Football: Ferdinand a signing of desperate times

Norman Fox studies the falling fortunes of two giants struggling to revive old glory
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The Independent Online
Attempts by Tottenham and Everton to mollify their frustrated supporters and buy big before the new season begins came down to nothing more exciting than a one-sided duel for the services of the injury-prone Les Ferdinand.

Ferdinand is a useful enough striker but one Newcastle United's directors, if not Kenny Dalglish himself, felt they could finally sell to Spurs for an inflated pounds 6m and not notice his going. Meanwhile Newcastle were lining up a 21-year-old Italian from Inter Milan. That Everton and Spurs were pursuing a player who will soon be 31 years old, albeit an England international, suggests they are well off the pace in terms of long-term planning.

For a lot of the fans of these two huge clubs which used to be among the so-called "Big Six", the new season cannot come slowly enough. The summer has brought no less frustration than last season's performances. Apart from Ferdinand, who has yet to agree personal terms, Spurs have made only one headline making signing, David Ginola, who can be sumptuous but is not famous for sweating blood which, once again, may well be the necessary commodity at White Hart Lane this season. Already they have an injury list long enough for Gerry Francis to start rehearsing his familiar post-match speech which begins: "If all our players were available..."

For their part, Everton have sweated over half a dozen big-name purchases and obtained little significant new blood. Their chairman, Peter Johnson, suffered the embarrassment of a rebuff from Fabrizio Ravanelli who chose First Division football back with Middlesbrough. Yet this was one occasion when he had the sympathy of supporters who, when they heard that Ravanelli wanted pounds 50,000 a week, concluded that Johnson was right to risk their wrath.

Nevertheless, it all added to the feeling that a club which had even offered the television pundit Andy Gray the manager's job and been rejected, then snubbed by both Paul Ince and Ciriaco Sforza, the Inter Milan midfield player, was bearing a stigma. Curiously, though, there still seems to be more optimism among Everton fans (over 21,000 season tickets have been sold for the coming season) than there is among their counterparts at Tottenham, where the supporters have constantly been critical of the chairman Alan Sugar for, as they see it, failing to take risks in football in the way that he might in business.

As with Everton, a host of would-be signings (not least Juninho) all somehow forgot their pens. Ferdinand is unlikely to do the same since he realises that club owners and directors now dictate most of what goes on at top football clubs and Newcastle's wanted to sell him quickly. Ferdinand is also aware that Dalglish was keen to keep him only as a squad member while he was rebuilding with younger players. The opportunity to rejoin Francis, return to London and be guaranteed a first-team place at his age is a perfect situation for the player, though whether he is an answer to Tottenham's squad weaknesses is another matter.

The arrival of Ginola, who could conceivably be seen as a latter-day Glenn Hoddle or, in other words, the sort of alluring, highly skilful player one used to enjoy at White Hart Lane, has not entirely convinced the fans that Sugar has seriously changed his view that the brief but compelling appearance of Jurgen Klinsmann at the club was an experience in expensive foreign players he would rather forget. Admittedly there was talk of an pounds 11m offer from Spurs for Juninho, but it would not be stretching cynicism too far to suggest the whole thing was a cosmetic ploy to make it look as if the club was doing something adventurous.

If the supporters were not best pleased with Klinsmann's decision to leave, they were deeply hurt when hearing Teddy Sheringham's departing comments that he wanted to go to a club where he had a chance of winning medals. Of course, it was nothing more than his putting into words what his dispirited performances had already revealed. The Tottenham Action Group believe that there was a more significant aspect to his cut-price sale (ironically, in view of the Ferdinand bid, Sugar accepted pounds 3.5m after an asking price of pounds 6m because of the player's age, 31). A spokesman said: "We think Sheringham's move gave the wrong message to the younger players who are thinking they would be better off at a more ambitious club." The group challenged Sugar to sell the club but he believes its members are not representative of the majority of supporters.

An important side issue of the proposed transfer of Ferdinand is that Sugar, who has always rebelled against paying high prices for players, has now contributed enormously to the opinion many clubs hold that British players are over-priced. The reaction will be that if a player of Ferdinand's age and good but not exceptional ability can command such a huge transfer fee, the possibility of buying younger and equally effective players from European clubs for considerably less, will continue to be welcomed. Of course, Sugar could have the last laugh if Ginola suddenly offers Ferdinand a host of goalscoring chances which are accepted.

Tottenham's first home game of the season is against Manchester United. Football having a contrary streak to its character, a win for Spurs and suddenly protest meetings, calls for Sugar's resignation and doubts about Francis's immediate future could all be forgotten. But probably not for long.

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