Football: Stand-in Pleat has faith of fans

Tottenham's director of football will enjoy wearing the tracksuit again as long as it lasts.
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DAVID PLEAT, the football man with a schoolmasterly tone, finds himself in the position of a supply teacher suddenly asked to stand in as head. It is not exactly what he anticipated when he returned to Tottenham more than a decade after his departure over what would now probably be termed "inappropriate behaviour". And he concedes, in a voice still hoarse from exhorting his players to even greater efforts during the midweek 2-1 defeat of Blackburn Rovers, "it is an unusual situation to be in".

Pleat resigned in October 1987, though with the recent revelations at the White House placing in perspective any indiscretions he may have committed driving home from White Hart Lane, it is unlikely that he would be forced into such humiliation in today's more liberal climate.

One can only speculate what he would have accomplished with a team that were FA Cup finalists and third in the then First Division under him in 1986-87, but his affection for the club that he joined from Luton Town has never been in question - nor the supporters' faith in him.

With a hugely knowledgeable and well-respected Pleat as deputy, following the departure of Christian Gross after just 10 months of an 18-month contract, there is no immediate requirement for the beleaguered chairman Alan Sugar to adopt a quick fix-it approach. Indeed, as the computer tycoon contemplates appointing the sixth manager in his seven-year tenure of the club, it is clear that this time he must employ a man who will instil some stability, allied, of course, to the success denied an institution of Spurs' stature for too long.

Tottenham have been inundated with faxes from managers and their agents, from Europe and beyond, even before Gross took the return trip down the tube line to Heathrow, although it has been mooted that he look no further than the man already on the premises. But Pleat was non-committal over such conjecture. "I've got a clear mandate to look after the team until a successor is found, and we are clearly seeking a manager," he said. "Who knows what's going to happen? I am OK here. I've got a lot of work to do in my current role as director of football. But for the moment I can relax. My job does not depend on winning or losing tomorrow."

Nevertheless his appearance in the dug-out on Wednesday only served to increase the craving he has always had for the tracksuited side of football management and which has been denied Pleat since Sheffield Wednesday discarded him. "That hurt. Of course it did. I don't like to be told that I'm not good enough and that's what they said to me. That we don't want you any more, yet the previous season we came within a point of Europe. Things can change so quickly in this game. Lose the wrong match - and you can be on your way and that's how it happens, after we have been whacked by a good Manchester United team away."

However he cannot disguise his desire to return to coaching at some level. "If you want to do it, have the opportunity to do it, then you have to consider it. I have never changed my philosophy on that," said Pleat, who on Friday told George Graham of Leeds that Darren Anderton is not for sale.

Today sees the return of Paul Gascoigne to White Hart Lane, when Spurs face Middlesbrough. Pleat still has a high regard for the Geordie prankster and playmaker, and his men will be duly warned to ignore suggestions that he lacks fitness at their peril. "After so many trials and tribulations going back over many years he is still pretty effective as we saw the other night against Leicester," said Pleat. "I am sure he will get a good reception from the fans here."

Gascoigne's departure by and large coincided with Spurs decline, but the Tottenham stand-in manager insisted: "I don't believe we are too far behind the big clubs now. We may appear to be further behind than we actually are. We have the players at our disposal to win games and ease ourselves out of a difficult position."