“You have to work more than your adversary” – Jurgen Klinsmann
Some of the legends that we have featured on this site have been one club men, others have been players who moved around before settling at a club and endearing themselves to the home faithful. Jurgen Klinsmann doesn’t quite fall in to either of these categories. Klinsmann arrived in England, stayed for a short period but left such a mark on the league and Spurs in particular that he is almost as much a myth as a legend.
Klinsmann’s move to White Hart Lane was shrouded in controversy. You have to remember that this was the early days of the Premier League. A time when footballers were men, hard men, who drank pints of beer and kicked lumps out of each other every weekend. Klinsmann was, for a start, German.
The poster boy of the enemy, or so some fans thought and even worse he came with a reputation for diving, the worst thing a footballer could possibly do. Headlines naming him “der Dive Bomber” filled the tabloids to give you an idea of the reception he received.
It didn’t take the striker long to win over the public though, in his first press conference he tackled the subject head on, asking the gathered journalists the now famous question, “Are there any diving schools in London?”
Any concerns that he might be a “soft foreigner” were soon put to bed when on his debut against Sheffield Wednesday he bravely got on the end of a cross to head home and celebrated by theatrically diving to the ground and sliding across the turf. Wednesday fans had brought signs displaying diving scores with them in an attempt to wind him up but with this one act he simultaneously killed the whole ruse and created one of the most iconic and repeated celebrations of all time.
“Sheringham had the idea. He said: ‘If you score today, we’ll all dive.’ The wonderful thing was that the rival fans even laughed about it.”
It wasn’t just Spurs fans who fell for Klinsmann after that. He was something new, something football fans hadn’t really seen before. Klismann was a bona fide international superstar. He was tough and fought hard on the pitch but he was also a supremely talented footballer, adding a touch of stardust that was somewhat lacking in English football at the time.
Klinsmann too was falling for England and the type of football that was played there. Throughout his spells in France and Italy he felt that things were too cautious, he loved the pace and intensity of the Premier League and he fitted in to it easily, but it was the skill and control he had learned earlier in his career that marked him out as something special.
He was in a different class to most of the league, scoring every kind of goal you can imagine, including one spectacular bicycle against Everton, as he racked up a very impressive twenty one goals in his first season with the club. What was just as impressive was the partnership he developed with fellow Lily White Legend Teddy Sheringham. Sheringham bagged 18 goals himself that season.
Things were going well in the FA Cup too as Spurs went all the way to the semi-finals. Klinsmann was key to their Cup run scoring five goals in six games in the competition including one memorable strike against Liverpool that sent them in to the semis.
Going forward Spurs were a sight to behold, the only problem was that hey were incredibly weak at the back, a number of embarrassing defeats, including a bruising 4-1 defeat to Everton to knock them out of the cup hit the club and Jurgen particularly hard.
Investment was needed if they were to progress and more than that, they would need to spend to convince their star player that there was a project worth sticking around for. Alan Sugar, the club’s owner at the time, was reluctant to put the money in and with a month left to go in the season Klinsmann announced that he planned to return to Germany to play for Bayern Munich. Due to a clause in his contract there was little the club could do to stop the move.
Understandably this soured things with the clubs hierarchy. Klinsmann rather cheekily offered Sugar a signed shirt to say thanks for bringing him to the club, the owner was less than impressed though, saying that he could wash his car with it.
It seemed as though that might be end of the Klinsmann/Spurs story but two years later, with the German now plying his trade at Sampdoria, the London club were trouble. They were heading towards relegation under Christian Gross, so they put out a call to their former talisman, and he answered.
Playing alongside Les Ferdinand he found the net against West Ham, Newcastle and Crystal Palace to give them a fighting chance. He scored four goals against Wimbledon that all but secured safety in the penultimate game of the season. While his equaliser on the last day confirmed their status as a Premier League club. His nine goals in 15 games reaffirmed the love Spurs fans had for Klinsmann and guaranteed his place as a Spurs Legend forever.
More than that, he changed the Premier League forever. His arrival and subsequent success paved the way for players like Zola, Ravenelli and Bergkamp to come to England and changed the way fans viewed these foreign imports.
And then of course, there’s that celebration…
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