Football: Graham move would suit all concerned

Tottenham Hotspur 3 Leeds United 3
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HE WORE a bomber jacket, heavy boots and a skinhead haircut and he moved towards George Graham with a sense of purpose. Graham looked up at the stocky figure blocking his path and paused. The man ushered his son forward, an autograph was signed, a cheery word exchanged.

So much for running a gauntlet of hate. Graham may have red-and-white blood coursing through his veins but Spurs appear to be so desperate for a respectable side they do not care who produces it. Apart from a plaintive banner paraphrasing Pink Floyd with the appeal "Oh, Graham, leave our Spurs alone" the only abuse the ex-Arsenal manager received was the sporadic calls of "Judas" from the Leeds fans.

It could be that the Tottenham support are still getting their heads round the concept of having their "Great Satan" in Bill Nick's chair. David Pleat, the stand-in manager, suggested they "don't know what to think" and if they were confused before the game they must have been bewildered after it. Graham's CV marks him out as a footballing Clint Eastwood: no frills efficiency and never mind the body count. But his team defended like the Marx Brothers, all slapstick and high farce.

In Graham's favour they were also given a powerful demonstration of how he can inspire players. This was one of Tottenham's most committed performances for a long time and much of that was due to the players knowing their probable future employer was looking on.

Graham dealt better with the situation than his players judging by their uncharacteristic lapses in concentration. He said that Peter Ridsdale, Leeds' chairman, was still to give Alan Sugar permission to speak to him, but made it clear he wanted and expected to go. There was an indirect suggestion that Leeds was out of the spotlight but the capital's main draw was "personal", the presence of his family and fiancee. He added, on a valedictory note: "Every club I've left, I've left in a good condition."

Ridsdale and Sugar are expected to speak after Leeds have returned from Tuesday's Uefa Cup tie against Maritimo in Madeira. An announcement is likely on Thursday confirming Graham as Tottenham's 14th post-war manager and Sugar's sixth in seven years.

The affair has been cited as evidence of the loss of loyalty in football but, in many ways, it is the perfect move for all parties. Graham's personal reasons are genuine, though the same situation applied when he signed a newly extended, and very lucrative, contract in the summer. It is also hard to imagine he is not attracted by the thought of putting one over an Arsenal board he still carries a grudge against - a feeling likely to have been exacerbated by the revelation that he will be the only person seriously punished by the "bung" inquiry.

For Tottenham the attraction is obvious. Apart from the early part of Gerry Francis' reign, and a brief period when Richard Gough was centre- half, they have not been defensively solid since Mike England retired. As the Arsenal back four continue to demonstrate Graham is a good organiser of defences - and prior to Saturday Leeds had conceded one goal in six games. He will also trim Tottenham's overpaid, under-achieving playing staff, shipping out anyone not prepared to put team before individual. To judge from Tottenham's work-rate word has got round.

What he is not likely to do is give responsibility to "flair" players, those footballers who can open defences with something different. In many cases the inspiration of such players outstrips their perspiration but, with the long-ball game outdated, teams need such players, the Cantonas, the Bergkamps, to win titles.

That trait, combined with Graham's generally defensive outlook, is why his departure may be good for Leeds. They have gone as far as they can without investing in two or three "quality" players without whom they will beat average teams but only stop good ones. Graham recognises Leeds need strengthening, but has claimed that insufficient money is available - a claim Leeds dispute. This may be the reason for the Leeds support singing "stand up if you want the truth".

Either way, Graham's record suggests it is irrelevant. At Arsenal he bought 24 footballers but, apart from the bizarre double-signing of Glenn Helder and Chris Kiwomya in his final days, only Anders Limpar would be called an artistic player. Ian Wright, though a formidable goalscorer, is a grafter and a poacher not a creator.

At pounds 2.5m Wright was his biggest buy at Highbury and only pounds 3.25m David Hopkin has exceeded it of the 13 players (average fee: pounds 1m) he has signed at Leeds. Value for money is the principle, but it means only Harry Kewell, an inherited youth player, provides fantasy, with Gunnar Halle's presence in midfield indicative of the team's prosaic nature.

Graham has changed to an extent. Leeds do not play long-ball football, they play swift counter-attacking football to feet. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Clyde Wijnhard are an exciting combination whose purchases pay tribute to Graham. After Halle, unchallenged, headed in their first, the pair, quick of feet and thought, combined for further Leeds goals. The team he leaves is infinitely more valuable than the one he inherits.

Indeed, it will be a fair legacy. The youth scheme created by Howard Wilkinson is bearing rich fruit, the first team are organised, spirited, hard to beat and dangerous. The support is dedicated and the potential good.

While Spurs last won the championship 37 years ago Leeds have won it this decade. But Spurs have the image and, after the customary diabolical defending allowed Leeds a 3-1 lead, they showed why. Even at that stage they had played the more attractive football, testament to Pleat's influence, and now they matched it in spirit. Substitute Steffan Iversen, in a stunning first appearance this season, levelled then set up Sol Campbell's equaliser.

"A thrilling game," said someone. "He'll soon put a stop to that," came the reply. Graham himself said: "We in a winning profession. You win first, then add the entertainment."

For the moment Spurs will accept success without style but if Graham can eventually produce both it may be his finest achievement.

Goals: Halle (3) 0-1; Vega (13) 1-1; Hasselbaink (26) 1-2; Wijnhard (60) 1-3; Iversen (70) 2-3; Campbell (90) 3-3.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Baardsen; Carr (Calderwood, 81), Vega, Campbell, Edinburgh; Fox, Anderton, Neilsen, Clemence (Dominguez, 72); Armstrong, Ferdinand (Iversen, 63). Substitutes not used: Berti, Segers (gk).

Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Hiden, Molenaar, Radebe, Harte; Halle, Hopkin, Bowyer, Kewell; Wijnhard (Wetherall, 72), Hasselbaink. Substitutes not used: Haaland, Sharpe, Lilley, Robinson (gk).

Referee: P Durkin (Portland).

Booked: Tottenham: Anderton. Leeds: Molenaar, Wetherall.

Man of the match: Iversen.

Attendance: 35,535.