Spurs in need of a large shot of spirit

Norman Fox describes the dilemma facing George Graham
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The Independent Football

When George Graham accuses Tottenham of lacking the desire to win, watch out. None of his teams have ever been allowed to lack commitment. The Worthington Cup holders' 3-1 defeat at Fulham on Wednesday came after a Premiership setback at Newcastle last Sunday and means that Spurs must beat West Ham tomorrow and Newcastle in the FA Cup next weekend or else.

When George Graham accuses Tottenham of lacking the desire to win, watch out. None of his teams have ever been allowed to lack commitment. The Worthington Cup holders' 3-1 defeat at Fulham on Wednesday came after a Premiership setback at Newcastle last Sunday and means that Spurs must beat West Ham tomorrow and Newcastle in the FA Cup next weekend or else.

Or else what? Graham's powers of motivation, based, so his ex-players say, on fierce intimidation as much as inspiration, are renowned, but recent results have emphasised that for most of this season a squad familiarly depleted by injuries and not sufficiently strong anyway have done well to stay high in the league.

Spurs are far from losing hope of a place in the season's final top half-dozen but the tactically poor and individually uninspired performance against Fulham suggested that their imminent danger is of drifting back into that area of anonymity which was associated with the Gerry Francis era.

Yet no amount of intimidation on the training pitch and from the sidelines is going to overcome all of the club's deeper problems. By this point in the season Graham had probably hoped that the team would be in a strong enough situation to sell Sol Campbell for many millions and improve the squad with the proceeds. However, Campbell's unusually careless performance at Fulham hinted that his value could be diminishing. He could well be one of those who, when things begin to go wrong, does not respond well to the browbeating style of Graham and his censorious assistant Stewart Houston. He would not be the first.

Tottenham face a dilemma. They are not taking the popular line and scouring Europe for short-term answers. They will not (or cannot) pay inflated prices for British players who are not guaranteed to perform. On the other hand, they are some way off producing sufficient home-grown fresh talent to face the long-term future with confidence. There are no Joe Coles being protected from over-exposure.

These days "home-grown" does not necessarily mean born in Britain. Spurs are not alone in casting their net abroad for players under 17 who might join their academy. David Pleat, their director of football, said: "Ideally, we would like an English or British-based squad at youth level. Indeed, we would like that with the first team as well, but I believe that we have to make progress as we find it in the current era. Clubs in France and Holland are very cosmopolitan even at junior level."

Pleat also emphasised that the club's policy is not to buy players who simply "supplement the squad". They have to arrive with serious first-team potential. "Other ones we always try to bring through the ranks."

Graham, however, does not have time to wait for the produce of the academy to flourish. The old story of having to field "weakened" teams gets no better. Les Ferdinand always seems to be a hamstring or groin strain away from fulfilling his potential, while you could be forgiven for thinking that Darren Anderton only becomes fully match fit when England see a championship on the horizon... next year, perhaps. Some familiar White Hart Lane problems never seem to be resolved.

Meanwhile, Graham is regularly asked how close he is to buying the two strikers he needs to improve goalscoring potential. Invariably, he hedges. Sometimes he is "close" to a signing and at others he says the asking prices are too high. And all the time the story grows that Alan Sugar, the chairman, is penny-pinching. Reportedly, the tea lady was told to buy milk at the supermarket because deliveries were too expensive. Presumably, she now asks: "One lump or none, Mr Sugar?"

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