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Gone and Soon Forgotten

Friday’s shocking and unexpected events at White Hart Lane have put a completely new spin on the future of Tottenham Hotspur FC. The club’s Vice-Chairman, David Buchler, sacked manager George Graham after the two clashed in Buchler’s office last week. The argument was over George’s decision to tell the press that the club had ‘a limited budget’ for next season. The problem’s with this were two-fold. Firstly, it broke a clause in George’s contract where he was not permitted to discuss items with the press that could be seen as damaging to the clubs interests. Secondly, it came at the exact moment that Sol Campbell and his agent were discussing a potential new deal with Buchler.

But the events have been discussed in the press ad nauseam so I’m not going to go over them again. In this column, I’m going to discuss the rest of this season, for which David Pleat will remain in charge, and then look at the potential candidates for the position of manager.

Game of the Decade

It’s not far away now, Arsenal v Spurs FA Cup semi-final Meetings Part III. Part I was a resounding 3-1 Spurs win against the odds in 1991, while Arsenal edged the 1993 repeat, 1-0. Now in 2001, intrigue could not be higher. With Liverpool facing a fairly forgone conclusion against tiny Wycombe in the other semi (as fascinating as that is in it’s own way), all eyes will be on Old Trafford on April 8th.

Center-Back Hell

Arsenal come into the game with critics on their back. Despite making the quarter-final of the Champions League and looking untouchable in second place in the league, their dishevelled and uninspiring recent performances have indicated that all is not well at Club Arsenal. The phenomenal piss-take of playing Luzhny and Grimandi at Center-back has not been exactly successful (remember their last visit to Old Trafford?) but with Keown and Adams out of action, they are rather stuck.

Kanu, Wiltord, Bergkamp and Henry have struggled for league goals, although Wiltord has been successful in the cup. Meanwhile their less flamboyant midfield of Parlour, Lauren, Vieira and Pires has not set the Premiership alight this season. Without Petit and Overmars, there is a severe lack of creativity and flair in there.

Good form

Spurs meanwhile have been in fairly good form in 2001. Only two defeats in thirteen games is a good indication of the solidity that our former manager had started to install at the Lane. The back five of a fit Steve Carr, Doherty, Perry, Campbell and Young is looking strong, while Rebrov is starting to profit up front from a fit again Steffen Iversen and Les Ferdinand. The midfield is also looking more productive with the more exuberant presence of Ledley King and Stephen Clemence in there.

Pleat’s Goal

David Pleat once again steps into the limelight in that awkward zone between managers. He did so with reasonable success pre-Graham and now post-Graham, he has the unenviable task of guiding Spurs to the FA Cup Final.

Premiership safety is virtually assured with Spurs reasonably clear of any potential pitfalls, so the pressure is off and the players should be able to play liberally during their tough run in, which includes games against Liverpool, Sunderland, Arsenal, Man Utd, Chelsea and Leicester City.

Aside from gaining results and FA Cup glory (and of course qualification for Europe), Pleat will be expected to keep the youngsters involved and well prepared for next season, a big one for Spurs with a new manager and new owners. Pleat will be fully expected to do this as he has been a big advocate of the youngsters who have been signed in the last 18 months, and those who have come through the ranks. Gary Doherty and Ledley King are seen as instant choices, while Stephen Clemence, Luke Young, Simon Davies, Anthony Gardner and Matty Etherington should be able to stay in or around the first XI as well.

If Spurs go into next year with a back-three consisting of Doherty and Young, a midfield containing King and Davies, with Clemence, Etherington and Gardner knocking forcefully on the door, then the future will be a lot brighter for it. This future for now is in the hands of our caretaker manager.

Who da man??

Indeed, who is the man? With the slate clean, the Spurs job will be a much sought after one. I’m going to have a look at the top contenders for the position and evaluate what they can offer Tottenham.

Glenn Hoddle (Southampton Manager)

The former Swindon, Chelsea and Engalnd manager is the name on everyone’s lips. The current Southampton manager has performed extremely well on the south coast (purchase of Uwe Rosler aside) and catapulted the perennial strugglers to eighth in the league and In with a realistic chance of a top six finish.

His links to Spurs are obvious. A long time hero at White Hart Lane, he epitomised the style and panache that became synonymous with the club. His interviews have been cagey in the last six months as he knew in his heart that ENIC would come looking for him and so played the ‘on-the-fence’ card consistently (you know ‘I’m the Southampton manager now blah blah’). But he is a favourite of the club owners and the top choice of the fans.

Pros: Achieved well at Swindon, moderately at Chelsea, competently at England and very well at Southampton.

Cons: Still has not really achieved at the highest level so Spurs would have to be his catapult to success if he comes.

Chances: High – almost a certainty that he’ll come in the summer it would seem.

Peter Taylor (Leicester City Manager)

Another former Spurs player who has gained success at Gillingham, Leicester and the England under-21 team. At Gillingham he guided the team to division one before leaving to replace Martin O’Neill at Leicester. Despite the questionable £5m purchase of Ade Akinbiyi, has guided Leicester into the top half of the table, and indeed for much of the season in the top six.

His success in charge of the England under-21 team was unprecedented, where he didn’t lose a single game, and he was sensationally sacked by Howard Wilkinson for … well, no reason at really other than Wilko wanted the job himself.

Pros: Familiar with Premiership and successful at all levels of football. Affiliation with the club. Likely to let young English players develop more so than, say, Vialli.

Cons: Big club syndrome – from Leicester to Spurs is a bit of a jump. Still to find his feet in the transfer market.

Chances: Quite good. Leicester of course would do their utmost to keep him and I doubt that Taylor has any clauses like O’Neill did that could see him walk away. But if he really wants to go then a compensation package would sort that out.

Gianluca Vialli

Former Chelsea manager Vialli was sensationally axed after a slow start to the season. After capturing five trophies in two and a half years, you would have thought he’d have received a bit more leeway from chairman, Ken Bates.

Since then, Vialli has taken his coaching badge and admitted that he is a far better manager now than he was at the start of the season. Has already ruled himself out of the running for the Spurs job, but we’ve all heard that before. He’s also been linked to the Udinese job in Serie A.

Pros: Respected figure around world football. Record of domestic and European success despite his inexperience.

Cons: Rumoured to be unpopular amongst some team-mates at Chelsea. May demand big budget in order to purchase ageing stars.

Chances: Moderate. Vialli would certainly get the juices flowing at Spurs again but with a limited budget, his style may be curtailed and rendered ineffective.

Marcello Lippi

The former Juventus boss won three Italian league titles and a European Cup in the last 5 years, but was relieved of his duties at Inter Milan at the start of the season. He has always stated his interest in some day managing in the Premiership and Spurs could be a great place for him to start. Rumours are that Spurs have already approached him.

Pros: Success at the highest level. Respected by players all over the world.

Cons: Seen as a defensive mastermind for the 90s, a la George Graham (for the 80s). Premiership transfer and wage budgets are not limitless like they were in Serie A.

Chances: So-so. Lippi might jump at the chance to manage in the Premiership and bite Buchler’s hand off in the process. Of course the cost of surgically re-attaching Buchler’s hand will further deplete the limited transfer funds.

Ruud Gullit

Since his acrimonious departure at Newcastle, Gullit has just taken it easy. One of the greatest players in the history of the game has quickly become a parody of himself at best, and a managerial joke at worst. His sexy football at Chelsea ran out of time pretty quickly and at Newcastle he alienated club heroes like Rob Lee and Alan Shearer and, subsequently, the fans.

His attitude and work ethic have been questioned by former chairman and unless he cleans up his act, he may find it hard to get work anywhere. But Tottenham would be another great chance for him to build a reputation and he would be probably quite keen on the job.

Pros: The aforementioned sexy football. His name is known throughout the world.

Cons: Bad attitude. Left an embarrassing mess at Newcastle.

Chances: A good outside bet actually. If he could convince ENIC that his personal issues are behind him, they might be willing to give him a crack.

David Pleat (Tottenham Caretaker Manager)

Mastermind the memorable 1986/7 ‘nearly’ season when a domestic treble became nothing as Spurs finished 3rd in the league, beaten league cup semi-finalists (after being ahead against Arsenal in both legs and the replay) and beaten FA Cup final finalists in that painful 2-3 extra-time reverse to Coventry.

Since returning to Spurs as the football advisor to the board, there have been mixed reactions to his role. To his credit he has certainly over-seen the development of youth players and the purchase of talents like Etherington, Davies, Doherty and Gardner. Meanwhile, there are those who say that he undermines the managers job by getting too involved with the recruitment of players, a job that should be solely the job of the team manager.

Now, he takes on the mantle once again of caretaker manager. But what about taking the job long-term?

Pros: Knows the players, knows the Spurs way, loves the club.

Cons: Not really a football achiever. Is not the big name to attract the big stars. Just doesn’t suit the club in the 21st century.

Chances: Even he would acknowledge that he won’t be offered it. The only thing that might see him get the job next season until, say, Hoddle became available is if he brings Spurs into Europe and sees them destroy Arsenal, Man Utd and Liverpool in the league bringing us up into the top six. So as you’d expect, no chance.

Terry Venables (Middlesboro Head Coach)

Not someone who was likely to replace Graham had Alan Sugar still been in charge, the former Spurs boss left in 1993 under a cloud, when Sugar discovered numerous financial irregularities that were traced back to the wily boss.

He has performed a complete renaissance at the Riverside Stadium and Boro look likely to avoid the drop now. Has also managed successfully in Spain and of course at International level with England.

Pros: Excellent man-manager. Tactical awareness. Master motivator.

Cons: Mixed feelings amongst the fans who saw him take advantage of the club last time for his own gains. Had disastrous spells in charge at Crystal Palace and Portsmouth, and also an uneventful stint as Australian manager. Hasn’t really got his finger on the pulse anymore it would seem … Dean Windass, Fabrizio Ravanelli? Also fancies a TV career and apparently has already inked a deal with ITV for next year.

Chances: Not much chance really.

Frank Rijkaard

The former Holland manager would be a popular choice with Spurs fans. After leading Holland to the semi-finals of Euro 2000, he resigned immediately after the penalty-shoot out defeat to Italy (are you listening, Keegan?). Since then he has been linked with a few positions but bizarrely does not seem to be hugely interested to rush back in to management. Whether club management would suit the midfield legend is another thing.

Pros: Former world-class player who spent his career with world-class teams like Ajax, Milan and the stylish Holland team of the 80s and 90s. Would play the beautiful game and attract quality players.

Cons: May not be too keen to leave his homeland. Inexperienced in club management.

Chances: Again, not much, unfortunately.

Steve Perryman

Worked alongside Ossie Ardiles for two seasons at Spurs and before that spent three years each at Brentford and Watford. Has gained a managerial pedigree after success in Japan where he was made ‘Coach of the Year’ last year, and is currently working at Exeter in a coaching capacity.

A Tottenham legend, he has made more league appearances for Spurs than any other player and might consider himself ready now for the step up.

Pros: Never stood out in his club management in England, but has performed heroics making Shimizu-S-Pulse a dominant force in Japan. Spurs roots are a help.

Cons: Well, it is only Japan. I know Wenger was successful there too, but he did well in France also. Would be a gamble.

Chances: Not likely. Although Perryman would be a credit to the coaching side of things, he’s not ready for the big job.

Joe Kinnear (Luton Manager)

A star for Spurs in the 1970s, the Irish full-back made his managerial name at Wimbledon who he kept in the top flight against the odds for over 6 seasons. It was no surprise that as soon as he was shown the door, Wimbledon tumbled into the first division.

Kinnear has always said that Spurs is the only job he would return to football for (although that was before he took on the role at Luton).

Pros: Experienced achiever. A motivator with a never-say-die attitude.

Cons: Not exactly known for playing stylish footie at Wimbledon. Has had health problems. Not exactly oozing class.

Chances: Probably very little for the reasons above. It seems the dream job has passed him by.

Kevin Keegan

Turned Newcastle into Premiership challengers before revitalising Fulham, and eventually leading England in an ill-fated reign. His teams play with style but don’t exactly get bogged down in tactical glue. He would bring Tottenham flair, but would he bring them success?

Pros: Stylish.

Cons: Shown up as a poor coach when leading England. When he blew a huge lead to lose the Premiership to Man United in 1996, a lot of people blamed his signing of Tino Asprilla as the catalyst. Embarrassing behaviour in front of the camera, ridiculous nonsensical quotes that have done many an e-mail journey around the world:

Chances: Hopefully, little. Keegan would probably only return to management at a smaller club as the pressure seems to get a little bit too much for him sometimes.

Jurgen Klinsmann

Despite his relatively short stay at Spurs, Klinsmann became a timeless legend during the 1994/5 season and again in 1997/8 when he returned to help Spurs stave off relegation.

Now retired from professional football, the German lives in the US with his family and is in the process of attaining his coaching badge. He has always admitted his admiration and love for Spurs and their fans, who took him on at a time when perhaps his reputation was fading just after the 1994 world cup. If he fancied management and Spurs gave him the opportunity, the straw-haired hero would be welcomed by everyone at White Hart Lane.

Pros: Loved by the fans and media. World-class player with a world-wide reputation, capable of attracting the best players.

Cons: No management experience. Has had problems getting on with team-mates and managers in the past.

Chances: Virtually nil. He has expressed an adverse interest to management in favour of spending time with his family.

Stewart Houston (Tottenham Assistant Manager)

Quite.

Pros: He’s easy to slag off.

Cons: Quite literally an infinite number of cons that would take me the rest of my life to type out and all of the after-life to buy new servers to house the data on. It’s not worth it.

Chances: Look, there’s none. Ok?

And da man is?

Well common sense indicates that it is probably going to be Hoddle. If it is not this season coming, then it is likely to be the one after that. Domestically, only Peter Taylor really offers a realistic alternative to Hoddle, but if ENIC look abroad they will see several excellent candidates like Lippi, Vialli and Rijkaard.

Outsiders like Kinnear, Gullit and Perryman and Venables should probably not stay in waiting for the phone call but then again, I would have told George Graham the same thing in 1998.

And finally…

Short and sweet, but at a time when the whole country was worrying about foot-and-mouth, Georgie Graham had to get it slightly wrong and develop his own unique strain known as foot-in-mouth.

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