Football: Graham sees hard road ahead

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The Independent Online
WHEN GEORGE GRAHAM was unveiled as Christian Gross's successor at Tottenham last October, his ambition appeared modest. "The aim is to be in the top six within two years," he said at the time. Less than six months later the White Hart Lane trophy cabinet has been furnished with its first piece of silverware since the FA Cup in 1991 but Graham still admits that his building process has barely started.

"Of course I want it [Sunday's Worthington Cup win over Leicester] to be a stepping stone but the way the game is going it is now very difficult to assemble a squad of players capable of taking on the teams at the top," Graham said. "Next year it's going to be even harder for the top teams. With up to 17 games in Europe, 38 in the premier league, two cups, you need a massive squad."

Finding money to spend should not prove a problem for a man who is renowned for being astute on the transfer market. So far, he has spent only pounds 6.6m (on Tim Sherwood from Blackburn and Mauricio Taricco from Ipswich Town).

In addition, Sunday's win is likely to make Spurs' chairman, Alan Sugar, feel that securing Graham's services for four years (at a reported cost of pounds 6m) was a good piece of business, and that any further investment will reap dividends.

David Ginola, man-marked out of the match against Leicester, said that new players were now a priority for next season's European campaign.

"I remember at the beginning of the season we tried to sign Patrick Kluivert and players like that, but they were not interested because Tottenham were not involved in any European competition," Ginola said.

"We have a structure in place to be a great team and it is up to the chairman to make the right choice - sometimes you have to think about taking your money out of your pocket. Nothing is impossible. We have to carry on working and we have to be stronger."

When Graham took over from Don Howe at Arsenal in March 1986, he brought in Alan Smith from Leicester and placed faith in a pair of youngsters, Paul Merson and Tony Adams. His first trophy (as with Spurs) was the League Cup - a 2-1 victory over Liverpool - a year later.

The end of Graham's first full season as the manager at Highbury saw the Gunners finish fourth in the table, and two years later they took the title, a feat repeated in 1991. They won the FA Cup and League Cup double in 1993 and the European Cup-Winners' Cup in 1994.

At Leeds, Graham took the helm in September 1996 on a manifesto of "total commitment, hard work and passion" and installed David O' Leary as his assistant. "I will be working with the defence first," Graham said, not surprisingly given the "1-0 to the Arsenal" reputation he had acquired at Highbury.

"I don't think it would be right to dash off into the transfer market straight away," he said at the time, and Spurs supporters will be heartened to recall that the transformation Graham made was successful. Nigel Martyn gained confidence in goal, Lucas Radebe's marking talents were nurtured and Graham delved into the transfer market to buy Gunnar Halle and Robert Molenaar for pounds 400,000 and pounds 1.1m respectively.

The results may not have been pretty, but the side was built solidly from the back and lay the foundations on which O'Leary is now successfully building on at Elland Road.

"I enjoy doing it and if I keep doing it right it doesn't worry me what the fans, the players and even the club think about me," Graham said after Sunday's win, and his new charges appear to agree with him, despite his reputation as being a cold manager not in the habit of praising his players.

Ian Walker, drafted into Kevin Keegan's England squad for Saturday's Euro 2000 match against Poland, said yesterday that it was his new manager's will to win that had rubbed off on the players. "What's changed under him? Everything really - the attitude of the players, the strength of the team. We're working a lot more for each other.

"He's a winner and that rubs off on to the players. He has this reputation and we really fear losing games now because we don't want to incur the wrath of the boss. It's just nice to end up part of a team that can win things. You don't get many chances and you have to make the most of them."

Sunday's goalscorer, Allan Nielsen, added: "Before he came there was self-belief with individuals but not as a team. Hopefully this is just the start. We are back in Europe and if you want to be a big club that's probably the most important thing."

Quite how successful Spurs can become remains to be seen. A top-six side within two years, perhaps?