Football: Klinsmann the crisis man

Ian Ridley believes Tottenham's returning hero may assume a bigger role; 'I am not a magic wand. They wanted me back because I have a character that I always try to give to my team'
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The Independent Online
Jurgen Klinsmann may have stayed in Germany over Christmas to baptise his eight-month-old son Jonathan but he would like to make it clear that any Messianic connotations are purely coincidental. Try telling that to White Hart Lane today when Tottenham Hotspur's prodigal son definitely starts the north London derby against Arsenal.

The charismatic German did yesterday at Spurs' Essex training ground after his first session with the new coach Christian Gross and a band of players still reeling from the 4-1 defeat by Aston Villa the previous night. "I am not a magic wand," said Klinsmann. "I am just a normal player who will try to give his best for the team. Do not expect miracles. I am not Santa Claus."

But fear not, said he, even if mighty dread has gripped Spurs supporters. Klinsmann is aware of the burden on him and knows he has been brought in to add some Teutonic toughness to a team with a fragile psyche.

"It's no problem for me coping with pressure because I am the captain of the German national team," he added. "I will play a World Cup next summer and I already have a lot of responsibility so taking over responsibility is not new for me. On the contrary, it is a pleasure.

"I have a certain experience and because of that I have to take more responsibility than a younger player. I am not worried about that. Because of my experience and what I have achieved I am confident I can do the job at White Hart Lane. If people see that I am doing my best, like I did three years ago, there will be no problem."

Never go back, they say, but in times of crisis people often revert to the tried and trusted - the familiar. The Spurs chairman, Alan Sugar, set aside the pride hurt when Klinsmann left for Bayern Munich three years ago, half-way through a two-year contract, knowing that his 29 goals, and galvanising presence both for the team and fans, took Tottenham back towards the elite in the English game.

Klinsmann, meanwhile, has endured an unhappy time in Genoa since joining Sampdoria last summer. During an absence caused by damaged ankle ligaments, he saw the coach who hired him, Cesar Luis Menotti, replaced by Valeri Boskov, with whom Klinsmann fell out when he was not selected recently to start the match against his former club Internazionale, of Milan, claiming that he had been told he would.

Tottenham offered the escape route Klinsmann needed if he was to remain settled and fit for next summer's World Cup. The lure of a reported pounds 40,000 a week also helped. In turn, Spurs, who have him on loan until the end of the season for a fee of pounds 175,000, needed him as soon as possible.

Indeed, Gross telephoned him on Christmas Eve wondering if he might bring forward his schedule and play against Arsenal rather than make his debut, as originally intended, against Fulham in the FA Cup third round tomorrow week.

Thus after Stuttgart on Wednesday and Genoa on Boxing Day to tie up some loose ends, Klinsmann found himself rising at 5.45am yesterday morning to board a private flight organised by Spurs into City airport, London. After arriving at 9am, he was whisked to the training ground in Chigwell. Gross, he said, made him work hard, "which is what I need".

Despite the Villa defeat the night before, the team was in good spirits, Klinsmann insisted. Clearly he is aware of the most significant problem with the team at present, though, having watched them on tape several times and heard the tales of two other four-goal defeats, as well as the 6-1 home loss to Chelsea, in recent weeks.

"I think there is a lot of quality in this team," he said, "but it just seems that here and there when they maybe go down a goal, they struggle mentally and lose confidence. I think if we can get this problem under control and the players are confident enough, it will be all right.

"They wanted me back because they know I have a certain character that I always try to give a hand to my team, whether it is the national team or my club. They remember that from three years ago and for sure that will be part of my job in the next couple of months. But I think once things are going in the right direction here, they won't need a hand any more because they are strong enough."

His accelerated presence, he acknowledges, is down to pressing need. "We find ourselves in a psychologically complicated situation, third from the bottom, and we need now urgently every single point. If we can beat Arsenal in a derby it would give us a big boost for all the upcoming games."

Today sees him up against a former coach in Arsene Wenger, with whom he was at Monaco for two seasons after being recruited from Inter. "Very serious and fair. A very intelligent person," says Klinsmann. Wenger, in turn, has spoken of Klinsmann's work-rate and strong self-belief.

The Arsenal coach has also cast doubt on whether Klinsmann can be the same player as before at the age of 33 - the number of the shirt he will wear - and might also validly wonder if Ian Wright is waning, something which Wenger may consider privately if not publicly.

While the signing may prove uplifting in the short-term for Spurs, it is questionable whether Klinsmann retains the industrious and intelligent potency of four seasons ago and whether the long-term effect on an ailing team, who look to be in need of defenders rather than strikers, is simply sticking plaster on a gaping wound. Or is Klinsmann, Ruud Gullit-like, being groomed for a more controlling role?

This season, Klinsmann has scored two goals in eight starts for Sampdoria. This after going 900 minutes without one for Germany, ended against Armenia in September. Yesterday, he was his usual angelic self but it is a bit of devil Spurs need now. After a Christmas baptism, it is a baptism of fire for Klinsmann today.

Pleat the overlord, page 16

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