Football: Gross happy to put his reputation on the line

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The Independent Online
Tottenham's new coach has already gained an impressive grasp of the north London club's rich history. Trevor Haylett heard Christian Gross explain yesterday how he hopes to deliver a brighter future to White Hart Lane.

Tottenham Hotspur have always been a club steeped in style and glamour, and successive managers have had to come to terms with that fact pretty quickly. For his first day at White Hart Lane, Christian Gross was decidedly uncool: he caught the tube from Heathrow Airport.

It is an ordinary, everyday occurrence for millions and yet the football fraternity appears at times so far removed from the real world that, when Tottenham's new head coach reached into the top pocket of his jacket to flourish a travel card, it provoked some merriment among his audience. Surviving the 28-stop excursion and arriving on time for an inaugural press conference can be marked down as the first achievement of the Gross era.

Pitting himself against the hazards of the Piccadilly line, Herr Gross explained, would give him an immediate affinity with those Spurs supporters who have to undertake the same journey. "I want to be one of them," he said. "The fans must love the team, I am the coach of the team. We must be together."

That said, the White Hart Lane faithful will be hoping the replacement for Gerry Francis is the man to stop them going down the tubes. They can't help but be impressed by the knowledge he has already acquired on the north London under-achievers who have enticed him to leave Switzerland, and home, behind.

Only minutes after settling into the same seat Francis had vacated barely 24 hours before, there was Gross citing the achievements of Bill Nicholson, the victorious Cup-Winners' Cup side of 1963 and, later, even Harry Hotspur. He would appear a clever politician as well as the clever manager a track record of two league championships as well as the Swiss Cup would suggest in four years with Grasshopper.

The 43-year-old is an imposing figure, with the disconcerting habit of raising his voice to emphasise a point in the manner of a parade ground sergeant major. This is one manager who will not struggle to make himself heard either on the training field or in the dressing-room.

Alan Sugar, the Tottenham chairman, made it clear that only those with a resolute disciplinary hand were on his shopping list when Francis revealed he could not carry on. "Apart from having a good coach and good players, the essential requirement for a successful side is a good team spirit and that comes from discipline," he said.

In the 10 days following Sugar's approach, Gross has worked his way through a video library of all this season's games. He talked yesterday of the benefits of aggression, strength and power in the team, of the importance of realism among supporters.

It was some way from the gospel according to Ossie Ardiles, but who is to say those hard-to-please fans will not take him to their hearts if he can put some success on the board?

"We have to stop the fall of Tottenham," declared Gross, who then said it again lest anyone had not heard him the first time. "There are good players in the squad and we have to bring them together, make them more compact.

"The fans must be realistic. To be successful at first we must play a physical, powerful game. We have to be strong and not have too many injuries. Then we can look to play an attractive game, but the most important thing is to be successful. If on the inside the players have hearts like lions, I am sure the results will improve."

Listening to Francis in the second half of his Tottenham stewardship was to be convinced that only their injury toll was preventing them from usurping Manchester United. Gross shares the alarm over a long list of absentees and has recruited Fritz Schmidt, the Grasshopper conditioning coach, to work alongside him. In addition, Sugar is to look for a new board member able to liaise closely with the new coach and assume some of the responsibility for recruiting new players.

"Fritz will not only have responsibility for the team's physical preparation but will also bring the injured players back to fitness so they can train with me as quickly as possible," added Gross. "I am wondering why Darren Anderton, such an important player to the team, has played just 15 games in two years.

"Tottenham are one of the most famous clubs in the world and my aim is to make them better than they have been doing. It will be a great, great challenge to have as much success here as Bill Nicholson. As a nine-year- old, I remember them winning the Cup-Winners' Cup, the first British team to be successful in Europe."

Then, demonstrating that the book recounting Tottenham the history and presenting to him as a farewell gift in Zurich was already well thumbed, Gross added: "Harry Hotspur [the Shakespearean character from the Northumberland family on whose land the White Hart Lane Stadium sits] was a warrior, wasn't he? Why don't we try to make Les Ferdinand the new Harry Hotspur?"

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