ilie - 
don't be a hero

This article originally appeared in 
MEHSTG Vol. 2 Issue 18 (November 2000)

In the long hot summer of 1994, the big name signings came thick and fast to Tottenham. The FA had punished the club for financial mis-dealings and the sentence included a big fine and the loss of twelve points for the start of the new season. In typical bullish mood, Alan Sugar decided to provide his manager with some of the continent's best talent to overturn the hurdle of the docked points. With the World Cup just finished in America, Sugar announced that Tottenham would be parading Jurgen Klinsmann and alongside the German superstar would be one of the shining lights of the 1994 tournament, Ilie Dumitrescu.

Not much was known about the little Romanian at the time, apart from scoring against Argentina in the second round of matches to get Romania into the quarter final of a World Cup for the first time. His all round attacking play had been very impressive and it was a bold and exciting capture for Tottenham. Attempts were made to help him settle in by bringing his fellow countryman Gheorge Popescu to White Hart Lane from PSV, but this was delayed by injury and the Dutch side’s reluctance to release him. By the time he arrived, Ilie had become a hero to the Spurs crowd.

His first appearance in the first game of the season at Sheffield Wednesday, where he featured strongly in the 4-2 win, made an immediate impact. Although he didn’t get on the scoresheet that afternoon, Klinsmann taking all the plaudits, he was unlucky with an effort that was kicked away from the goal and he was generally involved in a lot of the good moves from Tottenham. One of the Famous Five with Sheringham, Barmby, Klinsmann and Anderton, the wide man went about his business with the full backing of manager Ossie Ardiles, whose philosophy helped him play the way he was accustomed to.

The away game at Portman Road against Ipswich Town was only his fourth, but might have marked a high point in his Spurs career. There were few fans that attended that night who left without considering that they had seen something special despite Jurgen scoring twice in the 3-1 win. Ilie literally turned his man inside out and it wouldn’t have been surprising if they were trying to find Mr. Rubik to untangle him !! Dumitrescu showed exactly what he was capable of. His close control and hypnotic dribbling made a real show against the Town defenders and his goal was full of belief in his own ability as he beat three men and then another again, seemingly for the fun of it, before scoring a sublime goal. He repeated the feat shortly after in the 6-3 League Cup victory over Watford away from home, when he also showed off his tricks to set others up for goals as Spurs went on the rampage.

The game at Watford also was a watershed in the managerial career at Tottenham of Ossie Ardiles. Brought in to temper the irate Spurs fans grieving the loss of Terry Venables at the hand of Alan Sugar, his cavalier attacking style hit the rocks and the next game saw Ilie score again in a 1-4 home defeat by Forest. Popescu had by then arrived and scored in his second game - a 2-1 win over Wimbledon, but then results started to falter. While the second leg defeat by Watford meant little in terms of the aggregate score, it was symptomatic of the leaking of goals and also how Dumitrescu performed. He rarely showed much commitment in this match, but a 2-5 reverse at Maine Road to a poor Manchester City team followed draws against QPR and Leeds. Ilie scored both goals that day in Manchester, one from the penalty spot, but there was trouble in players getting behind the ball, most notably in the 0-3 defeat at Notts County in the League Cup.

One of the worst ever performances by a Spurs side saw Ossie finally lose his grip on the manager’s position, although he had one more game in charge – ironically a 3-1 win over West Ham, before he was ousted. The point loss was also weighing heavily on Sugar’s mind and with Spurs starting to ship goals, he felt action needed to be taken. The game at Meadow Lane was characterised by the team believing they only had to turn up to go through to the next round, but the Second Division side had other thoughts. They battled against Tottenham’s stars and few were prepared to roll up their sleeves and do the same. Klinsmann was booked for dissent and Ilie picked up a yellow card for not getting 10 yards back at a free-kick. Later when things were really going against Spurs, he did try to tackle back and took out a home player, which saw him dismissed. It was the icing on the cake on a dreadful night for Tottenham.

With Ossie gone, Sugar brought in Gerry Francis from Queens Park Rangers to sort out the mess. He did what he does best, in organising the side to make them more difficult to beat. Unfortunately, early on in this assessment, Francis made the decision that Dumitrescu didn’t fit into his team pattern, as he would not tackle back to help out when the other side had the ball. His chances of getting a game dwindled after Gerry’s arrival and his last appearance was in the New Year’s Day 4-1 thrashing of Manchester United where both sides were hit by injury. He cut a forlorn figure, stuck out on the wing. A spell on loan at Seville was unsuccessful and he returned to the club, but shortly after that he made the move to West Ham, where he hardly did himself justice before moving to Atlante of Mexico and then back to Romania, before retiring in 1999 to become a player’s agent. He has just taken up a six month residency as coach to Otelul Galati, where his main aim is to steer them away from relegation.

His career was short in terms of playing statistics, with five goals from 18 starts and two substitute appearances. In two seasons, he started about a quarter of the games in that time and there should really have been more. His application didn't really impress the new boss at all and that explains the lack of opportunity for the talented striker. His skill put him firmly in the mould of a "Tottenham" type player, but in the end it wasn't enough. Like many of the "Famous Five", he didn't stay long after Francis took over.

His promising time at Tottenham was unfulfilled and the words of Ian Dury’s “Sweet Gene Vincent” seem apt …

“… The chances were thin and the beauties were brief, 
Shall I mourn your decline with some Thunderbird wine and a black handkerchief”.

A fleeting Spurs career, which promised much in terms of the skill and invention he could offer to the team at that time, but like many other players, didn’t fit in with the new manager’s plans. He was, to quote Dury again “young and old and gone”.

GARY SAMPSON

Back to homepage