Football: Gross: `I was not a failure'

Tottenham in turmoil: Coach departs with head held high as chairman blames media for sacking
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The Independent Online
HIS PARTING was short, dignified and gave away few secrets. He had done his best, he said, and still believed in his methods. After 10 months in charge of Tottenham Hotspur, Christian Gross gave the media a final 10 minutes of his time yesterday.

Then, after a farewell press conference, he shook hands with his now former chairman, Alan Sugar, and drove his green Mercedes out of the Spurs training ground for the last time.

Gross tried his best to hide the pain, if indeed he was feeling any. He insisted, as he had done many times before, that he was no quitter.

"I had to go," he said. Why, he was asked. "Different reasons," came the cryptic reply. "I am a man who is not going to answer exactly that question."

He also refused to admit that he had been a failure after being sacked for the first time in his managerial career, with eight months of his contract still to run.

"I am disappointed, but I do not think this experience was a failure," Gross said. "I came here in November in a very difficult and serious situation. We were not relegated. That was a big success. I think three games of this season was not long enough t o judge me. I had been looking forward to the home games against Blackburn and Middlesbrough.

"This is the first time results have not gone well for me but I have to deal with this in a positive way and I will do so."

Whether you feel sympathy with Gross or believe, as most Spurs fans do, that he had it coming, few Premiership managers have had such a baptism of fire. Indeed, Gross had been showing signs of late that he was getting to grips with one of the toughest coaching jobs in the country.

He admitted, however, that it had been frustrating being unable to strengthen the squad with big-name players, mentioning Patrick Kluivert as a case in point. But the squad he inherited, he said, was just getting used to his measures.

"I bought in a new way of doing things and the players are used to it now. It has become a question of habit." Sadly no more.

Sugar, who refused to discuss Gross' successor, used the usual scapegoat to justify getting rid of the balding Swiss.

"We were faced with an untenable situation created, with all due respect, by the media," he said. "The board felt that Christian, no matter how professional or how good he is, had been destroyed."

Sugar, clad in jeans and denim shirt in contrast to Gross' usual conservative shirt and tie, indicated the decision to sack his manager was taken in principal before Tottenham's 1-0 win over Everton. Sugar repeated a number of times that it was no knee-jerk reaction.

"From the outside world it will look as if Christian was only given three games, but I digested the situation and would not be rushed into anything," said Sugar. "I have been frank with Christian throughout. The point is, the butt stops with me. I was the one who ultimately made the decision to bring Christian to England and ultimately I am the one that has decided what I consider to be in the interest of both parties. You have to make a rational decision for both people's good, not just for Tottenham but also for his good and the buck stops here."

Gross is likely to have no shortage of offers from the continent where, paradoxically, he is highly regarded after taking Grasshopper Zurich to within a whisker of qualifying for the Champions' League quarter-finals after back-to-back titles with the Swiss club. For the moment, he said he will be spending a few more weeks in England "watching football".

"At the end of the day, the club is the most important thing," Gross said . "I feel I have left the team in the best mood I can. Otherwise we would not have got that excellent result against Everton."

He declined to give details of alleged communication breakdowns with players. "I am used to working hard and sometimes there were discussions. The main target was always to improve. I was fair to everyone. Direct but fair."

Gross left with the same words he had used at countless post-match press conferences. "I have my way. I am convinced it is the right way."

Clearly neither Sugar nor the majority of Spurs fans agree. Only time will tell whether Gross would eventually have proved an inspired choice or whether he was after all, hopelessly out of his depth.