Football: Venables stakes his all for Spurs: Joe Lovejoy talks to Tottenham's chief executive, who sees a bright future for the club that was always dearest to his heart

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The Independent Online
HE WAS not about to closet himself away and bawl his eyes out, as some say he is wont to do, but neither was it the time to put your name down for tonight's karaoke at the West End club which is his other passion. Wednesday was a bad day at the office for Terry Venables - football coach, businessman and mine host. For once, Tel of all trades was mastering none.

The Tottenham team in which he has sunk his life savings, and then some, had gone out of the Coca-Cola Cup, losing 2-0 at Nottingham Forest, the paperwork was piling up, demanding urgent attention in time for Thursday's board meeting, and someone had neglected to tell him of an important function at Scribes West, his Kensington restaurant-cum-winebar.

Venables has always sought to stretch a bright, inquiring mind, going into the menswear business in his playing days, then writing the hit TV series Hazel as a fledgling manager. Diversification has been his creed, but he is in up to his neck this time, keeping his various interests on the go with the frantic facility of a one-armed juggler.

Buying control of Spurs in their darkest hour, 18 months ago, cost him a cool pounds 3m - money he did not have, and had to borrow at ruinous rates of interest. To do the deal, and rescue the club from the clutches of the late Robert Maxwell, he put up every penny he had, some pounds 600,000, and borrowed pounds 2m from Norfina, a small city finance company, and the rest from Igal Yawetz, who has since become a director of the company.

The interest alone amounts to more than the pounds 250,000 Venables draws each year as Tottenham's ubiquitous chief executive. The commitment was, he acknowledged, 'a huge risk'. How did he feel about it? He would be wearing the brown trousers for a while yet.

Having put himself in hock to save the club he has supported all his life, he was understandably peeved to find the fifth anniversary of his installation as manager marred by the publication, and serialisation, of the contentious book Behind Closed Doors, penned by his erstwhile employer, Irving Scholar.

The two men were at daggers drawn long before the manager bought out his boss, and Scholar picks so many holes in the coach he once lauded as Britain's best that you half expect Venables' post-prandial Chablis to come sprinkling out on the hotel floor.

He has a game, set and match answer to criticism from that quarter, of course. Scholar took Spurs to the brink of bankruptcy, with debts of pounds 18m, and favoured selling out to the now discredited friend he called 'Uncle Bob' Maxwell. Venables and his senior partner, Alan Sugar, have wiped out the debts - the overdraft is now inconsequential - and progress is again being made on the field, where a new team, sans Gascoigne, Lineker and Stewart, were unbeaten for eight matches before their elimination from the League Cup on Wednesday.

Venables, who had a long-standing ambition to run a club from top to bottom, is justifiably proud of his achievements, but the price is a continuing cause for concern.

'I've borrowed a lot of money,' he said. 'It has cost me over pounds 3m, and the interest I'm paying is colossal, but I had no option. It was either pay it or don't do it, and I got caught up in the emotion of it all, with everyone saying: 'You've got to save us.'

'I didn't intend to get in so deep. I was thinking of putting up pounds 500,000, maximum, to buy a smaller club, the size of Barnet, perhaps, but everyone got so carried away with the Tottenham thing that in the end I felt I was going to be a rotter if I didn't do it.

'Certain people said they would put up the money but then fell by the wayside, and I was left with the bill.'

He and his Sugar daddy that is. Alan of that ilk, who is not a football man, is rumoured to be disenchanted with what he is said to regard as an expensive encumbrance. Sugar has denied any loss of interest, but was Venables not worried that another backer might pull the plug on him?

'I don't see that at all. I've heard those rumours - the rift between us and all that stuff - but I would say he looks to be enjoying his involvement more than ever. He has been particularly busy lately with his Amstrad business, but we're on the phone to each other every day, and he's never intimated a lack of interest.'

To Sugar, his pounds 7.5m investment is small computers. Venables, on the other hand, has risked everything. Why? 'Because I'm a Tottenham man. I was always a Spurs supporter as a kid. I won the Cup with them as a player (1967), was lucky to come back as manager, and the bad times have drawn me closer and closer to the club.

'I have a really strong feeling - stronger than ever - for Tottenham Hotspur now. I wouldn't have got so involved with any other club.'

A passionate rebuttal, this, of Scholar's suggestion that Venables lacked total commitment. 'Tottenham,' he wrote, 'never seemed to get his full attention. I always had a feeling he had half an eye cocked for events elsewhere.'

Other accusations in the book are both petty and implausible. The chairman had been disappointed by his manager's reluctance to wear the club tie, and claims a third party found him 'sobbing his heart out' in the toilet after Spurs' FA Cup defeat at Bradford in 1988-89.

Venables, a superstitious man, says the tie was binned as a jinx. He had worn it on six occasions, and his team lost every time. The lavatorial lament was probably an old story, involving one of his predecessors. True or false? You pay your penny and take your choice.

The man himself points to the inconsistency of it all. 'I was supposed to be crying in the toilet, so it sounds like I'm taking things fairly seriously, and then he says I didn't care enough. It's all nonsense.'

Criticisms which warrant more serious consideration concern Venables' inability to make more of an impression in the League, where every season seems to be a transitional one for Spurs, his modest rate of success in the transfer market, and a perceived tendency to spread himself too thinly across his many interests. He had a short attention span and a 'grasshopper mind', Scholar says.

Cynics also suggest that the coaches he has employed, first Peter Shreeves and now Doug Livermore and Ray Clemence, have been used as buffers to distance him from responsibility for the team's performance. If results go well, it is Venables who gets the credit; when they went badly, Shreeves got the sack.

Such talk incenses him. 'I put all my money in, and my whole life, if you like, is on the line, so I'm going to do things my way. It is everyone's right to criticise, and I'm not bothered by it. It's like everything else in life - if people are with you, they'll give you the benefit of the doubt. If they're not with you, they'll look for the wonky side, and find fault any way they can. I can live with that. I'm grown up enough to take the criticism as well as the pats on the back. I treat both imposters the same.'

So why the two coaches, when coaching is his own forte? 'You have to be able to delegate. You can't have a hands-on attitude to everything. Take Alex Ferguson, for example. Alex has done a terrific job with his young players at Manchester United, but they wouldn't have saved him if the first team had lost a few more games and he'd got the sack.

'I'm not trying to tell him what to do - I did it his way for years - but his real job is strictly short-term: next Saturday, next Saturday, next Tuesday, next Saturday.

'If he's going to do absolutely everything, and all credit to him for trying, he's going to burn himself out. I think Alex has got to be careful, and delegate more.

'When we were struggling at the start of the season, there was a lot of sniping. 'Ha, ha, ha. Coaches? Who's he kidding?' And all that. Bollocks. I believe ours is the right structure. It works for the three of us.

'At Barcelona, I was the coach and Allan Harris my assistant coach. Here, Doug Livermore is the coach and Ray Clemence the assistant coach. It so happens that the chief executive, instead of having a business background, has come through football, so I can contribute, too. They want me to coach the teams we pick between us, so that's what I do.'

Selection, tactics and the buying and selling of players were decided by consensus. Yes, he had heard the old chestnut about a camel being a horse designed by committee, but he maintained that three bright minds were better than one.

After a disconcerting start to the season, Venables and his brains trust are confident that a revival is under way. 'We had a good win at Manchester City last Saturday, and that was without Van den Hauwe, Sedgley, Anderton, Gray, Durie and Allen - six of our best players.

'If we'd lost half the team last season, when the kids were younger, we'd have lost the game. Now it's starting to gel nicely. We are making the sort of progress I'd always hoped for.

'I'd seen it coming. When we got beaten 4-1 at Queen's Park Rangers I said I could see encouraging signs, and that I wouldn't swap our next 10 years for anyone else's. Everyone just took the piss, which was fair enough, but that really is the way I feel. I wouldn't be risking all my money unless I thought there was a bright future here.'

No regrets, then? 'None at all'. Well, perhaps just the one. He would love to have managed England, but he is 50 next month and accepts that his chance has gone. 'I think it's impossible now. When it came up last time, and I wasn't one of the three short-listed, that was that. I've got no aspirations along those lines any more.'

Disappointing, yes, but it is not something he will be shedding any tears over. In the toilet, or elsewhere.

(Photograph omitted)

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