Survivors still searching for clues Two Premier refugees go head to head today in Switzerland.

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A SMALL clique of fans huddled together in a near deserted stand and chanted his name once more, causing the man in the baseball cap to pause and smile as he walked down the tunnel. " Du bist der beste Mann [you are the best]", they had sung through the second half, not a refrain which ever caught on down Tottenham way. But the banter is cosy now. Christian Gross, now in charge of Basle, is back among friends, his soul cleansed of the London badlands.

A SMALL clique of fans huddled together in a near deserted stand and chanted his name once more, causing the man in the baseball cap to pause and smile as he walked down the tunnel. " Du bist der beste Mann [you are the best]", they had sung through the second half, not a refrain which ever caught on down Tottenham way. But the banter is cosy now. Christian Gross, now in charge of Basle, is back among friends, his soul cleansed of the London badlands.

"How did you find me here?" he asks. When he returned to Switzerland he shaved his head, a shining metaphor for a new man. The fans love it. Show us your glapze , they shout. Glapze means "bald head" in German. "I am still the same," he says. But he looks different with his glapze , a little like a middle-aged Ronaldo. Honestly. I had been searching for the forlorn figure who had appeared every Saturday, with failing grammar and unfailing courtesy, to answer for a losing team. But that image faded into another life.

From the moment he arrived at White Hart Lane clutching his tube ticket from Heathrow, Gross was an easy man to ridicule; yet he was always a hard man to dislike. He arrived at a time when fans wanted to match celebrity managers. We've got Gullit, you've got who? Jürgen Klinsmann, for one, was not impressed. "There is a good concert on, the Eurythmics," he says. "You should go there." Or St Gallen, he suggested, they have an interesting home match. St Gallen is 200 kilometres to the east. I have trawled the streets of Basle to find him, I explain, have found the site of the old stadium, which is being replaced by a new one, 30,000, all-seater, and visited the club's offices where they told me about a game tonight, a friendly against a local Second Division team. So here I am. He laughs, thrusting his hands deeper into his tracksuit trousers. "Why should I talk, why should I?" he says suddenly, from nothing. "It's over, it's gone."

Today, Gross will take his Basle side 75km down the E60 to Zurich, his home town, to Grasshopper, the club he coached to dramatic success in the mid-90s, and a rendezvous with Roy Hodgson, another refugee from the Premier League. A poster of him with the 1994-95 championship winning team transposed on to the Matterhorn hangs in the corridor outside the changing rooms. Gross's masterpiece, a 1-0 victory at Ajax in the Champions' League, reputedly brought his name to the attention of Alan Sugar. But why, of all the coaches in all the world, the Tottenham chairman should have settled on Christian Gross is a mystery not fully explained on either side of the Alps.

The last time these two met, Gross's Tottenham beat Roy Hodgson's Blackburn 3-1 at Ewood Park. Archaeologists might carbon date the start of Blackburn's decline to that defeat; at the time, towards the end of the 1997-98 season, it was a minor blip on an otherwise encouraging upward graph. But by November the same year, with Blackburn languishing, Hodgson had paid the price of failure; Gross had gone two months earlier, the timing of his departure the only surprise. Most thought he would not survive the summer.

"I don't think Christian had any chance from the outset," Hodgson says. "As soon as he came in, the London press decided: 'We don't want this fellow'. I don't think there was any doubt he was going to be topped, the only question was 'when?' Christian is a serious man and maybe the environment around him at Tottenham wasn't quite serious enough."

Hodgson's status in Switzerland has remained high since he guided the national team to the World Cup finals in 1994 and the European Championship two years later. He arrived from Sweden, where he brought Malmö unprecedented success and left to coach Internazionale before moving on to Ewood Park. That his first sacking in 25 years as a coach should come in his first real attempt at managing back in his own country is a source of bewilderment rather than bitterness. He still cannot quite put his finger on where it all went wrong or why Jack Walker, Blackburn's financier, decided to dispense with his services so swiftly, barely a third of the way through his second full season. The determination of Tim Sherwood and Colin Hendry, both influential players, unsettled the dressing-room, an understrength squad was exposed by a glut of injuries, some injudicious buys compounded the problem and results inevitably suffered. Nothing terminal, Hodgson believes.

Like Gross, he is reluctant to dwell on the past; unlike him, he is still willing to talk about it, if only to help organise thoughts which have remained largely private. "It's not possible to describe exactly how I felt, one day I might tell you one thing, the next day another," he says. "It's a blow to your pride to be told 'We want someone else', but it didn't make me feel I wasn't any good at my job. I suppose, in the end, I thought 'About time then'. It was going to come sooner or later, wasn't it? I've joined the faithful band of managers who've been sacked."

On Tuesday night, Internazionale came to town and the compact stadium was filled to its 18,000 capacity for the first time in nearly two decades. In Zurich, making money is the main hobby and football is not regarded as much of a cash cow, but the visit of the Italian glamour club, Ronaldo et al, was a glimpse of the club's ambitions under a new consortium. European football, a full house. If any club in Switzerland can develop into a European force, it is Grasshopper, the only one in the country prestigious enough to lure Hodgson away from his new flat in Richmond and back into exile in the mountains. Watching him conduct his post-exhibition match interviews in Italian and German was a reminder of the insularity of our own coaching, just as the fleeting glimpse of the Internazionale circus was a painful reminder to Hodgson of the passions he will forfeit for the calmer way of life in the bankers' paradise.

"You look nostalgically at the quality of player on view," he says. "You see the mass media attention and what you realise, grudgingly, is how much football means to the people. When you work in smaller countries things are much lower-key and there are moments when you lust after that sort of public interest. Of course, when you are in there, in the big leagues, you lust after the calmer, more educated attitude of countries like Sweden and Switzerland. You've just got to be realistic. I like wherever I'm winning."

Defeat, if only temporary, has left Hodgson strikingly different from the buoyant character who first brought his fancy foreign education into the borstal of the Premier League. He is wary, resigned, suspicious and throughout the interview fiddles nervously with a gold-plated cigarcutter. Was playing Internazionale a good experience for his team? "No, not really." Why not? "Maybe a few players will learn something but I wouldn't count on it. I'm not convinced about players ever, never have been."

He had meant to take a step back from football after Blackburn, but never quite succeeded. He managed two Fifa teams, in South Africa and Australia, was caretaker at Internazionale for five weeks, did some work for the Australian FA and took some Uefa licence courses, compulsory for Italian coaches, voluntary for English. "It was a pleasant enough break," he says. "But not quite the sabbatical I should have taken. But football? We become drug addicts, don't we? You think you can easily wean yourself off the drug, but it doesn't always work out that way."

George Heitz, football correspondent of the Basler Zeitung , thinks Gross just had the wrong style for a club like Tottenham. "The language barrier didn't help him because he is a coach who likes to talk a lot to his players. He is very authoritarian, very rigid in his tactics and management. He wants to run the club and he wasn't able to do that. Even when he came to Basle he had problems with the local humour. He's changed a bit, he's more sophisticated, more mature, more self-confident now. We were disappointed for him, but his reputation here hasn't suffered at all."

Basle v Grasshopper this afternoon will generate familiar, if smaller scale, tensions. It is Liverpool v Manchester United for introverts. Hodgson needs the points to buy time; Gross has taken his team to the top of the table for the first time in 18 years. Civic and personal pride is at stake. But neither manager could be blamed if, for just a moment in the land of the watchmaker, they wanted to rewind the clock.

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