His

name

is ……

This article originally featured in 
MEHSTG Vol.2 Issue 17 (September 2000)

Throughout their history, many top names have played for Tottenham.  Some were England internationals, some who have graced the game with skill and honour and even those who have played in a World Cup final.  So, when Tottenham persuaded Inter Milan to release Nicola Berti to come to White Hart Lane, why was there no sense of thrill there ?? 

Berti had, for many years, been one of the stalwarts of the Italian midfield and had won just about everything there was to win in the game there.  It probably didn’t help that the reputation he had was of a whinger, who bent the referee’s ear at every opportunity and seemed to lack a bit of pace.  However, his relationship with Jurgen Klinsmann was the determining factor in his move to N17. 

Arriving at a time when Spurs were in the doldrums, it was surprising that he would want to make such a move, but it did turn out to be a decent one for him and the club. In a recent issue of FourFourTwo magazine, he was featured in a series called “They came, They saw, They were crap”, which is a trifle unfair.  Although he didn’t play many games in total for the club, those he did feature in during the first season he was here, were ones which were important to the club in many ways. 

He scored what turned out to be vital goals in the games against Coventry City, Palace and of course, the memorable match at Blackburn Rovers.  Without those goals, it could easily have been a much tougher time for Tottenham to escape relegation that season.  It wasn’t his goalscoring that he was signed for though.  While many seemed to fail to recognise his positive attributes, it was his presence in midfield and his experience which served him well.  I don’t mean presence in terms of being a dogged ball-winner, but the fact that he was someone who had been there and done it.  He used the ball simply and effectively; he made a nuisance of himself rather than just be brushed aside every time and most of all he wound the opposition up more than Steffen Freund and in a less obvious way.  He did like to backchat with officials and also was prone to the occasional swan-dive, but he brought calm and a touch of class to the Spurs side, when it was panic stations in most games. 

The game against Blackburn at Ewood Park was perhaps one of the most vital that season and proved a bit of a turning point.  Although Spurs were “too good to go down” (©  Nottingham Forest), results had gone against us and matches were running out.  The fans were despairing (more than they are now, believe it or not) and a 3-0 win away at Rovers came as a blessed relief to all and sundry.  The match contained quite a few memorable moments, with Howells clearing acrobatically from on the line (although Colin Hendry thought it was behind the line) and the players at the end running to the Spurs support to take a bow.  But the first goal came when Berti broke into the box and got on the end of a blocked shot from Howells.  His sliding lunge got the ball into the net to start what was to be a very good day for Tottenham.  

His part in that win, when he did run for the whole 90 minutes (as opposed to the relaxed attitude he sometimes took) really endeared him to the Spurs crowd.  This became obvious when a song about him started flowing down from the Members Stand.  It is not often that the Tottenham crowd bother to concoct an original ditty to one of our players and it was a major surprise when this one hit the air …

“His name is Nicola Berti,
He's aged about 30,
He comes from a club in Milan,
INTER!”

When he left the club, he moved to Mexico, then turned up playing in Primera Liga in Spain for Alaves before ending up in Ian Crook's Northern Spirit side in Australia, where he is a big star helping to promote the game in that country.  There was also the matter of his name being found in a phone book of  a prostitute in Italy, who also had Ronaldo and many prominent Italian footballers and public fogures in the same address book.  It was alleged that he had something to do in running the racket, but this was never proved.

So, a player who came to the club when we had little hope, played a major part in our survival in the Premier League and for that we should always be thankful.  The fact that in his second season, he was pretty dire is by-the-by, but he did a lot for Spurs in his short time here and he was much more successful than Christian Gross’ other Italian signing !!

MARCO VAN HIP

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