Football: Sugar sprinkles spice on a helping of Tottenham: Trevor Haylett listens to Alan Sugar give a three-course insight into his time at Spurs

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The Independent Online
EVEN at Wembley after an FA Cup triumph or an England international, Terry Venables had not known anything like it. More than 400 requests per hour yesterday to sign copies of his new autobiography adds up to an awful lot of finger fatigue. Maybe that was what Alan Sugar meant when he said Venables was the author of his own misfortune.

Unfortunately Sugar could not get along to Oxford Street to join the queue for Venables' autograph. It would have been a nice touch considering so much of the publication is devoted to him, but the Tottenham Hotspur chairman was otherwise engaged. At the same time as Venables was putting his writing on show, Sugar was talking to sports writers and providing over a three- course lunch almost enough material for a rival 463-pager.

The more the two warring parties try to distance themselves, the more their paths are inextricably woven, although surprisingly the subject of the England coach and his fall-out with Sugar did not entirely dominate yesterday's discourse over the steak and kidney. Jurgen Klinsmann got a mention, of course, as did Spurs' manager, Ossie Ardiles. Sugar applauded the Spurs fans and explained how this once-casual supporter had become smitten by the bug of professional football.

It must also be recorded that Sugar's investment in Spurs now stands at pounds 8.8m. After yesterday's 15p climb (a 6-3 win at Watford is worth a lot these days) to a share value of 149p his total of 8,096,000 shares is now worth pounds 12,063,040. We ought to mention it because as the chairman made perfectly clear he is not so sugary-sweet when he sees that contribution being disregarded.

'I challenge you,' he said to the Sports Writers' Association, 'to look back in your files and find any reference after June 21st, 1991, when Venables gives me any credit or acknowledges my existence. If there's one thing that annoys me it's when you've given your money and then it's 'thanks for your help, now sod off into the corner and leave the rest to me.' While I'm a great one for leaving the experts to do the job, I do like to ask a couple of questions now and again.'

Sugar said he had not read Tel's tome - 'I've got as far as the front cover and the price' - but it became clear as the words continued to flow that he was certainly aware of the 'juiciest' parts even if he had not seen them for himself. 'It is like reading Grimms' Fairy-Tales, you've got to work out what is taken in context and what isn't' There would be no let-up in the hostilities; Venables was still not welcome back at White Hart Lane and will not be 'until he apologises to me for all the rubbish he has written about me and until he stops suing us'.

But, asked Sugar, does the England coach need to come? 'In this technological age he can watch a game on satellite TV (not a plug for Amstrad was that?), in the comfort of his own armchair with a couple of bottles of champagne beside him, which is more than he would get from us.'

No, he did not envisage the pair of them going out dancing together in a post-litigationary future, even though he does admit that without Venables he would not have got involved. 'I am a gambler, I go for the jugular. I smelled a deal and the deal was that here was this great football club, and this great manager, who obviously knows all there is to know about football. I thought if I put the money in and he runs the whole thing then that has to be a great deal.'

Sugar gave the background to another 'great' deal, the Klinsmann signing and how Ardiles was unaware of what was going on until the final negotiations. Initially, the approach had come from the player's Swiss lawyer. Sugar laid out what Spurs could pay but thought no more of it. 'It seemed a pipe-dream for us to sign him. After a few weeks the lawyer came back and again later when I was on my yacht off the South of France. At that point he said Klinsmann wanted to talk to us, which was when I suddenly got cold feet. Realising I might be poking my nose in too far I phoned Ossie to tell him about it and to see if he wanted him. Ossie's reply was 'Oh, bloody hell' and after some Spanish translation I realised that was a 'yes'. At that point I decided to pay whatever it took to get Jurgen.'

That was a great deal; the partnership with Venables was one he got wrong. 'We've got a great club, a great heritage, great potential, but I got the wrong perception of the man himself. Would I still have done the deal in hindsight? I would have said: 'I will rescue the club but, Mr Venables, you stay as manager'.'

Never mind, Tel, others still love you. Back to Selfridges and the book launch. 'Terry is more popular than most signings we have had,' a spokesman for the shop said. 'He could go on signing all day. It is nice, because he is spending time with everyone. Not like that Jeffrey Archer. . .'

(Photograph omitted)

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