Football / Countdown to the Kick-off:: Ardiles spurred on by the latest challenge: Tottenham seek a new beginning with a new manager. Trevor Haylett reports

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BE HONEST about it, would you have torn up your Tottenham season ticket? The retaliatory strike action demanded by supporters outraged by Alan Sugar's dismissal of Terry Venables was entirely understandable, but where else could you obtain such privileged access to one of the most entertaining and enduring dramas of recent sporting times?

A former manager, Keith Burkinshaw, pitched it just right a few years ago when, with a last glance back at the White Hart Lane gates, he said: 'There used to be a football club in there.' There still is, but there also exists a permanent sideshow of warring personalities struggling to get out - and usually succeeding.

We have seen the costly failure of Irving Scholar's reign and the club's near-fatal courtship of Robert Maxwell; the fight between Venables and Scholar; and centre stage this summer has been the battle for power between Venables and Sugar.

For the second time in three years, Cup Final morning saw the latest episode in the Spurs soap knock the showpiece protagonists off the back pages. This time the Arsenal fans loved it, sprinkling their Wembley songs with regular helpings of 'We love Sugar' and 'Sugar is a Gunner'.

If Sugar's decision to sack Venables does eventually prove to have been a serious error of judgement - a court hearing later in the year will determine the validity of Venables' claim that the club's future would be best served under him - credit has to be given for the decision to install as manager Ossie Ardiles.

With the quality and inspirational guidance he brought to the Spurs teams of the early 1980s an abiding memory, Ardiles was always guaranteed a warm welcome, notwithstanding the affection for Venables. As manager at Swindon, Newcastle and then West Bromwich Albion, where he organised last season's promotion campaign, he demonstrated an unswerving commitment to the principles without which no application for the Tottenham job could succeed.

As an Argentinian World Cup winner introduced to a foreign country, he had always displayed a strength of will and purpose that would equip him for this difficult challenge. Now all Ardiles needs is a few early-season victories, beginning, ironically, at Newcastle on Saturday, to make his hot seat a more comfortable one. That would further isolate Venables, who has been warned by his fellow directors that his presence in the directors' box this season would pose a threat to public order and a distraction to players and supporters alike.

Ardiles was never in any doubt that the events leading up to his arrival made sure he would have to dispense large measures of leadership and reassurance to the players left bemused and bewildered by what had gone on from his first day in charge.

'Success for us this season is to become a stable club once more, united from the top to the bottom,' he said. 'At the moment we are not united and it is a matter of crucial importance. It is much the toughest job I have ever taken on, tougher even than Newcastle, because although there were deep divisions they were close to resolving them and I was probably their last casualty before the whole thing took off.

'This is a new beginning for Tottenham, a new era. The day I left as a player I had a conviction I would return one day as manager. Taking the club back to the top where it belongs is the ultimate challenge.'

It is a challenge in which there can be no concessions to Ardiles' belief in the fundamentals of control, passing (along the ground) and movement. Anything else is a betrayal not only of the traditions of the game but also of the very essence of its appeal.

Those unlucky enough not to have seen the philosophy at work only need take a quick look around his office at the Mill Hill training headquarters to gauge the depth of that commitment.

The most prominent poster on the wall proclaims the creed according to Danny Blanchflower, the captain in the club's Glory Glory days: 'The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning . . . it is nothing of the kind. The game is about glory, it's about doing things with style, with a flourish.'

Unlike at Chelsea, where Glenn Hoddle, another bright young manager who employs footballers to play football, has made major changes, Ardiles has had only to modify and tinker with last year's model. Steve Perryman and Chris Hughton, two other graduates of the Spurs School, have followed him to become part of this old boys' reunion.

It has been a summer of change and yet no change for Gary Mabbutt, who is beginning his 12th season at the club under his seventh manager. He admits that when the Venables sacking began to unfold in May he feared the worst.

'At the end of last season we were showing a lot of promise and introducing young players who looked capable of taking the club onwards and upwards,' he said.

'Everyone has enormous regard and respect for Terry Venables and the players were upset by what happened, but it had nothing to do with football. On our first day back Ossie said we had to forget all about Terry and look to the future. He has made it clear that he only wants players committed to the club.'

Ardiles says he is 'delighted' at the response he has received from the players. Neil Ruddock departed following a contractual dispute and the manager remains disappointed with that, although the signing of Colin Calderwood from Swindon should offset worries about their defensive capabilities.

For the fans it is not so easy. How to remain loyal to Venables while committed to the success of Ardiles' team? Some have refused to renew season tickets and their dilemma is expressed by Bernie Kingsley, a co-ordinator of the independent Spurs' supporters organisation, Tisa, who said: 'We will still go to some of the games. We don't see why Alan Sugar should deprive us of that.'

Tisa and the Spurs' Supporters Club still maintain the club is best served with Venables in charge. A leaflet campaign to that effect is being arranged for the home game with Manchester City on Saturday week and a demonstration is planned for the televised fixture with Everton in October.

'People have talked about the football side and the business side, but our argument is that Tottenham's business is football and the continuity which was so important to maintain after last season has now been destroyed,' Kingsley said. 'Venables put his life into saving this club when it could have gone under and we can't forget that. It might be a losing battle, but Terry's lawyers think he has a reasonable case to fight in court and we will have to wait and see what happens there.'

(Photograph omitted)