Why Armstrong put Spurs before money

FOOTBALL: Described as Ferdinand Mk II but the pounds 4.5m striker tell s Glenn Moore he will make a name for himself given time
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Stan the Man scored, Big Les is the talk of the Toon, David Platt and Nick Barmby are off the mark and Dennis Bergkamp and Savo Milosevic, while yet to find the net, are both looking the part.

All those expensive summer signings have begun paying back their transfer fees - except Chris Armstrong. His Tottenham career has started with two games, no wins and no goals. The tabloids, with customary topicality, are already talking of a goal drought.

It has not been the most auspicious start for the pounds 4.5m signing whose arrival was greeted with the groan, "Arsenal sign Bergkamp - and we get Armstrong". That muted welcome has remained, staff at the club shop spend their time pressing the name "Anderton", not "Armstrong", on to copies of the new shirt.

Meanwhile, the plot has been eagerly stirred by the press. Having been given a gift opener, when Teddy Sheringham publicly wondered why Armstrong had been signed, they have avidly reported rumours of a feud between the striking partners.

There is not even any solace in looking back. Armstrong had a difficult season with Crystal Palace last year. He scored heavily in the cups but his Premiership campaign was marked more by transfer speculation than goals and it ended sourly with his manager, Alan Smith, hinting that he was not trying. The Palace support was less guarded, one fanzine's end of season review said of Armstrong - "he single-handedly relegated Palace".

And, of course, there was the well-publicised suspension after traces of cannabis were found by a random drugs test.

All this condemnation, it is enough to make a man paranoid - or do a midnight flit to Paris. But when you meet Armstrong he does not look a worried man, indeed, he is so relaxed it makes you wonder why he ever felt inclined to dabble in dope.

Over a sandwich in an Essex hotel near his home he said: "People try and put pressure on you but that is just the way it is when you have a big price tag on your head. I think there are a lot of people out there who would like to see me fail."

Armstrong's position has not been helped by the identity of Tottenham's previous centre-forward, Jurgen Klinsmann, who became the darling of both White Hart Lane and the media last season. "He is a bit unfortunate to be replacing Jurgen," said Gerry Francis, the Tottenham manager. "Whoever followed him would find it difficult."

"I am not looking to replace Klinsmann, I am just looking to be myself," Armstrong said. "I hope the fans see it that way. He was 30, had played in World Cups and in Italy, I am at the other end of my career. It was the same when I went to Palace. People asked how I felt about replacing Ian Wright but I never really thought about it. I just did my own thing."

Doing his own thing brought Palace 57 goals in 136 matches and a First Division championship. But it went sour last year as he scored just eight League goals and he admitted: "It was very disappointing to get relegated. It was a strange season, the defence was solid but we did not score goals. I know I was the main striker and it all came down to me in the end but we did not score as a team.

"I took a large proportion of the blame, and I accept my role was to score goals, but I do not think people took into account the amount of time I spent on the right wing. I used to go out there a lot and I set up a few goals. It is totally inaccurate to suggest I did not try - I have never, never, gone out on a pitch and given anything less than 100 per cent.

"I have not seen many Palace fans since, a few have said they were sorry to see me go but I think they realise when a club like Tottenham comes in for you . . . I did not put a transfer request in but I was happy to move when the chance came."

Armstrong chose Spurs ahead of Everton and Aston Villa because they are, he said, "the bigger club. It was purely a football decision. It was not money, Everton offered more but, when you are talking about so much money a bit extra does not make much difference. It was not just because they are in London either, I grew up 40 minutes from Everton in Wrexham and my missus [his girlfriend of seven years] would probably have preferred to have gone there.

"Talking to Gerry Francis made my mind up, he had studied my game a lot - he knew more about me than myself. He said I reminded him of Les Ferdinand and look what he has done for Les. He was in the reserves when Gerry arrived at Queen's Park Rangers, now he is one of the top players in the country. It was not a hard decision."

"He is very similar in style to Les," Francis said. "He is quick and predominantly right-sided, as Les was [Francis has been working on Armstrong's left foot in training]. He reminds me of Les in the way he takes his goals and the way he runs - the angles he takes up and the runs down the middle. And he is already an England B international with a record of a goal every two games.

"He has been unfortunate with Teddy talking about wanting to play in attack with Nicky Barmby - Ted did not know then that Nicky wanted to move north. He and Chris have since paired up, they train together, go around together, and yet you still have these rumours."

"People are trying to make out there was a rift between us," said Armstrong of his relationship with Sheringham, "but the first day I came into training he explained what had happened and there has been no problem at all."

Because of various injuries, Armstrong had played just 25 minutes with Sheringham before the season started and has yet to play with Darren Anderton at all. Without Anderton, or Barmby, Tottenham looked disjointed against Aston Villa in midweek and Armstrong and Sheringham were isolated and outnumbered in attack. Armstrong still managed a "goal" but it was disallowed for handball. He also set up a good chance for Ronnie Rosenthal, but by the end he was fighting three Villa defenders for a succession of high balls.

Francis is convinced that the partnership will prosper: "With Teddy's intelligence and ability to come off, and Chris's runs and pace they will go together well," he said. Armstrong agrees and notes, "however many practice games you play understanding only comes from competitive games. The injuries have been frustrating".

It is at such times that Armstrong is helped by his sense of perspective, instilled by a complicated childhood and a late arrival in the professional ranks. Born in Newcastle he moved to South London as a three-year- old. Five years later he went to Wrexham to live with his foster parents, Pam and Roy Armstrong. By the time he was 16 he had left school, given up football, and was working as a packer in a beefburger factory.

Then a friend got him involved with a village team, Llay Welfare, and he was seen by a Wrexham scout and offered non-contract terms.

"I could not believe it. I thought my chance had passed me by. At that stage all I wanted to do was get a game in the first team - when I did make my full debut it was at Hartlepool and we lost 3-0.

"I think that background means I appreciate it more. Apprentices expect to be a footballer but I did not take it for granted. I remember getting up at 5 o'clock in the morning to work for less than pounds 100 a week. It is a different life."

Armstrong played in the European Cup-Winners' Cup with Wrexham, scoring a winner in Denmark and playing against Manchester United.

Bruce Rioch, now manager at Arsenal, signed him for Millwall in August, 1991 for pounds 50,000 and, 13 months later, Palace paid pounds 1m for him. Now he is Tottenham's record signing.

It is quite a rise and there are those who wonder if he can manage this latest step. However, his welcome, while restrained, has been warm. He got the loudest cheer of the night on Wednesday when the teams were announced and a fanzine vox pop [the cover had his picture and the headline 'Dennis Who?'] suggested most supporters feel he will prove a good signing.

Gary Mabbutt, the club captain, agreed. "He has a brilliant attitude and that is important at his age. I know from playing against him what a handful he can be. He is much more powerful than he looks. We have to remember he is still young and learning. The great thing is he knows that and is keen to learn."

"My aim is to apply myself at Tottenham and become a success," Armstrong adds. "I am positive that will happen. I have plenty of time."

The common theme in all this is time. At 24, Armstrong does indeed have time on his side but, as the focal point of a club which appears about to endure a season of Arsenal headlines, he does not have that much.

Today he faces Liverpool, not the easiest club to face with a midfield shorn of imagination and fast losing confidence. The return of Anderton cannot come soon enough for Armstrong and Spurs.

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