Football: Sugar's methods creating a bitter legacy

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The Independent Online
ANYONE WHO turns to the sports pages of this or other prints and follows breaking news on television is probably convinced that Alan Sugar will go through with his reported intention to sell Tottenham Hotspur because of the abuse he is taking, understandably, from the club's disgruntled supporters.

This may turn out to be the case, but what you have to suspect about Sugar is that he enjoys the notoriety afforded by events at White Hart Lane, revelling in opportunities to play the hardball on which is commercial success is founded.

Sugar is said to have communicated as much to an acquaintance who questioned his sense of involvement with a game for which he had little or no interest, until persuaded to form an ill-fated alliance with Terry Venables.

What we are talking about here is ego, profile and an extension of power. One of the safest bets you can make is that Sugar feels no clash between the romantic legend of Tottenham's tradition and a policy so bereft of sentiment, so commercially based, that veteran followers of the club now feel alienated.

It can be imagined that nothing dies harder in Sugar's mind than the notion that he has a natural and superior understanding of how the affairs of a football club should be conducted.

This presumption, widespread in football, persuades owners to believe that the responsibility for results rests entirely with the manager they have appointed. It is beginning to look as though Tottenham's beleaguered Swiss coach, Christian Gross, will go the way of his predecessors, Gerry Francis and Osvaldo Ardiles, but in targeting Sugar last week supporters put things in proper perspective.

By remarking last year on the threat of overspending in football, especially the quite ridiculous spiral of salaries and transfer fees, Sugar issued a timely warning - but he has failed to balance it with an understanding that speculation is central to improvement.

When it became clear that a crisis was developing at White Hart Lane last season, I pointed out that Venables had left them with a team, including Teddy Sheringham, Nick Barmby and Neil Ruddock, that some former heroes thought to be potentially the best Tottenham had sent out in 20 years.

Since then millions have been wasted on players who have failed to restore Tottenham's fortunes. Who remembers Jason Dozzell, signed from Ipswich Town for almost pounds 2m but now training with Colchester United, apparently overweight and unable to find a club to play for?

To many people, the purchase of players must seem like a hazardous business and indeed it is, but how can one club have made so many mistakes so often?

More years ago than I can bother to add up, Bill Nicholson assembled one of the finest teams British football has ever seen. Inspired though some of the signings appeared, they were the result of diligent scouting, patience and thorough investigation. He waited almost two years before persuading Hearts to part with Dave Mackay, who would prove to be the greatest player in Tottenham's history.

Towards the end of last season a presentation was made to Nicholson, now 79, at one of Tottenham's home matches. Nicholson and his wife were given seats outside the directors' box.

No wonder that people speak of a club without soul and proper direction. All right, argue today's front-line thinkers, times have changed and was it not always the case that Tottenham's glamour was achieved despite the influence of mean-spirited directors?

Maybe so, but there is nothing about Tottenham today to suggest a club in touch with the people who guarantee its existence.

Last week a supporter mislaid three season tickets, causing him and two friends to miss the match against Sheffield Wednesday. He accepted this, but was riled when asked for pounds 150 to cover the cost of providing duplicates.

It would surely be a great day for long-suffering supporters if Sugar called it a day at Tottenham, but the signs suggest that they are stuck with him. If not Sugar, then his son Daniel, who is now prominently in the picture.

As for potential purchasers, all Sugar has to do is name a price that anybody in their right mind would be sure to refuse.