Football: Tottenham say goodbye to Gross

Hoddle, Kinnear and Klinsmann in contention as Swiss coach pays the ultimate price.
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The Independent Online
CHRISTIAN GROSS, the Swiss misfit, parted company with Tottenham Hotspur yesterday, leaving the club where he found them 10 months ago - near the foot of the Premiership.

The club simply announced his departure without elaborating. In a statement, the club said: "The board of Tottenham Hotspur regretfully announce the departure of head coach Christian Gross with immediate effect. For the present, our director of football David Pleat will take temporary charge together with Chris Hughton and the existing coaching staff."

Spurs said Gross's departure would enable them to take "a sensible time in making the next very important appointment of our new head coach".

Candidates for that role will include the familiar names, Glenn Hoddle, Jurgen Klinsmann, the Wimbledon manager Joe Kinnear and Leicester's Martin O'Neill, the only non-Spur to be widely linked with the job other than Ruud Gullit, who has now taken over at Newcastle United.

Les Ferdinand, the Spurs striker who was one of Gross's fiercest critics, said the coach had been more relaxed lately.

He said: "Believe it or not, in the week leading up to the Everton game it was the calmest I have seen him since he came over. Maybe he knew the writing was on the wall and decided to enjoy it for the last couple of days. There was certainly a change in his mood and his attitude."

Ferdinand thought Gross's time at Tottenham might have been influenced by the coach living up to his media image as a hard taskmaster.

Tottenham's statement did not elaborate on the departure, but most Spurs fans will not be interested in the gory details. It will be enough for them to know that Gross has gone.

Having taken over from Gerry Francis in November 1997, Gross achieved the basic aim of saving Spurs from relegation last May, but the club and the fans were looking for much more than mere survival this season. Gross brought the players in for pre-season training before the end of the World Cup this summer to satisfy his obsession with fitness and hard work. It was his chance to show that his tough methods, not universally popular with the players, could bring Spurs a taste of the glories they once enjoyed. Defeats by Wimbledon and Sheffield Wednesday in the first two Premiership matches of the season did not augur well and the clamour for him to go grew quickly to such a pitch that the club chairman Alan Sugar, who appointed Gross, threatened to leave the club himself.

Ironically, Gross's brief Tottenham career ended as it had begun, with a victory over Everton at Goodison Park. It was too little, too late to save his job.

Gross's problems stemmed from his failure to win over the fans either by word or deed. The club's highly paid, high-priced internationals were not performing well and few outside the club could appreciate his approach or recognise the shape he was trying to impose on the team. Unknown to all but those who immerse themselves in the subtler aspects of the European game, Gross arrived at White Hart Lane brandishing an Underground ticket as a symbol of his empathy with the travelling fan. The gesture left most bemused and his difficulty in communicating clearly in English served to compound the problem.

He arrived with two Swiss championships behind him, having resurrected the fortunes of his country's biggest club, Grasshopper Zurich, taking them to the Champions' League, too. But Swiss football does not compare with the Premiership and his European experience was hardly needed. Something more fundamental was required first.

His departure was greeted with relief by supporters but Gross was not held solely responsible for the club's plight. Bernie Kingsley, the chairman of the Spurs Independent Supporters' Association, said after the news broke: "It is not just about the manager, it is about the direction the club is going. [Alan Sugar] has talked about selling up and we would still say there needs to be an overhaul of the club as a whole."

Kingsley echoed a common theme in suggesting that either Hoddle or Klinsmann would be popular choices to take over. Hoddle, of course, has a track record in club management with Swindon and Chelsea, before taking charge of England but Klinsmann, though an outspoken student of the game, would be moving into uncharted waters.

Whatever the German's merits and popularity around Tottenham, he could represent too much of a risk to a club who have just had their fingers burned by employing a coach with no first-hand experience of the Premiership.

The immediate concern is a Premiership match at home against Blackburn on Wednesday, which leaves little time for Pleat to change things, with players away on international duty, and perhaps stake a claim for the job he held in 1986-87.


November 1997: Gross is appointed manager following Gerry Francis' resignation. Travels to his first press conference on the tube. Loses first game in charge 1-0 at home to Crystal Palace.

December 1997: Gross responds to humiliating 6-1 loss at home to Chelsea by re-signing White Hart Lane idol Jurgen Klinsmann until the end of the season. The German's contract states that he can not be dropped.

Les Ferdinand aggravates a leg injury, and blames Gross for forcing him to train when he should have been resting. There's more bad news when his fitness coach and closest ally, Fritz Schmidt, is refused a work permit.

January 1998: Gross misses out on his transfer target Andy Hinchcliffe when the Everton and England left-back fails a medical.

February 1998: Spurs go out of the FA Cup, losing 3-1 at Barnsley.

March 1998: A public row erupts between Gross and Klinsmann. "I have totally different views about the way we should play and be led. There is a lot of tension between the team and Gross," says the German.

May 1998: Spurs assure Premiership survival with a 6-2 victory at Wimbledon on the penultimate day of the season, with Klinsmann scoring four.

June 1998: Gross pays pounds 1.35m for the little known Italian defender Paolo Tramezzani from Piacenza. He is the only summer arrival at White Hart Lane.

15 August 1998: Spurs crash 3-1 at Wimbledon in the season's opener.

22 August 1998: Fans protest against Gross and chairman Alan Sugar outside the main gates after a 3-0 home defeat by Sheffield Wednesday.

29 August 1998: Speculation mounts about his future during the week only for Spurs to grab a 1-0 win at Everton and seemingly ease the pressure.

5 September 1998: Gross and Spurs part company.