Football: Graham wants a flair crack of the whip

Nick Townsend hears the new Spurs manager outline his plans
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The Independent Online
AS GEORGE Graham strolled across the White Hart Lane forecourt, with an insouciance that evoked some of those wonderfully subtle moments at Highbury over a quarter of a century ago, you wondered whether the ghosts of Tottenham's yesteryear were somewhere howling their fury at this interloper whose heart really lay two miles down the Seven Sisters Road.

The place wreaks of the past, a sepia-toned mausoleum of the tradition and glory that have become bywords for Spurs, even when recent reality has been very different. There is the bust of the beloved Bill Nicholson in reception. Upstairs, in the lounge where we meet, the features of the late, lamented John White stare from the wall. It could be an intimidating atmosphere, but Graham, like a guest at a memorial service for a great man, but one who is not quite all that is perceived to be by popular acclaim, prefers to separate the truth from the myth. And he won't mind offending those who come over all misty-eyed and talk of Tottenham's great past to do it.

"People keep telling me how George will forget about Spurs' style of play," he said. "Well, I haven't seen that in recent years, this lovely push and run. You have to go back a long time for that. They're kidding themselves. They've only won two championships in their history. For a club of this size, is that enough? Arsenal have won 11." The man who brought two of those to Highbury and who desires to emulate that at Spurs, starting with the away game at Leicester tomorrow night, added: "I think a lot of Spurs supporters have used a psychological crutch, saying we would rather see an entertaining team lose than win a boring match. But really I think they're fed up with the people down the road winning everything. First of all Spurs people want to see a winning team, then they want to see them do it with a little bit of style, a bit of excitement. That's what I want too."

Yet the Scot, born in Bargeddie, Lanarkshire, 55 years ago next month, stresses that there is still a place for traditional values and old-fashioned etiquette. That explains why he intends to introduce a club suit. "Look at the Italians and the French, they're immaculate. They're proud of their profession. It tells everyone that the club is more important than anything else. I want professional standards."

Inevitably, those will include an intolerance of players' drinking to excess. "With Gascoigne, Adams and Merson coming out, hopefully that's putting up the fear into the young players coming into the game. The rewards are fantastic, and anyone drinking heavily nowadays, they're the fool." But he insisted: "Players are conducting themselves much better these days, anyway. Yes, they were successful at Arsenal despite the drinking. But looking back, could they have won even more if they hadn't? I didn't have a clue about what was going on. People say 'You must have known about Tony Adams and Paul Merson'. Well, of course I knew they liked a drink, but I had no idea of the extent."

On the footballing side, his immediate aim is to create a rich blend of players around "a good, strong core. The two or three who will walk into your team like a Seaman, an Adams and, up to a point, a Wrighty, at Arsenal."

At Tottenham they would certainly include Sol Campbell, a man he can envisage as a future England captain. "He was man of the match against Bulgaria and to me he looked like a giant. It was the way he played that influenced other people. I love talkers, and that's why I made Tony Adams captain at only 20. Sol is a quieter lad but then so was Bobby Moore."

However, Graham is in no doubt that he requires more of the same. "We've got to get more talent here, but it has to be a mixture of players. The famous Spurs team had a lovely blend when they won the Double. There's a few pieces of the jigsaw missing."

He added: "I see a lot of so- called flair teams, wonderful when it comes to passing the ball about in the middle of the park, yet both goalkeepers are redundant. It bores me to tears. I want goalmouth incident." Spurs fans, you have been warned.

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