Graham plans a change of mind

Norman Fox feels the manager is adjusting the Spurs attitude
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If anyone is going to turn the screw on Arsenal after their elimination from the Champions' League and the loss for six matches of the suspended Patrick Vieira, it has to be the club's former manager and erstwhile greatest fan, George Graham, whose love of mind games comes second only to that of winning trophies.

If anyone is going to turn the screw on Arsenal after their elimination from the Champions' League and the loss for six matches of the suspended Patrick Vieira, it has to be the club's former manager and erstwhile greatest fan, George Graham, whose love of mind games comes second only to that of winning trophies.

His recent remark that had he stayed at Highbury and been given the sort of financial backing Manchester United have available he would have won more silverware than Sir Alex Ferguson ought to have been water off a duck's back for Sir Alex. Yet a few days later United were sunk 3-1 at White Hart Lane. Arsÿne Wenger has already heard Graham say, with considered provocation, that it is ludicrous for a team who have "failed" in the Champions' League to be allowed into this season's Uefa Cup in which, this Thursday, Spurs face Kaisers-lautern in the second round second leg with a slender 1-0 advantage gained by Steffen Iversen's dubiously awarded penalty last Thursday.

As Spurs have to meet Arsenal at White Hart Lane next Sunday, what else has Graham got in his repertoire of provocation? "What me?" Those raised eyebrows and the innocent grin fool no one.

While Graham was comparatively complimentary about his team's win over Kaiserslautern, it was obvious that he was again reaping just as much satisfaction from the fact that they had won another match with only a single recognised striker, Iversen, and without having played particularly well. He acknowledged Iversen's role by saying: "The Germans had five in midfield so it was always difficult for us to get players forward to support him, but he did well again."

Iversen claimed that he was just "happy to be getting the chance to keep my place". Graham would be far happier if Les Ferdinand was not so injury-prone and Chris Armstrong was not also missing matches, so that Iversen were less comfortable in his unchallenged situation.

For a club of Tottenham's standing to be reduced to adapting their tactics on the basis of being so short of strikers is absurd. Even so, it is a measure of their progress under Graham's leadership that, in spite of the problems, they can achieve a moderately satisfying result in Europe and a top-six place in the Premiership, whereas in the days of Christian Gross they would have begun all of their recent matches with a defeatist attitude.

Going to the Stadium of Light today offers another challenge to Graham's powers of influence. Sunderland, under the direction of Peter Reid, are a team for whom Graham has high regard "because they're not exceptionally talented but they work for each other". Reid himself was Graham's sort of player. The match promises to be tough and may not suit David Ginola. Sunderland are rugged. They have committed more fouls than any other Premiership side but they also have the player with the most shots on target in Kevin Phillips.

By remarking before the Kaiserslautern match that his favourite player of all time was Tottenham's Dave Mackay, Graham again played mind games, though this time with his own team, reminding them that, in his eyes, effort, bravery and the ability to do the simple things well come higher on his "must" list than breathtaking brilliance. Those of us of his generation would agree that Mackay was an inspiration, but our favourites were Jimmy Greaves, John White and Danny Blanchflower. It suited Graham's purpose to put Mackay ahead of them.

Significantly, he was not bursting with praise for Ginola's outstanding performance on Thursday. Throughout a game in which Spurs rarely played fluently as a unit, against an ordinary but hard-working side lacking Youri Djorkaeff's originality and happy to go home with a slender disadvantage, Ginola shone. Admittedly Graham's obvious reservations are based on memories of days like the previous Saturday when, in the rain against Manchester United, Ginola looked as if he could hardly wait for a hot bath and his favourite shampoo.

Sadly, in spite of his denials, Ginola is never likely to be rid of his reputation for taking advantage where none should exist. While Graham made the point that the penalty which won Spurs the match was given because Ginola had got a foot to the ball before the goalkeeper made a slight contact with him, the Germans said Ginola was eager to fall because he had little chance of retrieving the ball. Sadly, too, Graham's highest praise for that rarity, a popular Frenchman, came when he said: "He's an exciting player. He can win you matches and he certainly got us a penalty." To praise the winning of penalties is tantamount to condoning cheating and would not have been worthy of players in the days of his hero Mackay.

The relationship between Ginola and Graham is never likely to be warm, but is it with any player, past or present? Bearing in mind that Arsenal's players nicknamed him Gadaffi, his bullying is clearly a considered gamble with players' feelings. Perhaps it was simply tiredness, but it was noticeable that after Thursday's match when Graham stood by the tunnel as each player came off, only two acknowledged his pat on the shoulder and none managed more than the weakest of smiles. And they had won.

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