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Tottenham Hotspur Must Be Careful with Any World Cup-Inspired Transfers

Germany's Jurgen Klinsmann celebrates after scoring his team's second goal over Belgium during their second round World Cup soccer game at Soldier Field, Saturday, July 2, 1994 in Chicago, Ill. (AP Photo/Denis Paquin)
Denis Paquin/Associated Press
Thomas CooperFeatured Columnist IVNovember 11, 2016

Tottenham Hotspur will be among the European clubs casting their eye over the players performing at this summer's World Cup.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 03: Tottenham Hotspur director of football Franco Baldini looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Tottenham Hotspur at Goodison Park on November 03, 2013 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Chris Br
Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

The Daily Mail's Sami Mokbel reported on Wednesday that the Premier League outfit's technical director, Franco Baldini, and chief scout Ian Broomfield will be among the staff on hand in Brazil.

Unsurprisingly, Tottenham have already been linked with players set to appear at the tournament.

Potential moves for Holland's Feyenoord full-backs Daryl Janmaat and Stefan de Vrij were this week speculated on by the Daily Mail's Simon Jones and Bruce Archer in the Daily Star respectively. They will not be the last.

The temptation to sign players based at least somewhat on their performance in a major international tournament is understandable.

Ermindo Armino/Associated Press

Buying someone known the world over—certainly in football circles—brings with it prestige and excitement among supporters, who will look forward to seeing a star name wearing their team's colours. Obviously, though, there is no guarantee such arrivals will live up to their reputation.

The first time Spurs signed players in the aftermath of a tournament spoiled them—so successful were the signings of Argentina's 1978 World Cup winners Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa.

Notable for being among the first major recruits from abroad by an English club, manager Keith Burkinshaw's transfer coup was all the more notable given the club's situation that summer of '78. In The Boys From White Hart Lane, authors Martin Cloake and Adam Powley reflected on the state of the club when Ardiles and Villa arrived:

Burkinshaw's achievement in persuading the pair to sign is even more impressive when it is remembered that Tottenham Hotspur's star was on the wane. The club hadn't won a major trophy since 1973. The decline of the '70s ended in what had long seemed the inevitability of relegation in 1977 and, despite returning to the top flight at the first attempt, a team lacking depth looked set to struggle.

Ardiles noted in the book that he did not take much convincing: "They didn't have to sell me the club," he remembered. "I'd done some research so I knew Spurs were a big club, it had been through some bad times but it was big, and it was London—it's good to be in the capital."

The Argentines took some time adjusting to English football and had contrasting experiences settling into their new country. But their signings proved to be vital in instigating the momentum that would see Spurs once again enjoy success and a return to European competition in the early '80s.

That the pair are regularly invited back to White Hart Lane says it all about how well they fared.

Scotland defender Richard Gough and Belgium forward Nico Claesen were the next significant post-tournament purchases, each arriving after the 1986 World Cup (England international Steve Hodge came a couple of months after too). Gough especially was highly regarded during his time with Spurs, but both he and Claesen moved on within two years as their circumstances changed.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

As it so happened, Ardiles was manager when Spurs next dipped their toes into the post-World Cup market. Like in 1978, in the summer of 1994 the north Londoners were not at their healthiest. Fresh from a relegation battle the previous season, off-field affairs led to a points deduction and an FA Cup ban (though both were overturned).

As Ardiles describes it in his 2010 autobiography Ossie's Dream (co-authored by Marcela Mora y Araujo), "an incredible stroke of luck" occurred: Tottenham signed German international Jurgen Klinsmann.

"Jurgen was on a completely different level, a World Cup star [fresh from USA '94]—at the time it was like signing [Diego] Maradona, more or less," the then-Spurs boss recalled. "And then the Romanians joined the squad." Ilie Dumitrescu arrived first, with Gheorghe Popescu following during the season.


Tottenham had bought three standout players of the previous summer's World Cup. While Klinsmann and Popescu especially impressed, none of the trio lasted long (though the German returned for a spell in 1997-98). Ardiles was sacked within months, and in 1995 they both expressed their desire to play elsewhere, with the unsuccessful Dumitrescu permanently exiting a year later.

Football had changed dramatically in the 16 years since Ardiles and Villa had been brought in by Burkinshaw. A big move such as they had undertook was no longer quite as monumental in an age of globalisation and huge finances coming into the game.

It was perhaps fitting that players signed off the back of a World Cup in America departed so quickly, a footballing equivalent of fast food.

Christophe Ena/Associated Press

It would be another decade before Spurs bought a player following a major tournament—Sweden's Erik Edman after Euro 2004. Didier Zokora (Ivory Coast), Roman Pavlyuchenko (Russia), Vedran Corluka (Croatia), Rafael van der Vaart (Holland) and current Spur Hugo Lloris have since followed.

Lloris is the only one remaining, though he too could yet be gone before the four-year mark none have exceeded since Ardiles and Villa.

Though still exciting to sign players you have watched on the world's biggest stage, it no longer carries quite the same novelty. Only last summer Spurs welcomed squad additions from Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, France, Romania and Spain (Paulinho and Roberto Soldado did, though, play at the lesser Confederations Cup).

Rui Vieira/Associated Press

Signing big-name and/or well-regarded players from abroad is an annual routine for Premier League sides, and clubs everywhere for that matter. They are just as subject to uncertainty as those bought following a major tournament are.

Of Spurs' previous post-tournament recruits, only Dumitrescu and Edman have really underwhelmed. That is not a bad return for the club, and reason enough why they will be evaluating prospective targets this month.

Baldini, Broomfield, chairman Daniel Levy and new manager Mauricio Pochettino must make sure to do their homework on any player who catches their eye in Brazil.

If smart, and just a little lucky, they may find a servant as loyal as Ardiles. Or perhaps someone to replicate the brief, but memorable fireworks of Klinsmann.

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