Football: New arrival will target Tottenham's turmoil

New manager's signing means a club that was a byword for crisis may now find stability. By Adam Szreter
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The Independent Online
"THERE USED to be a football club over there," Keith Burkinshaw famously remarked as he turned to leave White Hart Lane for the last time after resigning as manager in 1984. Despite winning the Uefa Cup in his final game in charge, the man who brought Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa to Spurs was one of the first casualties of the new regime, led by Irving Scholar. But he was by no means the last.

Scholar, a die-hard Tottenham supporter, took control in December 1982, but as a resident of Monaco he did not join the board until July 1984. In the meantime, having nominated Peter Leaver - now chief executive of the Premier League - as chairman, Tottenham became the first club to be quoted on the stock exchange. It was several years before others began to follow their lead, years which brought much pain and little solace to the Spurs faithful.

As Tottenham came to terms with life as a limited company, the club began to diversify its interests off the field to disastrous effect, while the team fared little better on it. Peter Shreeves and David Pleat came and went before Terry Venables was installed as manager at the end of 1987 and three more fruitless seasons followed before the FA Cup triumph of 1991. But that turned out to be merely the prelude to the stormiest chapter of Spurs' recent past.

By the end of the Cup-winning season things had gone so awry financially that Scholar was reluctantly listening to offers. Venables tried to step in, but it was only by persuading a business associate, Alan Sugar, to invest pounds 11m that the club was saved from liquidation, and so the "dream- ticket" of Venables and Sugar came into operation.

The only problem was that the demarcation lines had not been clearly defined: Venables, now chief executive with Peter Shreeves back as head coach, wanted total control of the club, but Sugar soon began to have other ideas about how the company should be run. Another change of coaching staff the following season saw Ray Clemence and Doug Livermore put in charge of team affairs but, on 14 May 1993, the dream turned into a nightmare when Sugar sacked Venables, who promptly took his case to court.

Once it became clear that Sugar was on solid ground, he brought Ardiles back to the club as manager. Briefly everyone was happy: the team was playing attractive football and the club's finances were beginning to turn around.

Soon though, the Spurs defence sprung a leak and Ardiles, for all his flair, was unable to stem the flow. In November 1994 the Argentinian made way for Gerry Francis. During his three years in charge, Tottenham endured such an appalling run of injuries that by the time Francis was able to field anything like a full-strength team, he himself had begun to resemble a war veteran suffering from shell-shock.

Last November Francis resigned - against the club's wishes - and ignoring the advice of many, Sugar appointed the little-known Swiss manager Christian Gross. It turned out to be one of Sugar's less inspired decisions: although amiable, Gross always seemed out of his depth at one of the highest-profile clubs in the country. Sugar, perhaps sensing the error of his ways, drafted in Pleat to lend a hand as director of football.

Gross's struggle to master English would have been irrelevant had his team not performed in the same staccato manner and in the end, his inability to communicate effectively with the players proved his undoing, long before he had been given the chance to show what he could do.

Pleat's position, as well as that of the first-team coach, Chris Hughton, will depend on whether they see eye-to-eye with George Graham, but as far as the club itself is concerned, despite all the turmoil, the foundations for success are still there and, in some respects, stronger than ever.

Thanks to Sugar they are one of the few clubs run at a profit and with international players like Campbell, Anderton, Ferdinand, Walker, Neilsen and Iversen, and a budget of around pounds 20m, there is plenty for Graham to work on, even if the talents of Ginola might not be Graham's tasse de the, as they say south of Boulogne.

Whether Graham's uncompromising style turns out to be Tottenham's cup of tea is another matter, but as one fan said yesterday: "I don't care if we win 1-0 all the time and draw 0-0 in the games we can't win - if we're up there challenging for honours by the end of the season, I'll be ecstatic." So it's all together now: "One-nil, to the Tottenham..."

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