis is, arriving in Greece hidden inside a spare wheel…”

“Tottenham are not in crisis. I’ll tell you what the real crisis is”. With tears in his eyes and his voice broken by emotion, Cristian Stellini opens the album of memories and tells of that experience that changed his life as much as being Antonio Conte’s assistant changed his career. A very strong experience, so much so that even years later the new Tottenham manager struggles to tell. An experience that formed him and on which, in addition to the teachings of his teacher Conte, he will try to build his experience as number 1 at Spurs, which starts tomorrow against Everton.

the team

Stellini goes back to 2012-13, when after resigning as Conte’s assistant at the end of the first season with Juventus due to his involvement in football betting, he found himself coaching an impromptu team of refugees and asylum seekers. “That experience made me grow as a man – he says with tears running down his face – It made me realize that, whatever problems I had, theirs were definitely bigger. He taught me many things about life ”. Stellini talks about his team made up of young people from Afghanistan, Morocco, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of Congo and from every corner of Africa. Of the players who came to train without shoes, of the constant clashes between English-speaking and French-speaking (“They were big and thick and we had to separate them every time, but I used football to unite”), of the retired coach who came to lend a hand every Tuesday and Friday, reminding him how much that experience would mean to him.


Of all the stories he has known, Stellini remembers that of an Afghan refugee who he would also like to take to his Tottenham dressing room. “He had a really difficult story – he recalls – he He had tried to get to Europe on a rubber boat but had been sent back to Turkey three times. Eventually he managed to get to Greece, hiding all huddled inside a huge spare wheel. He traveled for 24 hours like that, and when they got him out he was so curled up he couldn’t move his legs. From there he escaped to Italy: he was a boxer but he wasn’t perfect, he had problems with the law and was hiding while looking for a lawyer. Yet he came to camp every day. And he asked everyone to call him Robben. He taught me a lot ”.

the one-eyed goalkeeper

There is another of his players who remained in Stellini’s heart: the one-eyed goalkeeper, a Moroccan refugee who made him win the “Mundialito”, a tournament played in Turin at the national level. “I remember we were playing the tournament and we were the team with the most refugees of all. When we got to the knockout stage, the players told me not to worry if we went to penalties, because he would take care of it. “But he only has one eye,” I said. And they told me that he was the best goalkeeper and would save all the penalties. Between semifinals and finals he saved three: we won the tournament. ‘Count the willpower’, they told me. It was an incredible experience”. One that has shaped him so much that he carries it with him, even now that he coaches Tottenham.