Commentary: Football: Francis walks alone as Tottenham trip up

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The Independent Online
Liverpool 4

Tottenham Hotspur 0

At the end of the storm, Gerry and the Pacemakers promised over the public address system, there's a golden sky. A turbulent chapter in Tottenham's history may well have closed at Liverpool, but the only glow in the air as the wind and the rain enveloped Anfield came from Gerry Francis burning his boats.

During a run of one win in 10 games which has left Spurs looking more like Gerry and the back-markers, post-match press conferences have tended to resemble a litany of excuses and injured players. Saturday's was different.

For the first time, Francis intimated that he was wounded and might limp away. "A manager's got his personal pride," he said, "and I've got two weeks to decide where I'm going." The Spurs supporters, who had sung a sardonic "Bye, bye Gerry" as their side surrendered, would evidently prefer it to be "when" rather than "where".

The timescale mooted by Francis for talking to Alan Sugar may appear to be prolonging the agony. What he meant was that there was now a fortnight with no domestic distractions. Despite the chairman's assertion yesterday that he wants Francis to stay - "there is no better person to put it right" - the opportunity to give a new incumbent time to bed in could mean a second Premiership vacancy sooner rather than later.

November, as Sugar knows from his experience with Ossie Ardiles, is when clubs in Spurs' predicament seek to reinvent themselves. Rightly or wrongly, the process invariably involves changing the figurehead. As Francis himself said, more by way of stating a fact of life than an admission of culpability: "It's down to the manager... results are my responsibility."

Days earlier, David Pleat made almost identical comments after clearing his desk at Sheffield Wednesday. Directors, he sighed, were concerned with points not performances. Spurs have mustered 13 out of a possible 42, a total Francis conceded was proof that "we need to change it one way or another", though his biggest crime has been failing without finesse.

The White Hart Lane crowd is unusual in its obsession with style. A team which avoided relegation at the last in the mid-1970s is fondly remembered because it contained the likes of Martin Peters, Cyril Knowles and Alfie Conn; true adherents of The Tottenham Way. While this is a nebulous concept, the names Blanchflower, Greaves, Hoddle and Gascoigne are usually invoked.

It is a self-image which sustained Spurs when Arsenal were supposedly boring their way to honours. Now even the neighbours have stolen their clothes, so to speak, and in Dennis Bergkamp have a player who might have been born to grace N17 instead of N5. When the strains of "We want our Tottenham back" rose from the Anfield Road End - recalling the Wolves fans' chant of "Bring back the Fifties" at the protest which did for Graham Taylor - it was a lament for lost values.

Frustratingly for Francis, like Pleat at Manchester United seven days earlier, Spurs had started so positively. He had asked to be judged on a fully fit squad and three of the long-term casualties, Darren Anderton, Chris Armstrong and Steffen Iversen, performed with impressive verve and no little panache in the first half.

Sol Campbell looked a pounds 10m defender and David Ginola belied his indolent image. But chances went begging and, at the start of the second half, concentration went walkabout. Spurs, to use the vernacular, simply went. Jamie Redknapp, precisely the kind of playmaker Francis has conspicuously failed to find, exploited the resultant space particularly well.

Following up a Redknapp shot which Ian Walker parried, Steve McManaman drained the life out of Spurs. Almost immediately, Oyvind Leonhardsen reacted fastest to another, more excusable rebound off the goalkeeper.

Redknapp, from long range, and Michael Owen, running in his first home goal after Walker's miscalculation, reduced even Campbell to mundanity. Emphatic as the margin was, however, Liverpool still looked like a team searching for form. Nor will the suspension of Paul Ince and Robbie Fowler for the matches against Arsenal and Manchester United enhance their prospects of recreating Saturday's second-half rhythm.

Still, as Roy Evans observed with more than a hint of sarcasm, it should keep him in a job a bit longer. There were further echoes of the previous weekend's events at Old Trafford when the Liverpool manager defended Francis in terms uncomfortably reminiscent of Alex Ferguson's vain solidarity with Pleat.

"You're judging the guy on one game," Evans chastised the media. Any judgement as such actually comes from Spurs' own followers. And it is based not on 45 minutes of misfortune but on three unfulfilling years since Ardiles' naive adventurism gave way to a more pragmatic approach.

Among the scorers in the first match of the new era, incidentally, were Jurgen Klinsmann and Teddy Sheringham. That they are long gone compounds the impression that Francis is better at discovering and developing less obvious talents than working with top-class players.

Should Sugar reach a similar conclusion, the choice would come down to one of the usual suspects, such as Bobby Robson, or a gamble on a foreign coach. Klinsmann is already being touted to work alongside an experienced practitioner.

Talking of which, there is a candidate who has proved his understanding of Spurs' tradition of flair over functionalism. In his only full season he guided them to third place, the FA Cup final and the League Cup semi- finals. He also took his last club to within two points of a European place in the spring. Is it really too late for David Pleat?

Goals: Riedle (48) 1-0; Leonhardsen (50) 2-0; Redknapp (65) 3-0; Owen (86) 4-0.

Liverpool (4-4-2): James; Jones (McAteer, 87), Kvarme, Matteo, Bjornebye; McManaman (Berger, 87), Redknapp, Ince, Leonhardsen; Fowler, Riedle (Owen, 75). Substitutes not used: Harkness, Nielsen (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur (5-3-2): Walker; Carr, Scales, Calderwood (Sinton, 68), Campbell, Edinburgh; Howells, Anderton (Dominguez, 68), Ginola; Allen (Armstrong, 14), Iversen. Substitutes not used: Fox, Bardsen (gk).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).

Booking: Tottenham: Ginola.

Attendance: 38,006.

Man of the match: Redknapp.

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