Jrgen's unlikely triumph

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The Independent Online
Shortly before last year's World Cup finals got under way I fell into conversation with a fellow traveller, a Londoner, whose earnest wish was that Germany would quickly be eliminated from the tournament.

The prejudice was specific. While bearing no grudge against the reigning champions generally, he could not stomach the thought of Jrgen Klinsmann's continuing prosperity. "No doubt about it," he said, "the man is an out and out cheat."

A widespread view of Klinsmann, especially in this country, was approximate to that of the footballer who put forward a contemporary in the game when called upon to nominate his favourite actor. Taking more tumbles than a novice skater, Klinsmann had acquired a vexatious reputation for persuading gullible referees that quite legitimate tackles were assaults upon the person. "Touch him and over he goes. Gets away with murder," opponents grumbled.

This and the fact that Tottenham Hotspur draw traditionally a great deal of support from the Jewish communities in North London helps to make Klinsmann's success in their colours all the more remarkable.

Apart from the great Dave Mackay, no player in Tottenham's history was seen to be more immediately heroic. Soon, fans were going around in the national shirt of Germany. The fashion raised concern in some quarters but, pragmatically, the important thing was that Klinsmann performed with considerable skill and enthusiasm.

The latter quality will have been equally important in Tottenham's dressing- room. Footballers, in the main, are inherently sceptical and suspicious. Reputations are devoutly ignored. What a new player has achieved matters less than his attitude. In that respect Klinsmann has proved to be a pearl of consistent effort. Far from resting on great personal success, he works for goals with more determination than any of the others, and there is something in the forthright earnestness of his play which is in itself pleasing. Understandably, coaches point him out to aspirants as an example.

You may be aware that the football writers of England have chosen Klinsmann as their Footballer of the Year. To my mind there was no more obvious candidate. However, I must admit to being surprised by the German technically. In the frenetic context of English football Klinsmann is refreshingly intelligent and original but has shown himself to be more skilful than was imagined.

In all sorts of conspicuous ways Klinsmann makes things happen. "With Jrgen in our team, no cause is ever lost," Franz Beckenbauer once said of him. It was during the 1990 World Cup finals when Beckenbauer managed West Germany and after Klinsmann had played heroically against the Netherlands, taking on their defence single-handed following Rudi Vller's dismissal.

One advantage Klinsmann possesses over a majority of contemporary attackers is the timing that enables him to exploit exceptional headwork. It is one of the reasons why he has grown used to long, loud and practically continuous applause. Neither does Klinsmann appear to go along with the view that critics are naturally perverse, and admiration is wrung from them only by the supreme artistry of a particularly great performance. He has the reputation of being polite and co-operative.

If Klinsmann decides to take up with Bayern Munich, nobody will be able to suggest that he has been influenced by a cold principle. No Tottenham supporter will be entitled to fix him with a bilious stare. With persistence and style he has done more than any other individual to counter the befuddling effects of a scandal that brought the threat of relegation before a ball had been kicked.

This is the basis of the affection in which Klinsmann is held. Ask what an outstanding footballer looks like and whose name springs to mind?