Football Commentary: Multi-national Spurs evoke the glory days

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The Independent Online
IF THE all-seater splendour and multi-national cast at Hillsborough on Saturday are the shape of English football's bright new future what are we to make of the match? A taste also of things to come, or a throwback to a forgotten age?

It is to be hoped it is the former. In fielding a five-man forward line not seen since the days of lace-up footballs and Brylcreemed centre- forwards Tottenham precipitated a breathtaking exhibition of football as dramatic as anything seen in the World Cup.

Trevor Francis, Sheffield Wednesday's manager, said he had looked at the Spurs line-up beforehand and thought 'we're in trouble here' and so it proved. Though Wednesday played their part in the excitement, a 4-3 home defeat underlined that Tottenham were the worst possible opposition for a side playing with three newly signed defenders.

Better organised defences will also labour against Spurs this season. The audacious signings of Jurgen Klinsmann and Ilie Dumitrescu have already been widely applauded throughout the game; the bold manner in which Ossie Ardiles intends to utilise their talents deserves even greater commendation.

Three months ago Ardiles's departure was expected daily as Tottenham flirted with relegation; two months ago the FA threatened to disable their chances for this season with the deduction of 12 points. Though reduced to six it remains a considerable handicap but neither the Tottenham manager nor his chairman Alan Sugar have been cowed. It is easy to suggest that the financially secure Ardiles is better placed to take risks than many managers, but that ignores his desire to be regarded as a success after failing at Newcastle and struggling last season.

He is certainly courageous. The two imports were joined by Darren Anderton, Teddy Sheringham and Nick Barmby in what Francis described as 'the most adventurous line-up I've ever come across in management'.

Behind them Colin Calderwood, looking more comfortable than he ever did at centre-back, sat in front of an inexperienced back- four. It worked for a while but holes appeared under pressure and Ardiles can be expected to continue his pursuit of a new central defender.

Most of the attention, naturally, was on the other end, especially Klinsmann. Given that he scored what proved to be the winner and was then carried off semi-conscious with a cut lip it seems ridiculous to suggest he had a quiet game, but his influence was more through presence than performance. Both Sheringham's and Barmby's goals owed much to Wednesday's preoccupation with the German.

Quiet, however, should not be interpreted as lazy. One of the reasons why Klinsmann has been so quickly accepted at Spurs is his work-rate. He is clearly inspired by the pace and atmosphere of the English game and at times could be seen tracking back to mark Dan Petrescu, winning back a ball lost in the tackle and rushing to take quick throw-ins. Even his usual stroll back after an attack has broken up has gone, replaced by a sprint.

Dumitrescu, the less heralded of the signings, may yet overshadow Klinsmann. Until he tired, the Romanian was everywhere: demanding the ball, running with perfect balance at defenders and, always, showing the importance of retaining possession by his well-judged passing.

Wednesday's Romanian, Petrescu, recovered from being caught out of position for the first goal - Sheringham dropping off into unaccustomed space to receive Anderton's cross - to show similar technical mastery and attacking aptitude. The three of them cost under pounds 6m, or would you prefer one Chris Armstrong? Until there is greater parity in transfer fees Gordon Taylor's 'Buy English' campaign is fatally undermined.

Not that class was limited to the the foreigners. For Spurs' second Sheringham and Anderton reversed roles, the winger running on to Klinsmann's lay-off, exchanging passes with Sheringham then scoring. Their third was magnificently finished by Barmby while David Hirst's strike for Wednesday's third will rarely be bettered.

That came from the promising Ian Taylor's intelligent knock- down; their first two had been more scrappy, Petrescu controlling John Sheridan's mis-hit shot to score then Calderwood clinically finishing in his own net as he attempted to rob Chris Bart-Williams.

The other goal was the most eagerly anticipated, Klinsmann evading Walker to head Anderton's cross powerfully in. A mocking swallow dive - Sheringham's idea - followed; then an unplanned one after innocently clashing heads with Walker.

It looked serious and the glee, and accompanying 'Dambusters' theme, of some home fans was a discordant note - especially at Hillsborough - but there was also generous applause as he departed and all should be relieved at his quick recovery.

Less than an hour later he was facing the press, as graceful off the pitch as on. 'My mouth is fine, everything is OK. It is wonderful to be here, the English League excites everybody abroad,' he said before turning to the autograph hunters. 'You've got Klinsmann,' said one father with pride to his barely comprehending five-year- old. It will be a signature to treasure.

A home debut follows, against Everton on Wednesday, then Manchester United on Saturday. It is a fair bet the West End agency which last week advertised tickets as prominently as for Phil Collins and Sunset Boulevard has added another tenner to the mark-up.

It might be worth paying it - to paraphrase a review of another West End favourite, Les Miserables, whether you beg, borrow or steal a ticket make sure you are there when Tottenham come to town.

Goals: Sheringham (18) 0-1; Anderton (30) 0-2; Petrescu (51) 1-2; Calderwood (og)(65) 2-2; Barmby (70) 2-3; Klinsmann (81) 2-4; Hirst (82) 3-4.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Petrescu, Walker, Atherton, Nolan; Bart-Williams, Taylor, Sheridan, Sinton; Bright (Watson 75), Hirst. Substitutes not used: Key (gk), Coleman.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-1-2-3): Walker; Kerslake, Nethercott, Campbell (Mabbutt 69), Edinburgh; Calderwood; Barmby, Dumitrescu (Hazard 75); Anderton, Sheringham, Klinsmann. Substitutes not used: Day (gk).

Referee: B Hill (Market Harborough).

(Photograph omitted)