Following in our footsteps

West Ham will welcome two illustrious Argentines to London tomorrow. Ricky Villa, who trod the same path 28 years ago, explains just what is in store
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The Independent Football

A lot of people in both England and Argentina are comparing the double transfer of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano to West Ham with that of mine and Ossie Ardiles to Tottenham back in 1978 and I agree there are a lot of similarities - two young Argentine players, arriving at a London club after playing in the World Cup, with tremendous publicity, surprise and shock among both the media and fans.

Was it really 28 years ago? Football has changed so much during that time but some things will always remain the same. Javi and Carlos will have to adapt to the grey skies, the different food and an alien culture, just like Ossie and I did all those years ago.

You won't quite find a steak as good as back home, Carlos, but if you approach everything with the right attitude, it will be a fantastic experience and you will never regret it.

If you ask me about how our transfer came about, all I can say is that, us Argentines, we always want to play in Europe, today, yesterday, always - the money is abroad. After the 1978 World Cup, we returned to our clubs in Argentina. I was at Racing and Ossie at Huracán but both clubs had financial problems. Tottenham came to search for players and the possibility of signing Osvaldo and myself was the most concrete for them. I don't think they knew me as well as Osvaldo because he had played more games in the World Cup and, in some ways, I think that is true of the two lads today. Tevez is famous throughout the footballing world but probably, before this week, a lot of English fans thought Mascherano was a fancy cup of coffee from Starbucks!

I remember that when we boarded the plane to England we did not really know what to expect but just closed our eyes and went. We did not know anything about England but our arrival was big news and at every match people looked at us as if we were something strange but nobody ever treated us badly. We were always given great respect.

Javi and Carlos may have heard of West Ham but the truth is they won't know too much about the club. Tevez did not grow up in the poor provinces of Buenos Aires dreaming of being Billy Bonds, that's for sure, but, if the crowd warm to him, then he will give his all and play with heart and passion, just as he did for Boca Juniors and, in Brazil, for Corinthians.

They are both excellent players but very distinct. Mascherano is a very tidy holding midfielder and the complete player in his position in my opinion, very ordered, with a good temperament. He never gives the ball away.

Tevez, on the other hand, is more of an individualist and has so much skill. I think he is going to cause quite a stir in English football with his style of playing.

It might take them a little while to adapt though because there are so many differences between English and South American football. Really, I don't think the English game has much in common with Argentina and Brazil. In England it is more lineal, but in Argentina we are not always thinking about the goal with every ball, we think about playing a little and then the goal.

Mascherano may have to change his way of playing, especially if it is true that Alan Pardew, the West Ham manager, likes a fast game and wants to get the ball forward quickly because, in many ways, Mascherano is the reverse of that. He will often slow the game down, going sideways and backwards just to keep possession.

You remember the goal of the 24 passes against Serbia & Montenegro at the World Cup? Javi was instrumental in that but many of the passes went backwards before going forwards.

I know West Ham normally play 4-4-2 and the Argentinians will not be used to that either. For both club and country, they are more accustomed to having a playmaker behind the strikers. It will be interesting to see how much the Argentine pair adapt to the style of West Ham and vice versa.

I think at Tottenham we met each other halfway. It makes me laugh because I had a reputation for being a bit slow in England but I was running twice as fast as I did in Argentina!

I think it is a big advantage that, like us in 1978, they are going there together, especially for Carlos, who I feel might find it a little more difficult to adapt to a different way of life. It is not going to be easy. He grew up in a close-knit environment, with a close group of friends and had problems acclimatising to life in Brazil, so you can imagine how different England will be for him, his girlfriend and young child.

I remember the biggest problem in the beginning was the language. I believe that in football, first and foremost, all teams must be well-integrated but the language was a barrier.

It makes me happy though that these two players are following in our footsteps. As I said before, they are both excellent players and I believe that, after a period of adaptation, they will really help their team. It could be a great move for both the players and West Ham.

Mind you, they are also very lucky that Top of the Pops has finished now so that if they reach an FA Cup Final they won't have to go in front of the nation and sing along to Chas 'n' Dave!

Seriously though, I have many good memories of my time in England. I always remember the way people treated us with respect. Everybody was friendly, not aggressive, and I hope things work out well for Tevez and Mascherano. I will not be happy if they score against Tottenham though.

The power of two: How Tottenham captured their own dynamic duo


Within days of starring for Argentina in their World Cup victory in 1978, Osvaldo Ardiles was offered to Tottenham Hotspur by Harry Haslam, the manager of Sheffield United and friend of Spurs manager Keith Burkinshaw. Haslam was going to Argentina to watch other players and he could not afford Ardiles but knew he was available.

Haslam and Burkinshaw flew into Buenos Aires and within hours the pair met up with Ardiles. When the midfielder sat down, Burkinshaw asked him if he would be interested in signing for Tottenham and Ardiles said 'yes' but he would have to return with his wife before signing a contract. Then Ardiles asked if Spurs were interested in signing Ricky Villa. Burkinshaw said 'yes' and the next day the Racing player was signing for Spurs.

The double offer came as a shock to Burkinshaw, who had only just guided Spurs back into the old First Division. The pair cost Tottenham £750,000 in total - £325,000 for Ardiles from Huracán, £425,000 for Villa.

Ardiles said that their reason for joining Spurs was that the club were the first to approach them. They had heard of rumours that many European clubs were interested in them after the World Cup triumph but Spurs got in there first when they returned to training in Argentina. Villa said he wanted to play in England because it was the home of football and that was a obvious attraction.


Spurs were preparing for the start of the season, returning to the old First Division after a year away with a rebuilt side that had only finished third in the Second Division. After the announcement of the signings, bookmakers slashed the odds of Spurs winning the title from 66-1 to 25-1. Peter Taylor, Tottenham's England winger, said: "The arrival of Ardiles and Villa is magical news. It's bound to affect attendances and create interest everywhere we go." However, the pair were not that influential initially and Spurs finished the 1978-79 season in 10th.


Osvaldo Ardiles

League appearances 237

League goals 16

Honours 1981, 1982 FA Cup

1984 Uefa Cup

Ardiles was sent home two days after the FA Cup semi-final win over Leicester City 2-0 in 1982 because of England's war with Argentina. He went to play for Paris St-Germain in France for the 1982-83 season and returned to Spurs for the start of the 1983-84 season.

Ricky Villa

League appearances 133

League goals 18

Honours 1981, 1982 FA Cup

Had less of an impact than his compatriot and cut a sad figure when substituted in the 1981 FA Cup final against Manchester City. Then came the replay...