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Money doesn’t equal class

There’s a world of difference between the Bank of England and a loan-shark.

Both are sources of money, but while one oozes history, reputation, credibility and class, the other lacks all four, no matter how expensive a suit he wears.

Which is a bit like the difference between clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal (the last of which has often been referred to as ‘the Bank of England’) and teams like Chelsea or Tottenham Hotspur.

United, Liverpool and Arsenal are part of English football’s aristocracy: clubs with a history of success, a proud and loyal fan base and, on the whole, a reputation for doing things ‘the right way’ (although, like any royal family, they also have their fair share of dirty laundry).

Chelsea, despite their recent success and Roman Abramovich‘s billions, are widely regarded as Johnny-come-latelys, earning derogatory sobriquets such as ‘Chavski’. But they at least have a cabinet full of trophies to point at; they may have bought their way in (and, lest we forget, they were tottering towards bankruptcy under Ken Bates before Abramovich rode in to save them), but they have nonetheless been successful and have barged their way into Europe’s elite as a result – not unlike their owner’s sudden elevation to Europe’s financial top table.

But Tottenham, now there’s another matter.

As a club, Spurs have enjoyed historical success. Two league titles and eight FA Cups (including the double in 1961), and three European trophies make them one of England’s most successful sides. But they have not won a major honour since 1991, the FA Cup final victory over Nottingham Forest where the match took second billing to Paul Gascoigne‘s horror tackle on Gary Charles. Being trophyless for the past 16 seasons added to a record of 15 consecutive finishes outside the top six prior to 2006 somewhat undermines Tottenham fans’ protestations that they remain ‘a big club’.

And it is the circumstances surrounding the departure of Martin Jol, the manager who ended that run of non-top six finishes with a brace of fifth positions, which underline exactly why Spurs are widely perceived as a club lacking that critical, ever-so-intangible ingredient of ‘class’.

Last night’s official unveiling of former Sevilla coach Juande Ramos as Tottenham’s new head coach was merely the final confirmation of what has, for the past two months, been football’s worst-kept secret.

Political machinations within football clubs are hardly new, but events at White Hart Lane have taken them to a new level this season. Over the summer, there had already been several stories about unrest between Jol, chairman Daniel Levy and sporting director Damien Comolli: £40m had been spent on new players (reportedly, Comolli’s choices rather than Jol’s), and expectations of a top-four finish – and the Champions League spot which goes with it – were high.

It only took one game – an opening day defeat at Sunderland – for the whispers to start about Jol’s position being under pressure. Soon after, we learned that Tottenham representatives had been to Spain to offer the job to Ramos; the story was flatly (and feebly) denied by the club, who vehemently stated that no such meeting had taken place and they had only been to Seville to see how the club was run. Yeah, right – and that’s airborne bacon I see over there.

As Spurs’ poor start to the season continued, Jol’s position was continually undermined by a board who provided him with little support, none of it credible. To the outside world, Jol was clearly a dead man walking being let down by a board who had terminally undermined his standing with the players; Levy and the Tottenham board presumably felt they were doing everything right and that Jol was to blame for the team’s poor form.

Thursday night’s UEFA Cup game at home to Getafe was the final straw. There has been some confusion over the exact order and wording of events that evening, but it appears that the board decided before the game to sack Jol (presumably because they had already received Ramos’s acceptance) but opted – with a naivete which borders on the inconceivable – not to inform him until after the game.

Sure enough, as these things have a tendency of doing, the news leaked. Jol received a text message (from a boardroom sympathiser?) during the game informing him of the news, and by half-time both the media and the fans at White Hart Lane were buzzing with the news. Repeatedly throughout the second half, chants of ‘Stand up for Martin Jol’ rang out around the ground, occasionally punctuated with boos aimed at the directors’ box.

By Friday morning, Jol had gone, with even the wording of the club’s press statement, which made it quite clear that Jol had been sacked in a proactive and positive move by the board, oozing callousness and a casual disregard for their most successful manager in nearly 20 years. And less than 36 hours later, Ramos had been installed at Tottenham with a reported four-year, £20m contract in his back pocket.

The haste was unseemly, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out the chain of events which has occurred.

As an Arsenal fan, I realise I can be accused of a large degree of bias, but to me this whole episode smacks of boardroom power games and a distinct lack of class. Sure, Spurs have flashed the cash over the past couple of years, buying up talent left, right and centre. And the deal they have offered Ramos puts him at the very highest level in world football in terms of managers’ pay. I do not dispute that Spurs have spent money like the big club they claim to be. But there is a huge difference between a pretender talking a good game and actually being a genuinely big, successful club who are admired for doing things in a befitting manner.

It’s not often you will hear an Arsenal fan saying this, but I genuinely feel sorry for Spurs fans; they deserve better (but not much better, mind you). Money simply does not buy you class, no matter what Daniel Levy may think or say. It doesn’t even guarantee sustained success: it can even result in the exact opposite. Just ask Leeds United.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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