In my absence
I go away for a short time and all hell breaks loose! When I left Dublin Airport for Washington on the 13th of August, Tottenham were two days away from the start of a promising new season. New faces were not plentiful at White Hart Lane but all the injuries had cleared up and there was a confidence that Christian Gross would get things right on the pitch.
There was an acrimonious start as Ramon Vega and Ruel Fox surprisingly hung on to their first team places as Spurs went down 1-3 at Wimbledon. The defeat was a big blow for confidence but it’s not unusual for Spurs to go down on the first day of the season. However, the pressure piled up for Christian Gross and the fans were unimpressed. Things got doubly bad when Spurs crashed to a humiliating 0-3 reverse at home to Sheffield Wednesday – a team expected to battle against relegation this season.
The fans bayed for Alan Sugar and Gross to leave but the manager was adamant that he was going nowhere and he had the confidence in himself to succeed at Tottenham. When a £5.5m move for Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer collapsed, there was further disgruntlement and defeat at Everton the following Saturday would have been the death knell.
But the players rallied and a Les Ferdinand header gave Spurs a deserved win at Goodison Park. Gross now felt he could get a momentum going with Alan Nielsen looking a revitalised player in midfield.
Media fired Gross
But seven days later, Gross was gone. Alan Sugar claimed that the media pressure had forced him to fire the man he had hired only 10 months previously. It is reported that there were few players who wished to work with Gross. Many players privately contacted Sugar and told him that they did not want to be managed by the Swiss disciplinarian.
Before the England game on Saturday, when asked what he had learnt from Christian Gross, Sol Campbell replied ‘I’ll pass on that’. It is said that this was the final nail in the coffin. Campbell is Spurs’ most important asset and if it’s a choice between Christian and Sol, then Sugar had to choose wisely.
Have some sympathy
But many fans will feel sorry for Gross, me included. As I have discussed in a previous column, he worked very hard with the squad and has ultimately improved the fitness levels of everyone and reduced the injury proneness of the squad to average levels. He was brought in to do a specific job – avoid relegation – and he achieved that job with a game to spare last season. The start to the new season was disappointing but no more disappointing than that of Chelsea, Manchester United or Newcastle, none of which have won a game yet.
Gross always conducted himself in a professional manner. He always had an air of dignity and integrity and never looked flustered or like ‘a rabbit caught in headlights’ even though he had every right to. Compare this with the arrogant and unprofessional attitude of players like David Howells, Jurgen Klinsmann, Sol Campbell, Justin Edinburgh and John Scales who ran to the press to publicly air their grievances. All the while, Gross remained silent and refused to criticise his players in public.
Sadly the attitude problem is not just prevalent in the players but also in the higher echelons of the management pyramid. I have heard stories from fans about the complete lack of communication or customer service supplied by Tottenham’s management. The view from management’s point of view seems to be that the fans are idiots who just complain for no reason and don’t deserve the respect that any customer should rightly demand.
With this in mind, it is obvious that Gross never had a chance. In terms of person and attitude, he was the cultured rose in a bed of thorns. I feel that he will be back and will be successful in the future at another club.
So who will be next in the firing line? Despite their lack of managerial experience, the team of Jurgen Klinsmann and Gary Mabbutt would almost be as perfect a team as Morcambe and Wise or Laurel and Hardy. Hopefully without the comedy.
The well-travelled and cultured German would be complimented ideally by the respected and much loved former Spurs stalwart. One has attacking prowess, the other is a defensive lynchpin. Would they be worth a risk if they were attainable? They would be my favourites.
Also mentioned ìs current England manager, Glenn Hoddle. Hoddle has a questionable record as manager. His England achievments are mediocre and they often look like a confused and demotivated outfit. His man-management has been called into question also, recalling the Paul Gascoigne episode from the World Cup. At Chelsea, he improved the team’s standing overall but only really to a point around midtable. His signing of Ruud Gullit was clearly crucial but then you remember the £2.3m he paid for Paul Furlong.
George Graham is the most interesting name mentioned. The former Arsenal legend is currently with Leeds but rumours are abound that Alan Sugar will pay any price to lure the wily Scot back to North London. There is little doubt that he would be a success at Tottenham but he is unlikely to have the fans on his side when the bad times arrive.
Whoever it is will have little time to make an impression before Sugar wields the axe again.
Away from home
I had to follow all this from America, and boy is it difficult. There’s about 100 TV channels but finding any Association Football news is next to impossible. With little Internet access, it was several days after the opening game of the season that I happened across the first bit of news. A program on a minority-sports channel called HTS was covering Premiership Football and that is where I saw the unsatisfactory opener against Wimbledon. For the rest of my stay I got my occasional information via the Internet and my mate in Maryland who rang me to slag Tottenham off for the embarrasing result against Sheffield Wednesday. Eventually I bought some batteries and listened to the Everton game on the BBC World Service.
It was only then that I fully sympathised with those of you abroad who don’t have the steady flow of football news and exposure that we have and take for granted here in Europe . I don’t know how I could I possibly survive with that sort of support in North America. The fascination for baseball, american football and, to a lesser extent, basketball, was astonishing. But not even a column of any newspaper I had access to featured any Premiership news.
The only thing I can suggest to American fans is that you move.
As I sat in a restaurant in Virginia tucking into a nice plate of Nachos, it occured to me just how different sporting cultures are. There were several middle-aged men (complete with denim/lumberjack shirt/baseball cap/mullet haircuts) sitting there totally engrossed by the mind-numbingly boring baseball game on TV. I could not bear to watch the sport even on the most uninteresting day of my life. And if we dared to put a football match on the TV, the restaurant would have emptied like ants leaving an anthill.
So why is there such contempt in America for the world’s greatest sport? I don’t know. But I don’t like it.