Football: The wrong man for the job

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The Independent Online
AS GLENN HODDLE reminded us last week, modern football is a results business. It was equally unfortunate that Christian Gross, in his first interview after agreeing to join Tottenham from the Swiss champions Grasshopper, should offer the same hostage to fortune by suggesting: "The only way I can prove who I am is with results."

His new employers might have warned him at that stage that Tottenham followers, raised, according to their generation, on the glory game of Blanchflower and White, Hoddle himself and Ardiles, Gascoigne and Waddle, tended to demand something more. But chairman Alan Sugar's grasp of the club's traditions has often appeared to be on the hazy side of vague.

Having fallen out with Terry Venables, the last Spurs manager to win anything, then tired of Ossie Ardiles' idealism and Gerry Francis' reign - neither tasty fish nor functional fowl - Sugar became convinced that the best way of keeping up with the neighbours at the other end of Seven Sisters Road was by copying them. A foreign manager - Ardiles, more one of the family, hardly counted - was perceived to be the panacea and feelers were put out.

Quite who did the feeling and how far and wide they probed has never been admitted though the name of Jurgen Klinsmann's agent, Andy Gross, is a recurrent one. However deep, or otherwise, the football knowledge on the board of Tottenham Hotspur plc, the revelation that Gross's namesake Christian was the chosen one must in any case have caused an eyebrow or two to be raised.

It is easy to see why the views and attitude that Gross projected at interview appealed to Sugar. The two words that summed up his beliefs were those that he uttered most frequently throughout his initial news conference less than ten months ago, flanked by pictures of former White Hart Lane heroes in the Bill Nicholson Suite. "Teamwork! Discipline!" he barked at regular intervals that day, in rather alarming manner and in an accent unfortunately reminiscent of actors hamming it up in bad war films.

Whatever the accent, this was music to the ears of the chairman, who it is easy to imagine squirming every time he signs a cheque to or for an overpaid and overpriced superstar. It was Sugar, after all, who confessed publicly that he was having to pay far too much to secure Les Ferdinand from Newcastle United.

The media, whom he now blames, perversely, for the Gross demise, played up exactly the image that the club wanted to put across. "I will sort out Spurs softies" was a typical tabloid headline, while "Gross ready to crack the whip at Tottenham" must have had Sugar's firm approval. "Christian's credentials shone through," he told the same conference. "There is a great need for discipline. From that you will get your spirit, that's what we need."

The new man, having studied videos of every Tottenham match thus far that season, had concluded that the players were not fit enough, and expressed surprise that they suffered so many injuries, singling out Ramon Vega, with whom he had previously worked, and Darren Anderton. Sitting alongside him was Fritz Schmid, the intended new fitness trainer, whose failure to obtain a work permit proved to be the first of many plans to go awry.

If watching a 1-0 home defeat by Crystal Palace, who were to finish the season bottom of the table, showed Gross how much there was to do, a 2- 0 win at Everton in his first match in charge offered immediate hope that the players would at least be trying for him.

Folding up in a 6-1 home defeat by Chelsea a week later had supporters wondering whether that was the case at all, and by the end of the campaign all that had been achieved was to avoid relegation along with Palace. Sixteenth the day Gross arrived, Tottenham ended up two places higher, almost entirely thanks to Klinsmann's goals as the situation grew serious towards the finish.

The German scored 50 per cent more goals than anyone else, despite having rejoined the club only in December. But by March he had announced his intention of leaving once the season was over after a row with Gross over tactics, which raised the important question of whether he was entitled to any input in such matters.

It was a split that cost Gross more goodwill from supporters who, with their increased access to the media and the effect that can have on share prices, now exert greater influence than ever before. Most seemed prepared to see what Gross, now assisted by David Pleat as technical director, could come up with in terms of summer transfers and what sort of a team that might mean this season. The side booed off after the first two games, with one new but little-known Italian full-back, was not quite what they had in mind. The great foreign adventure, they believed, had brought them a Jo Venglos, not an Arsene Wenger.

Keeping up with the Monsieur Joneses by simply stealing their ideas had not worked. Why would it and why should it have done?