Football: Klinsmann making all the right moves: Spurs' German star makes striking impression during first few weeks at White Hart Lane.

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The Independent Online
AN ESSEX nightspot, bunkered under Walthamstow dog-track with a clientele of upmarket Arthur Daleys, is not the sort of place you would expect to find a German World Cup winner. Nor, a couple of months ago, could Jurgen Klinsmann have anticipated being in such an environment.

But his presence there on Wednesday night was typical of the man. He may possess the individual gifts and rewards of a world class footballer but he is a team player - and if his team-mates wanted to celebrate his spectacular home debut against Everton by taking him to the north-east London hinterland that was fine with him.

It is becoming increasingly clear that in Klinsmann Tottenham have signed not only an excellent player but an exceptional man. As events elsewhere this week - Maradona's ban and Romario's unauthorised holiday - have underlined the two qualities are not synonymous.

Like Eric Cantona, the other high-profile Continental player in English football, Klinsmann is different from the usual run of footballers. But unlike Cantona, whose latest suspension denies Klinsmann a head-to-head when Manchester United visit Tottenham today, the German is a man apart from his team-mates only in thought, not deed. His willingness to work hard on the pitch and socialise off it has quickly dispelled the petty jealousies that can infect football clubs.

In that Tottenham have been lucky. Ossie Ardiles, the manager, admits: 'I knew him as a footballer but not as a man, I had never talked to him. He has proved very easy-going and fitted in incredibly well. He sets a wonderful example to our young players.'

Ardiles' assistant, Steve Perryman, feels Klinsmann has many of the qualities Ardiles displayed on his arrival at Spurs 16 years ago. 'His conduct on and off the field and appreciation of other members of the team, the way he links with them, is similar. As a person he has the same integrity as Ossie.

'I knew he was a good player but did not know how good a team player he was; that became obvious from the first conversation. Some good players can be lazy, they just want to do their own thing and show each other how good they can be but Jurgen - and the other flair players in our forward line - graft for each other. It is the mark of a class player to serve others at times, as Pele did.

'Importantly he does not want to play perfect football all the time. Sometimes when you are playing with great players defenders don't want to just clear the ball anywhere but he is happy to see it kicked away if necessary. And, like most top players, he has a lot of enthusiasm.'

Klinsmann's enjoyment is as readily apparent as his class, industry, bravery and grace; he was a hero at Spurs from the moment he signed but those qualities have since won over a doubtful wider public.

For obvious reasons sporting relations between England and Germany have always had a particular edge since 1914, the year Spurs' last German player, a part-time aviator called Fred Srechfuss, had to return home prematurely due to circumstances beyond his control.

Not the most auspicious environment, then, for a high-profile German with a reputation for diving in the penalty box, especially with a club that inspires resentment and admiration in equal measure.

And yet within a week of the season opening Klinsmann is on the way to becoming everybody's darling. One colleague's reaction summed up his impact when he said: 'I'm an Arsenal fan and he's even charmed me.'

The diving reputation - which spawned fans in snorkel masks waving '5.9' placards - was met head on with the 30-year-old enquiring after a diving school in his first press conference and diving to the turf after his first goal. 'We thought everybody's going to give him stick for diving,' his main striking partner, Teddy Sheringham, said. 'This was like giving two fingers to them all before they could taunt him.'

The training ground has attendances the envy of many a Vauxhall Conference treasurer and at White Hart Lane - where his home debut was greeted with Wagner's 'Ride of the Valkyries' on the public address and his first goal by 'Wunderbar' on the scoreboard - there are spectators wearing German national team shirts. It is a sight one German newspaper imagined inconceivable in reverse (though who would have imagined it here?).

The German press has greeted the whole saga with incredulity. Most assumed money talked - a suggestion denied by the player and his chairman, Alan Sugar, though there will be few, if any, better paid players in England. They also suggested he would struggle to match expectations and have been pleasantly surprised by both his subsequent performances and the English reaction.

So, one suspects, is the player himself. 'Everyone has been very nice to me from day one,' he said. 'All over London people have been very friendly, they have recognized me in the street and in restaurants and said hello. I have been surprised at the interest, but I am just a player in a team. I think it is time they wrote about everyone else.'

The humility appears genuine, and certainly his team-mates have been impressed with his lack of ego. Sheringham admitted: 'I have been very surprised how well he has fitted in. He's a World Cup winner, he could have come here and said 'I'm a big star, England are crap, I'm going to do what I want', but he has become one of the boys and got involved. He had cramp in the last five minutes on Wednesday he had done so much work. He is a workmanlike player with some unbelievable qualities.'

The England winger Darren Anderton added: 'It was a total shock when he joined. We had been trying to sign so many players, then we sign the best of them all. There was a buzz at training the next day with everyone saying: 'We'll be playing with Jurgen Klinsmann.' He has mixed in well and got on with everyone.'

The impact of Klinsmann and the Romanian Ilie Dumitrescu - who has been similarly congenial given his language problems - reminds Perryman of the arrival of Ardiles and Villa.

'It is similar to 1978 in that the club I had joined, that of Greaves and Gilzean, had had some barren years and Ossie and Ricky Villa put the style back into the club.'

'It is,' adds Ardiles, 'a club that needs heroes, people who are a bit different, quality players with that touch of flamboyance.'

Klinsmann fits that bill. Good- looking with a ready smile and a touch of mystery. This is the player who back-packed around Namibia and California, who drives a 1967 Volkswagen Beetle with a Snoopy decal, who involves himself in Green politics and in helping Bosnian refugees.

A schoolboy gymnast and apprentice baker - in his parents' shop - the multi-lingual Klinsmann now negotiates his own contracts and follows a career path dictated as much by a desire to broaden his horizons as by honours and wealth - with his talent they inevitably follow anyway.

Having played for his local clubs Stuttgart Kickers and VfB Stuttgart, reaching the German national team and the Uefa Cup final, he moved to Internazionale in 1989 in a deal that included a guaranteed first-team place. Klinsmann collected winners medals in both the World Cup and Uefa Cup but tired of the intensity of Italian football and, in 1992, joined Monaco.

Prince Rainier's local side are richly funded but poorly supported and it did not take long for the tranquility to lose its attraction. 'It was two good years but, after playing in front of 80,000 at the San Siro in Milan, I missed the passion,' Klinsmann admitted.

'He needs a good atmosphere,' the Monaco manager, Arsene Wenger, said. 'The stadium can be very empty in winter and it is not always easy for a player to be motivated.'

Klinsmann, like Cantona, clearly relishes playing here. But though he talks of how he grew up watching English football and how 'everyone in Europe talks about the English League and the excitement of the fans singing in the stadiums', Wenger is surprised he came here.

'The atmospere in the grounds may be one reason for it but he was looking to go to Spain or Italy,' Wenger said. Indeed, he was expected to sign for Genoa and, had Leeds managed to sign the Czech striker Tomas Skuhravy, probably would have done.

With respect to Skuhravy and Leeds, English football would have been much the poorer. As Perryman points out, in terms of image and style Klinsmann and Spurs appear the perfect match. Abroad, his arrival has raised the standing of English football immeasurably; at home, taken with the appointment of Terry Venables and unveiling of a series of splendid stadiums, it has put the confidence back into the game.

Can Klinsmania last? Wenger, likes Ardiles and Perryman, has no doubts: 'I think he will be very successful, he is a winner and a fighter. He has lots of experience and the confidence of a good World Cup behind him.'

After three excellently taken goals in two games, including an explosive scissors-kick against Everton, Klinsmann, and Tottenham, face their toughest test today. Then, after a brief return to Europe to win his 66th cap for Germany in Moscow and collect some belongings, it is back to London to look for a house. The Court of St James might be appropriate: there is certainly no finer ambassador in the country.

(Photograph omitted)

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