Am I a Christian believer? Christian Gross arrived at White Hart Lane in November of last year with a reputation as a successful boss in the unfashionable Swiss league and as a disciplinarian to rival the ‘great’ Fascist leaders of world wars past. Apart from bringing over some tasty chocolate, he probably had little else going for him in the eyes of many Spurs fans. He instantly intrigued me with his determined, focused demeanour and with the positive words and symbols that have become his trademark.
The results didn’t come for him straight away. An impressive 2-0 win at Everton was followed by two humiliating defeats at home to Chelsea and away to Coventry, conceding 10 goals. The scrappy form continued up to the 3-0 win at Blackburn in February after which Spurs lost just 3 times in 13 games.
Gross was brought in to save Spurs from relegation, something that didn’t look very likely at the start of the year but which we achieved with a game to spare.
The Klinsmann affair
It wasn’t long after Gross arrived that we saw the return of Jurgen Klinsmann. The German skipper had had a bad season plagued by injuries and arguments. Things weren’t to get any better for him as the pattern continued in the following 6 months. He debuted in the 1-1 home draw with Arsenal and got his first goal in the 1-0 win over West Ham, his fourth game. But after a jaw injury in the FA Cup defeat at Barnsley, Klinsmann missed several games and his form was noticeably poor after his return. In the end, important goals against Liverpool, Newcastle and a remarkable four goal salvo against Wimbledon, saved Spurs season and Jurgen could leave with his head held high in that respect.
Not that Christian Gross was disappointed to see the back of Klinsmann. When he arrived at the club, Klinsmann was reported to have had a couple of controversial clauses inserted into his contract. One said that he should get a say in team affairs and the other dictated that he could not be dropped. Why either of these clauses were included, or why Gross agreed to them (if he did agree), could only be put down to desperation and it soon came back to haunt Spurs.
After a vital 1-0 win over a desperate Bolton side, Klinsmann clashed with Gross in the tunnel and the story made tabloid back pages. Many stories were doing the rounds – Klinsmann disagreed with team selection, disagreed with the role that Gionla was playing, disagreed with the treatment of club captain Gary Mabbutt – but soon the pair put it behind them for the good of the club.
With good results few and far between, and the situation critical, it was rumoured that Gross would drop Klinsmann. The tension around White Hart Lane could be cut with a knife and the fans were suffering their worst football days for 20 years. In a crucial relegation battle with Barnsley, Spurs were 0-1 down at half-time and Klinsmann had missed a 6-yard sitter. Gross made a season-defining decision – he subbed Klinsmann after 45 minutes. How would this make a World Cup winner feel? Embarrassed? Angry? Humiliated? Probably all of those things but Jurgen and Tottenham, in hindsight, owe Gross a lot of credit for the decision.
Spurs went on to take a point from that game with a goal by Colin Calderwood (I think it was the only goal he didn’t punch in last season). Spurs went into their last 3 games and took 7 points with Klinsmann scoring 6 goals. He was revitalised, the team were revitalised. The German went to the World Cup and stood out in a poor German team with his form and morale high.
Gross was up against it through all this time – he was cast as the villain. The tabloids were only short of dressing him up in a suit covered with arrows but he didn’t care and in the end he made the right decisions.
With eight players away on World Cup duty, the pre-season build-up has been a big fragmented. Gross brought the other players together a week earlier than the other Premiership teams and they attended a training camp in the Swiss Alps. Running and cycling up and down mountains was apparently a wonderful experience for the players and the effects of it should become noticeable during the latter parts of the season.
While most Premiership clubs have been playing friendlies against Boreham Wood and Enfield, Tottenham have been playing Brondby, Grasshoppers, Birmingham and Celtic. They have yet to play Feyenoord, Norwich and QPR and this sort of competition is extremely beneficial and challenging for the players.
Preparing for the Premiership season is like preparing for an examination. If you are studying final year contract law, there is no point studying first year contract law as you will just be under-prepared. Mock examinations should always be harder or as hard as the exam is likely to be. It’s common sense. Gross should be credited for the professional way he has prepared the team for the season ahead.
But it may all be in vain if new faces don’t arrive soon. I’m realistic enough to know that the Zidanes, De Boers, Davids and Ronaldos of this world would rather end their careers than play for a mid-table team that are not in Europe. However, we do badly need some new faces and increase competition for places. No matter how much you prepare, there is no substitution for quality.
Even though Paolo Tramezzani is the only signing so far, I’m not entirely despondent. Last year, with time running out, Gerry Francis spent £8m on David Ginola and Les Ferdinand. In hindsight, the money spent on Ginola was a bargain but not until Gross got his hands on him. Ferdinand played his part in the final few games of the season but still owes Spurs fans a hell of a lot this year. He better keep his whining to himself too…
The failure of Gerry Francis to properly use Ginola shows what a desperate move it was on his part. He had no clue how to use the mercurial Frenchman. I don’t think Gross is likely to make that mistake. He will not be panicked or rushed into buying someone he has no use for. It’s this fussiness which could prove crucial to Spurs season. Inserting the wrong part into a machine may cause the whole thing to malfunction and only quality-approved parts should be used. You get the idea.
Christian Gross is not a rabbit caught in headlights, he is a capable manager who makes the right decisions based on what he thinks. This of course could breed problems in his relationship with ‘General’ manager, David Pleat. I’m not so sure if this is good news as from what I’ve read in the papers, Pleat has a good eye for talent. What? WHAT!???