DAVID PLEAT INTERVIEWED BY JIMMY HILL for SKY SPORTS.

 

DAVID PLEAT - 'I'VE GOT HIGH HOPES FOR TOTTENHAM'

  Director of Football at Tottenham Hotspur David Pleat gives a fascinating and revealing interview to Jimmy Hill. He talks candidly about the supporters, salaries, Sugar ... and Sol.

Jimmy Hill: Welcome. Spurs fans have unhappily been making demonstrations at the ground and all kinds of things like that, and you say well whatís happening all of a sudden at White Hart Lane?

David Pleat: Well, I think that demonstrations are part of the social scene and youíve got to look at the ages of those that are demonstrating. They are getting restless because they want to win, everyone wants to win, patience isnít a virtue of the football supporter. Strangely enough, weíre getting full houses and out of that 35,000, there are 100 people that are unhappy.

I wasnít at Saturdayís game, but the boo-boys have taken a lot of credit away from three outstanding efforts from Dublin, Carbone and Wright.

Hill: Obviously youíve seen them since?

Pleat: Yes, Iíve seen them since and they were good strikes. Of course, Stewart Houston who was in charge of the team in Georgeís absence, feels that there was an element of doubt about the first goal which was a penalty.

Hill: Well, I was there at that match because of a grand-daughter whoís a Spurs supporter. One, it wasnít a penalty without a doubt, but the other goals, as you say, were quite spectacular. But itís more than that, isnít it at Spurs? Itís wasnít just Saturday, thereís been a lot of unrest recently?

Pleat: Theyíve had a losing sequence for almost three months now, itís a poor record and there are all sort of factors involved. IĎm not looking to make excuses on anyoneís behalf, but itís been particularly hard on the front players, who believe it or not both are in double figures in Premiership goals. Theyíve suffered a little bit with injury and, at times, loss of form this season and we havenít had players to replace them.

I think one of the major disappointments is that we have a lot of injury problems to players for long periods of time. These involve players that weíve paid a lot of money for, such as Les Ferdinand, John Scales, and sometimes itís hard to get on the right track because of that.

Hill: I can remember Manchester United and, in particular, Alex Ferguson when he took over at Old Trafford. For the first two years, he was public enemy number one as far as the supporters were concerned and the elements were against him. Where does this lunacy come from?

Pleat: Well I think thereís a great expectation at Tottenham. Alright, youíll immediately say to me that youíve won nothing since 19 whenever...

Hill: í61.

Pleat: í61, a wonderful year when theyíve of course done the Double. I think theyíve won the cup since and they won the league cup last year but they expect higher standards. Thereís the great rivalry with Arsenal down the road, and they have performed very consistently. Theyíve been like a blue chip company in the last six years, regularly in the top three and the supporters want us to get into that top three or four.

I think that the management were hoping to get towards the top six, a top six position would have been good progress. We havenít been able to achieve that and I suppose there is some sort of restlessness present - particularly when youíve had three defeats in such a short period time. Also, all of a sudden weíve started conceding goals. Iíd written in my own programme notes that we seem to be quite resilient away from home, weíd had the second highest defensive record to Liverpool away from home.

Hill: But the venom is usually directed at the manager, but on this occasion the venom appears to be against Sir Alan Sugar, a man I know personally, is totally involved in making something happen there?

Pleat: Absolutely, heís very determined to achieve. There is a wonderful stadium, there is a superb academy, we are buying more land to expand, our academy is now beginning to really flourish, weíve got good coaches in there - but all these things, they take time.

Hill: And he gets no credit for it does he?

Pleat: Well, heís been unlucky with a couple of managerial appointments. A level of mediocrity has been amassed, and we need better players than that, and as a consequence weíve had to kind of get rid of this mediocrity to make room for better players. But since January '98 weíve spent over £22m and I donít think a lot of supporters realise that. The difficulty that weíve had is that we havenít been able to sell an Anelka for £23m, weíve been selling mediocre players. That has accumulated to around £3m and thereís been a couple of very poor mistakes in the transfer market where weíve literally had to give players away who have failed for whatever reason - like Moussa Saib who the new manager didnít fancy, and the lad Tramezzani who was a major disappointment. But all clubs have these kind of players.

Hill: Iím not acting as a defence counsel for the chairman, but surely it was the managers involved who selected those players which for whatever reason didnít come off?

Pleat: Absolutely. I havenít had or seen an interfering chairman who has said, why donít you go and buy him or get rid of him. I havenít had that, and Iíve been in the game for a long time. Iíve had the occasional comment from a chairman when you think is there a hidden agenda but certainly at Tottenham since Iíve been back there, never at any stage has the chairman said to the manager 'Why donít you sign him or why donít you get rid of him?'. Heís said many times weíve been unlucky with certain players that weíve signed in terms of injuries, but the manager signs the players, the manager recognises the ability of the players he sees, he puts the team together, he arranges the tactics, he does the training. The manager is the one that controls the players and the team.

Hill: So, is the chairman saying Iím not going to give the manager any money to spend, or is he saying, if you can persuade me that money needs to be spent in the interest of Tottenham Hotspur, then itís there?

Pleat: I think we are very aware that we need to spend money, we have identified a couple of areas for sure, weíve been very frustrated this year on a couple of occasions. I think itís been very well documented we brought the boy Bridges for talks. However, I think that the deal was almost done and dusted with Leeds, although I like the boy Bridges immensely.

Hill: But you know that goes down bad with supporters to think that Leeds United are getting a player we should have had?

Pleat: Well, they have to come to terms with that. Thereís a lot of competition in the Premiership and sometimes itís for geographical reasons, sometimes itís because a team is in Europe. Youíve got to get in to Europe to be able to say, come and join us. The bottom line usually with players is salary, I have to say that, and what their prospects are within that team. Where we have done well is I think weíre bringing younger players into the club.

In the past, a lot of players in the 29Ė30 age group were brought in for decent money, and if you look at the record over the last five years thereís no future in those players. The money is available at Spurs to buy players, that is a clear message. The manager is very careful with his money, as he was at Arsenal. If you look back at the record, he was a very slow spender, and he didnít spend big and he may wish to do it a similar way here.

Hill: But also I mean if you declare to the world now, weíre going to spend money because we want to be successful, and we want to give Spurs supporters all the joy in the world, anybody you come to buy a player from says: ĎOh, here they come knocking at the door. How muchí. So you have to be temperate?

Pleat: Exactly, we canít tell the world that weíve got £50m to spend. What you do know is one or two clubs in this country have had a very big go at it, and have sacrificed quite a lot and mortgaged quite a lot in those attempts. They may have invested money that they havenít even received yet from new proposed television deals. It's a slightly dangerous way to go. We try and take a sensible line, but there is money available. He knows weíve got to get two or three players and we will do that but weíve been suffering recently. Weíve started the season well and finished badly, perhaps we should have started the season badly and finished well. But I thought the best that we could hope for was about 6th this season, at the moment weíre languishing in around 12th position, which isnít good and we should do better than that.

Hill: There are no trips to Europe next season thatís a certainty?

Pleat: No, you look for defining moments Jim. They lost in the last minute at Kaiserslautern, they were winning 1-0 and itís a horrible scenario to concede two goals in the last minute. That, looking back may be a defining moment, I donít know, everyone tries to look for when it happened, where it went amiss, and Kaiserslautern was a massive disappointment.

Hill: Can or does the number of factors that are significantly against the chairman, manager, history of the club, can that in itself have a detrimental effect on the teams chances of doing well, does that make it any harder or does it not make any difference?

Pleat: I donít think so, I think every 90 minutes is a separate issue and if they win itís a lifter, if they lose it can be a demoraliser. We have young players, Campbell, Carr, Walker, Iversen, still only 22, we have some good young players coming through our club. The experienced Sherwood has been out for a long time, Leonhardsen who was bought in has been out for half the season, When we had Leonhardsen, Sherwood, in the same midfield, and Freund, thatís when I think we were playing our best football.

People have short memories. We beat Man Utd at home, we beat Liverpool, we beat Arsenal, but they havenít been able to maintain the pressing game because George hasnít been able to keep the same team.

Hill: Itís strange really that you explain matters beautifully and intelligently so people can understand Ė why then is there such bitterness about the chairman? If you donít mind me saying, you are a very experienced and talented person to have on board. Is there something the chairman can do to help you and the manager in your tasks?

Pleat: He has an image that comes over to many as rather brusque and severe. Unlike all men whoíve been quite clever in their field, he possibly has a two-way personality at times.

I shouldnít really say this because you canít generalise about the media but, I think he gets a very unfair and rough ride in the media. Whether thatís deserved or not, no-one deserves personal abuse and some of the things that are said are most unfair, theyíre not correct and theyíre misleading and unfortunate. The publicís opinion is definitely clouded by what they read and sometimes the man who's the victim of this business feels because heís had so much of it that you cannot go out to the world and explain it because itís not worth explaining any more because they donít listen.

Hill: Because the journalists will say there he goes, members of the public will say, of course he supports the chairman because he employs him so an argument for him is once again discredited?

Pleat: Well, I try and see things fairly, itís not easy for the chairman, the manager or me but we know how to run a football club and if youíre looking at young players and the academy, weíve got a good set-up. What we need is a good run of results to show our confidence is justified. At the moment we havenít got that, so it calls for patience, sense and calm.

Hill: But you are confident that the little triangle at he top of Spurs, given time, will make Spurs regular contenders for some sort of honour. Is that the target for future seasons, and are you going to achieve it?

Pleat: On pride alone, George has been a very successful manager and it will hurt his pride severely of he doesnít achieve that. The chairman is bursting to get some success after making several moves in the past few years that havenít proved as successful, and from a personal view I desperately want to show that the general manager role, can be seen as a very important mediator and give all sorts of reasons to mould a club together.

Hill: And you have no fear that Sir Alan Sugar, obviously successful in some aspects of life, if not at the football club for the moment, will stick with it?

Pleat: I think so, he hasnít been a lucky chairman so far, thatís for sure, some people would have thrown in the towel. But I have to say this, Iíve seen chairman get it in the neck and itís not just Tottenham. Iíve seen it in different clubs where you have a bad spell, people are ignorant and abusive and I wouldnít tolerate that, thatís bad and if it affects your home life. Managerís children that have been bullied at school because the team wasnít doing well can be very tough. Alan Sugar is a strong man, but weíve all had it in football, youíve had it both as a player, manager and chairman haven't you?

Hill: Yes, every team Iíve played for finished higher up the ladder than when I joined them. Anyway, back to Spurs. Iím asking you for optimism?

Pleat: Weíve got some good young players. The next step is weíre going to buy some big players. Weíve got no contractual problems at the end of this season. Sol Campbell stays whatever until the end of next season. Hopefully he wonít leave because if he did heíd be very unhappy, heís Tottenham through and through because heís been at Spurs since he was 12. He wants the club to do well.

Hill: I was going to ask you later, not that the chairman wants to become Mr Popular but if the chairman could persuade Sol to commit himself to Spurs, wouldnít that be the most enormous thing that could be done?

Pleat: Yes, I think Sol and his agent knows that. He has to have a feeling. There has to be a confident mood. Obviously then we can talk about salary. We will do everything in our power to get Campbell to extend his contract past next year. But whatever happens, itís part of this hype. He has another year to go. Really, Sol has always discussed and signed extensions in the summer months. All the talk about him been seen in Manchester, so much devious stuff has been printed.

Hill: I take it that Alex hasnít put a bid in?

Pleat: No, Man Utd have expressed an interest for a year now, but you know how it is, at the time we were talking about Solskjaer, but we havenít made too big a fuss about that. We spoke about it and hoped we got a deal. Alex persuaded us Solskjaer is better on the bench at the moment, two years on and heís still scoring goals and more or less on the bench.

Usually, when you have a discussion with another club about a player who they respect, they usually come around to talking about one of your players that they respect, so you canít deny that youíve had a discussion.

Hill: But in terms of Spurs here and now, how will things happen?

Pleat: We hope Sol will commit himself beyond the next year of his contract this summer before he goes away with England in the Euro championships.

Hill: For the sake of everyone, is that going to be a niggling problem that might cause further trouble for Georgeís health?

Pleat: George had some tests on his joints and he has gone home and heíll have a rest. He wonít be at the club for a few days and we respect that. Weíve only got a few games to go, we all wish George well and we hope heís going to be back amongst us very quickly.

Hill: I have a feeling that Spursí future is going to depend on the team spirit of those off the field, staff, chairman, more than those efforts on the field?

Pleat: On the field, we can put together a competent side that needs improving with a couple of quality players. There is no doubt in my mind about that. In terms of supporters, of course they want to see us do well and they have to behave themselves, providing that the players can prove that they are giving the effort. That's the most important thing. In the end, itís a very competitive business and you think we enjoy finishing 6th, 7th, 8th, we want to be in the top there.

Hill: Thank you very much indeed. Youíve been honest. Iíve thrown everything I can at you about the club and I think the message has come over that if I was a Spurs supporter, rather than a the grandfather of a Spurs supporter, I would say 'keep it up'.

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