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
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?
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.
Obviously youíve seen them since?
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
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
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.
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?
Well I think thereís a great expectation at
Tottenham. Alright, youíll immediately say to me that youíve
won nothing since 19 whenever...
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
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.
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?
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.
And he gets no credit for it does he?
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.
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?
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
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?
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.
But you know that goes down bad with supporters
to think that Leeds United are getting a player we should have
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.
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
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.
There are no trips to Europe
next season thatís a certainty?
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.
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?
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
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
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?
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
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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.
I take it that Alex hasnít put a bid in?
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.
But in terms of Spurs here and now, how will
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.
For the sake of everyone, is that going to be a
niggling problem that might cause further trouble for Georgeís
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.
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?
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.
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'.