Football: Sugar blames Crystal over Venables dismissal: Tottenham chairman says decision to get rid of club's chief executive was nothing to do with football, but concerned influence of associates

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The Independent Online
ALAN SUGAR, the chairman of Tottenham Hotspur, spoke in public for the first time yesterday about the reasons why he sacked Terry Venables as the club's chief executive.

Sugar insisted that the decision had nothing to do with Venables' footballing abilities, but suggested that the influence of a number of Venables associates, and in particular Jonathan Crystal, a Tottenham director, played a crucial part in the decision.

Sugar fired Venables on Friday morning, only to have the decison reversed, temporarily at least, by a High Court judge later that evening. The issues is due to return to the courts a week tomorrow. Two years ago Sugar and Venables were partners when they bought a controlling interst in Tottenham, and in doing so fended off a bid from Robert Maxwell.

Over the weekend it was reported that Sugar was particularly unhappy with two Venables associates within the club, Crystal, a barrister, and Eddie Ashby, a long-term friend of Venables and consultant at the club, who is an undischarged bankrupt with a string of company failures behind him.

Speaking on LBC's Newstalk programme yesterday, Sugar said the sacking had nothing to do with footballing matters. 'Absolutely not. Nobody is questioning his ability as a football coach. And it was a very sad day on Friday, and everybody involved regrets deeply that it has come to this,' Sugar said.

Pressed as why, then, Venables was dismissed, Sugar was reluctant to go into details, because of the court case, but then said: 'All I can say is that if he had different people around him, and not particularly restricted to this Mr Ashby, but to other people, we would not be having this argument today. '

The Tottenham saga is likely to develop significantly today with Sugar thought to be ready to return the matter to the courts and have Venables' injunction overturned. If successful such a move would dismiss Venables for a second time. Ashby may also lose his job with the club, after a board meeting due to be held today.

Perhaps sensing that in the battle for Tottenham public image had become as important as financial clout, the normally low-profile Sugar went into considerable detail on the Newstalk programme about his recent dealings with Venables.

He said the decision to sack his chief executive came after 'a lot of thought' and 'numerous meetings' over the last few months. On 6 May he had made an offer to buy Venables 22 per cent stake in Tottenham at the price Venables paid for them (around 125p a share) which was considerably above the market rate (which was 89p on Friday). He also offered a settlement of Venables' various contracts with the compnay. Venables, who had to borrow heavily and at high rates of interest to finance the purchase, has described the offer as 'derisory'.

Sugar said he thought the offer was 'fair, even generous', and added that Venables' remarks showed 'with the greatest respect to him, lack of understanding of financial matters. Every businessman in the world would like to be able to recover interest on loans they took to go into business ventures but regretfully, in the cruel, harsh world, that is a dream.' Sugar made it clear there could be no reconciliation with Venables.

Sugar also addressed the question of how the club's fans would view recent events. 'Obviously fans want the team to be strong, they want good management of the football side. We have got good management there at the moment, which worked under Terry Venables - Doug Livermore and Ray Clemence.

'We will apply the funds in an appropriate manner that one should apply cash in a football club. And the playing will tell the story. Fans are very fickle. There is a distinct possibility that three or four games into the season, if we win and the manager becomes a hero, the cruel harsh reality is that maybe, maybe Terry is forgotten.'

(Photograph omitted)

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