Football: Graham sets a modest target

Tottenham's new regime: With pounds 10m in transfer funds available, Scot seeks transformation by `consistent results'
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The Independent Online
THE AMBITION was modest, but in the light of Tottenham Hotspur's non-achievements in recent years it will be enough to satisfy their chairman at least. "The aim is to be in the top six within two years," George Graham said as he was unveiled as the north London club's new manager yesterday.

The 54-year-old Scot's realistic approach was mirrored by his new employer. Alan Sugar said he had had only one motivation in choosing the controversial Scot. "Consistent results, and that's the end of it," he said in a businesslike tone.

Looking calm but occasionally defensive as he was introduced to the waiting media at White Hart Lane, Graham said he had chosen to move to Spurs from Leeds "for personal reasons". His appearance lacked the theatrical Underground ticket-waving antics that Christian Gross had employed on the first day of his ill-fated tenure at the club 11 months ago, but nobody - and certainly not Sugar - was complaining about that.

Sugar revealed that after the sacking of Gross a month ago, the Tottenham board had drawn up a shortlist of candidates for the job. Graham had been at the top of the list. Sugar did not give details about how the approach had been made, but Graham himself confirmed that he had been in discussions about a move for "over two weeks".

The appointment has seen Graham sign a four-year contract worth an estimated pounds 6m. Under the compensation deal agreed with Leeds, the Yorkshire club will receive around pounds 3m.

Despite the fact that the move has been an open secret for the past two weeks, Graham's confirmation as manager of Tottenham is none the less remarkable. Having been the manager at Spurs' main rivals, Arsenal, for nine years - during which he won two League championships, two League Cups, an FA Cup and a European Cup-Winners' Cup - to say he was not the most likely candidate to succeed Gross would be an understatement.

The job is now his, however, and he said the major reason for his decision had been the desire "to come back down south again, to come to one of the major clubs, not just in London, but in England." He added: "It was a difficult decision but a personal decision."

Despite a transfer kitty of up to pounds 10m to spend, Graham said he would not rush out and buy new players, but consider the merits of his current squad first. "In most of the jobs I've had I've always given people a chance to prove themselves," he said. "I love passion and like players with passion." He said that he had always been a big fan of David Ginola, and that anyone who impressed him would have a future at the club.

David Pleat, who has been caretaker manager since the sacking of Gross, will remain as director of football at the club, but Graham said decisions about other backroom staff had not yet been taken.

"The aim is to be in the top six within two years," he said of his plans for the near future. "When I was the manager at the other north London club, Spurs were up there with us." Since then, he said, Arsenal's fortunes had improved while Tottenham "have drifted a bit". He added: "With the talent here, they should be further up than they are."

Sugar agreed that Tottenham had underachieved during his reign and joked that he had considered several possible solutions, "even Eileen Drewery".

When it was suggested to Graham that he might have a problem commanding loyalty from players, having walked away from Leeds himself, he became slightly defensive. "That's not true, is it?" he said. "You've not done your research. It took a few weeks to work this out [and come to a decision to leave]. And I was at Leeds for two years."

When asked if he had a message for the Leeds fans, he said: "I think the job has been done there. The club has been turned around. I'm proud of what I've left but it's understandable a few fans being upset."

With Graham's Highbury past, some Tottenham fans may not welcome his appointment, but the new manager said results were the only factors that would eventually matter. "If I was a Tottenham fan, I'd want a winning team regardless of who the manager was," he said. When asked if he would be getting rid of the Arsenal memorabilia in his home - including a Gunners patio - he gave a broad grin and said "Yes" with some conviction.

Affection for Arsenal is not the only thing Graham will be looking to put behind him. When, in 1994, Graham was first accused of taking illegal payments for players when he was the Arsenal manager, Sugar had accused his north London neighbours of being "gutless" in not sacking him. "We've got to put those things behind us," Sugar said. "It's not an issue now. We've got to look forward. George is eligible to be a football manager under the rules by which we abide."

Sugar explained his stance, that of a businessman first and foremost. "One of the mistakes is to choose someone from your heart, maybe in the tradition of the club," he said. "While it's nice in a fairy-tale world, what you need is someone who can do business."

In Graham, he has probably found him, even if his own future as chairman of Tottenham is uncertain. "I think I've passed my sell-by date in the eyes of the fans. The appointment of George is to get this club into shape, into the status it deserves."