Graham's dynasty dilemma

Norman Fox says Tottenham's manager may look longingly at Leeds
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The Independent Football

By early evening today George Graham may well be wondering whether his decision to leave Leeds to manage Tottenham Hotspur, a club he thought had greater potential, was a serious misreading of the situation. Following Tottenham's AGM on Friday, when what he called "professional whingers" tried to persuade shareholders to pass a vote of no confidence in the chairman, Alan Sugar, the comparison between the health of the club Graham left and the one he joined is likely to become even more painful.

By early evening today George Graham may well be wondering whether his decision to leave Leeds to manage Tottenham Hotspur, a club he thought had greater potential, was a serious misreading of the situation. Following Tottenham's AGM on Friday, when what he called "professional whingers" tried to persuade shareholders to pass a vote of no confidence in the chairman, Alan Sugar, the comparison between the health of the club Graham left and the one he joined is likely to become even more painful.

Leeds got through their Uefa Cup third-round tie against Spartak Moscow after also eliminating another of the original Champions' League qualifiers, Partizan Belgrade, they are Premiership leaders and they should have little difficulty in overcoming Port Vale in today's FA Cup third round. By contrast, Spurs can only make the comparatively modest claim to be better placed than they were when Graham took over. Elimination from the FA Cup by a reviving Newcastle today would find the manager asking Sugar exactly where they both stand over the club's future. Put simply: can Sugar keep Spurs in the big league financially? He admitted at the AGM that he could not and blamed greedy agents.

Ironically, last week Newcastle more or less promised their manager, Bobby Robson, several millions of pounds for transfer purposes after the cable company NTL Premium TV was allowed to lift their stake in the club to 9.8 per cent. Part of the interest-free loan of £25m will go towards new players. Should Newcastle beat Tottenham after their 2-1 win in a mean-spirited Premiership match a fortnight ago, they will leave Spurs with no more trophy-winning options and no more big pay days. If Sugar needs another case for not releasing more funds for players that will surely be it.

Newcastle are themselves out of the Uefa Cup following their goalless draw with Roma, but the manner of their performance emphasised the progress they have made since the arrival of Robson. It was not immodest of him to say that had the tie been played three months previously the morale would have been such that the team would have lost far more heavily than by a penalty conceded away from home. They could also consider themselves unlucky not to score on their own ground against the Serie A leaders who are one of Europe's most resilient sides.

That Leeds could themselves become one of the most exciting sides in Europe is not something that George Graham's successor, David O'Leary, contemplates, at least in public. However, after 14 months he has developed his young team into one now capable of overcoming a side with Champions' League experience, albeit one that came to Leeds with a defeatist attitude after the decision not to play the home leg on their frozen pitch to which, not unreasonably, Leeds objected.

With rumours of discontent among the foreign players at Arsenal, O'Leary, a former loyal defender at the club, is already having his name suggested as a future successor to Arsÿne Wenger. O'Leary himself says that unlike Graham and Sugar at White Hart Lane, he is confident that his chairman, Peter Ridsdale, will do more than simply promise adequate funds for transfer fees and wages whatever they cost, which is quite a commitment at a time when Roy Keane's £50,000 a week from Manchester United seems to have set a dangerous precedent for the game as a whole.

The talk at Elland Road is of founding a dynasty to match that at Old Trafford, which is more or less what Graham said when he was there. He also said that the team were not ready to challenge for major honours. He was right. O'Leary's playing down of his side's potential is far less convincing.

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