Football: Which Herr is out of place at Spurs?
Norman Fox looks at the Gross-Klinsmann power struggle that has split a struggling club
Sunday 08 March 1998
Jurgen Klinsmann is believed to be more influential off the pitch than he has been on it. His comeback was never going to be much more than a cosmetic face-saver for a team too frail to support a striker of once commanding skill. Many fans thought the real motive was to guarantee that the German would be available to take over as coach next season. But now he says he will not be staying.
Klinsmann cites differences of opinion with the still comparatively new Swiss coach, Christian Gross, whose own success rate at Spurs so far is not much better than his player's. Anyone listening to Gross after matches can hear that he is not given to lightening the atmosphere whereas Klinsmann's quick wit and ability to speak the players' own language has obviously made him the one they would rather listen to, if only on the basis of his affection for the club which admittedly must come easily for someone bought at a cost of some pounds 40,000 a week.
Nevertheless, over the last few weeks the rest of the team have begun to turn against Klinsmann; there have even been suggestions that he is here to exploit the rewards and does little to form an understanding with Les Ferdinand. Obviously, though, the serious injury he suffered last month has to be taken into account when judging his value to the side, which so far amounts to one League goal.
In the background there is David Pleat, the director of football without much input into the direction the club is going. Pleat, though, is the key figure in the whole problem. Whereas Alan Sugar can only preside over the mess and, perhaps, throw in more money as a last desperate attempt to get the necessary points, Pleat has the knowledge and the contacts to do more practical things - if asked.
The chances are that the club will allow Gross to stay, at least until Spurs are either safe or sunk. It would be pointless making another change at this late stage and, in any case, recently the side have shown greater determination. However, at Leeds on Wednesday the old doubts re-emerged as they again struggled to raise meaningful attacks and finally relied almost entirely on David Ginola's shooting from distance, which was poor.
But when the time comes for change, Sugar may well find that if Pleat himself is not put in the frame, he will recommend others, probably including his friend Raddy Antic, now manager of Atletico Madrid. Whether Spurs supporters would be prepared to accept another foreign manager is another matter.
With only nine Premiership games remaining and the team fourth from the bottom, Gross must get the best out of a squad permanently weakened by injuries. That means making Ginola (the subject of Klinsmann's row with Gross) the catalyst. He is the only outstandingly skilful member of a side who seriously lack midfield creativity and resilience. Only by giving him the freedom to take a latter-day Glenn Hoddle role will Gross appease the traditional Spurs supporters, who always want to see the side play their way out of trouble, and perhaps eke out the last dregs of what attacking strength may remain with Klinsmann.
The German himself has confided that he began to make his opinions known, even though they conflicted with those of Gross, because Sugar suggested that with the side in difficulties there was a need to use his experience tactically. The exact role Ginola should play was the crux of the conflict between the two.
Klinsmann now says that for the rest of the season he will concentrate on his game, which may come as a relief to his coach, but the chances are that the only thing that will save Gross personally will be a run of victories. To judge by everything that has happened since the departure of Gerry Francis, that scenario is highly unlikely.
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