With his imposing build, Dean Richards could pass for a boxer as easily as a Premiership footballer. He does not pull his punches, either. Whether it is the lack of support he feels is given to Glenn Hoddle by the Tottenham Hotspur board, the lack of fight shown by the team, or his lack of opportunity to play for England, the big defender is brutally honest.
Take the hot topic first. Hoddle and his future, or otherwise, at White Hart Lane. Richards feels that the man who brought him to north London, his most expensive signing at £8m, has been badly let down. "When Glenn came I think he was led to believe there was going to be [money] but I don't think there has been," Richards says. "If you look at myself and then Robbie Keane, the rest of the players have been brought in for next to nothing."
Then comes the sucker punch. "Obviously you would like to see the board back the manager and put their money where their mouth is. To be honest with you, when I came I thought I was going to be the first of many big-money signings. Since then only Robbie has been brought in for anywhere near the same price."
More fuel to the fire of whether or not Hoddle's reign is to be curtailed, especially as the board maintains it was the manager who mapped out the questionable strategy of signing older – and high-earning – players such as Teddy Sheringham and Gustavo Poyet.
Few quibble over the purchase of Richards, however. He followed Hoddle from Southampton – a transfer which went down badly on the south coast. The 28-year-old insists the lure was joining Spurs – a "bigger club" – rather than following Hoddle, with whom he has a good relationship. "I read the papers like everyone else," he says when reminded of complaints about the manager's aloof style. "But I can only speak for myself, and I have never had a problem communicating with him."
Richards was, of course, bought to replace Sol Campbell – not that he feels, despite representing England at Under-21 level, he will be able to follow him into the national squad. Not while Sven Goran Eriksson is manager.
"To be honest with you, I just think that Mr Eriksson does not rate me," he says in the flat vowels of his home town, Bradford, where he started his career. "And that is fair enough. Managers pick teams, and it is the same at club level. If a manager rates you then you'll play. I'm realistic enough to know that while he is in charge I won't be in the squad."
"Honest", "realistic" – words he uses a lot. As is "disappointing". It has been a hard season, a season of frustration which will ultimately, unless results take a dramatic turn, end in another out of European competition and, to borrow Richards' own phrase, "treading water".
"There is no hiding away from the fact," he says. "We have to look at ourselves as players. One week we play really well and the next week we don't. What is the reason for that? It is difficult, but looking at next season that is one thing we have to touch on, that lack of consistency."
At times, he says, Spurs' football is breathtaking. On other occasions, they are simply overpowered. "Sometimes we have been a soft touch away from home and been bullied out of games," he says. "I think we are a good football team. But we do not have the physical attributes of other teams. You can't always pass the ball, play football all the time. You have to win tackles, key headers and battles all over the pitch."
One such battle, which will have to be won today if Tottenham are to beat Manchester United, is Richards' confrontation with Ruud van Nistelrooy – player he rates as the "hottest" in the League.
It is impossible to contemplate the game without referring to last season's encounter. Three up at half-time, having given what Richards describes as "probably the best team performance I have been involved in", they capitulated 5-3. Unsurprisingly, he winces.
Mention of Manchester United is also a reminder of the gulf Spurs have to breach. "We are always looked at as a big club," Richards insists. "But obviously top players want to play in top competitions. Maybe if it came down to between us and Newcastle, they would go to Newcastle, because they are in the Champions' League."
Richards himself insists he is there for the long haul. He has four years left and does not regret leaving Southampton, even though it is they, and not Spurs, who are looking forward to an FA Cup final and European football. "When I came here I looked at the bigger picture," he says. That feeling persists, even if the image has become a bit blurred.
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