Football: Gross' Spurs future in doubt after work permit ruling

The future of the Spurs manager, Christian Gross, was thrown into doubt yesterday when the Department of Education and Employment rejected the club's application for a work permit for the fitness co-ordinator Fritz Schmid.

Ever since he arrived on the tube for his inaugural press conference, Christian Gross's appointment has carried with it the promise of bringing something different to English football. Now it looks as though he might be very different: the first manager to walk out on a club because of a fitness instructor.

Gross's failure at the weekend to deny suggestions that he would leave Spurs if Fritz Schmid was not granted a work permit raised a few eyebrows and added a further layer of uncertainty to a managerial situation already rich in rumour and intrigue. Yesterday's decision to turn down Schmid's application simply makes the situation worse. To confuse matters still further, Tottenham last night issued a statement which contradicted Gross's version of events, and hinted at a growing split between club and manager, while Gross insisted he was happy to stay with the club.

Gross has worked with Schmid for four years and sets great store by his knowledge of sports medicine and injury rehabilitation - talents that Spurs, who have been plagued by injuries, need more than most. However Schmid, like Gross, is Swiss and because Switzerland is not a member of the European Union he can only work in Britain with a permit.

A Department of Education and Employment spokesman said: "In these cases we ask, 'Are they uniquely qualified to such an extent that they can bring skills and talents to the game that are not available in the UK?' We also ask, 'Have they got an established international reputation?' On the basis of the information we have at the moment Schmid hasn't met those criteria."

Spurs have lodged an appeal, and as Liverpool discovered recently with Brad Friedel, such appeals can succeed. "If Spurs come up with information that clarifies the situation we'll look at it as quickly as we can," the spokesman added. "Appeals can take a couple of weeks, or less."

Should the appeal fail, it seems very likely that Gross will depart. Speaking after Sunday's north London derby, he said: "When I signed my contract, it was on the condition that I could bring Fritz with me. He [Schmid] is a Fifa-qualified fitness trainer and the first non-Italian to get their special diploma. But if you are asking if I'll go if he doesn't get it, I cannot answer you. I just cannot say."

However, the club issued a statement last night which said: "Tottenham Hotspur wish to make it perfectly clear that there is no clause in Christian Gross's contract regarding the employment of another person. The terms of his employment have never been conditional upon the employment of anybody else." One suggestion is that Gross is in any case being lined as the new Swiss national team coach. But last night Gross said: "This is all speculation. There is no question of me taking charge of the Swiss national side. I am committed to Spurs and pleased to be here. I will do the job to the best of my ability."

Even before these latest twists there had been hints that his tenure, which began in late November, might not be a long one. Despite beginning with a win at Everton, Gross's impact has been mixed, with heavy defeats by Chelsea, Coventry and Aston Villa pointing up a porous defence and an unbalanced squad.

Were he to leave there would be no shortage of candidates for his post. The arrival of Jurgen Klinsmann last week was seen by some Spurs fans as providing an ideal replacement, someone whose charisma and playing record might reproduce in N17 the talismanic effect Ruud Gullit has had at Chelsea. An alternative, at least in the short term, would be to change David Pleat's job description. Pleat is due to become Tottenham's director of football in mid-January, but would surely need little persuading to become the full-time manager, a post he held for one fondly remembered season in the late Eighties.

A third name frequently associated with Spurs is that of Joe Kinnear, the much-respected Wimbledon manager. Kinnear has been fiercely loyal to the south London club but is thought to have been unsettled in his position by the change in ownership at his club, and in particular by reports that his new Norwegian bosses, Bjorn Rune Gjelsten and Kjell Inge Rokke, are contemplating bringing in the Norwegian national coach, Egil Olsen, after the World Cup.

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