Tuesday, August 24, 2010
William Gallas of Tottenham Hotspur
Spurs fans would never have expected to be saying or reading that and for some it is just too much to accept. A former Chelsea and Arsenal player playing for Spurs – what will they do when he is presented to a packed White Hart Lane at the Champions League qualifier on Wednesday evening – boo, cheer, jeer or ignore him?
William Gallas, a former Arsenal captain is a Spurs player – accept it and move on. For too long Spurs fans have been their own worst enemy – hidebound on hating Arsenal and anything to do with that club rather than supporting Spurs and accepting something that could be beneficial for the further development and progress of Tottenham Hotspur.
Gallas isn’t the first player to move from Arsenal to Tottenham but he is certainly the most high profile – a former captain who has also played for Chelsea. How we loathed him when he was a member of those teams as they have got the better of Spurs for much of the past decade, how we detested him as he celebrated scoring vital goals against us, how we jeered him as a member of the Chelsea and Arsenal teams which lost 5-1 in those fantastic League Cup semi-finals at White Hart Lane, how we mocked him when he had his sit-down strop and cried in the pitch at Birmingham a couple of years ago – but that’s all in the past – he’s a Spurs player now. He knows what’s happened in the past, he knows our feelings about him as an Arsenal player and he’s still prepared to sign for Tottenham.
Previous players to move to Tottenham from the near neighbours have brought little to the club – Laurie Brown was a defender who occasionally tried to play as a striker and for some reason Bill Nicholson thought he could play a part in the rebuilding of the ‘Double’ team – a task that was beyond his capabilities. David Jenkins was a reserve who was swopped for Jimmy Robertson and remained a reserve at White Hart Lane. Rohan Ricketts was a young player who didn’t make the grade at Arsenal or Spurs while Jamie O’Hara and David Bentley a former Arsenal player signed from Blackburn Rovers have failed to become big players at either club. Bentley’s goal at the Emirates in the 4-4 draw is possibly the greatest contribution any of those former Arsenal players has contributed to the Tottenham cause. So, from a Tottenham perspective nothing good has ever come out of Highbury or The Emirates and that includes the two former managers, Terry Neill and George Graham. What were the Tottenham directors thinking about when they appointed Neill to replace Bill Nicholson? Even Graham’s Worthington Cup success wasn’t enough to win over the Spurs faithful.
However, over the years the Highbury clientele quickly took to the former Spurs who made the journey south – Jimmy Robertson, Willie Young, Steve Walford, the legendary Pat Jennings and Sol Campbell. The greatest hostility surrounded the defection of Campbell and continues to this day but all had greater success with Arsenal than any of the players who made the opposite move.
When I first read of Harry Redknapp’s interest in signing Gallas who was a free agent having turned down Arsenal’s offer during the summer, I wasn’t impressed and presumed it was just media talk. However, as the rumours persisted and the manager became more determined in his comments about signing the player, it became obvious that this was going to happen especially as the Spurs defence could not rely on a season’s contribution from either Ledley King or Jonathan Woodgate due to their continuing injury problems.
And so it has come to pass and Spurs have signed Gallas. His background, with Arsenal and Chelsea connections, may not be as Spurs supporters would want but the club has signed a player with vast experience in the Premier League, in the Champions League and internationally on the world stage with France. He is a versatile player who can play along the back four and he is a winner who has known success at club and international level. He may be nearing the end of his career but he has shown he is still capable of performing at this level and his experience will be of great benefit to the Spurs defenders. Michael Dawson, Vedron Corluka, Sebastien Bassong and Benoit Assou-Ekotto are all prone to errors when under pressure and they will look to learn from Gallas who has been there, done it and has the t-shirt.
In previous seasons there were rumours of Spurs trying to sign former Arsenal players, namely Emmanuel Petit and more recently Patrick Vieira. Neither of them did I want at Tottenham. I e-mailed the club to tell them of my dissatisfaction at the suggestion that they would sign Petit. He had snubbed Tottenham Hotspur previously in a most unsatisfactory way by going straight from a Tottenham interview to sign on at Highbury. To have signed him would have been unacceptable and when Vieira wanted to return to the Premier League, in my opinion, his best days were clearly past him and he would have brought little to the Tottenham cause.
However, with William Gallas, it is different as he can bring something to strengthen the team and assist in the improvement of the players around him. Remember how Ledley King developed and benefited from playing beside the experienced Noureddine Naybet earlier in his career and Spurs infamous ‘soft-centred’ defence has since become a great deal tougher. Gallas has spoken wisely in his first interview about wanting to play for Tottenham and what he hopes to achieve with the club. He deserves the support of the fans for his brave decision to travel up the Seven Sisters Road to Tottenham, especially as he has experienced at first hand the Spurs supporters’ hostility to all things ‘Arsenal’.
All around the football world players have signed for clubs which are the bitterest of rivals and they have been accepted by both sets of supporters. Tottenham fans can step away from their past narrow, parochial view and move forward into a broad new world by accepting William Gallas as a Spur and how appropriate it would be to show that acceptance and support when he is introduced to the crowd at Spurs most important game in decades as they strive to reach the group stages of the Champions League for the first time and make it a true Glory, Glory European night under the lights of White Hart Lane.