RICH BEEDIE on the goals and dives of the Premier League’s first superstar
The Premier League came to be in 1992 but, arguably, it was 1994 when it really started. The World Cup that year hadn’t involved England but with plenty of stars on display, and plenty of television money burning a hole in the collective pockets of the Premier League chairmen, there were deals to be done. Up to that point, the Premier League lacked a real star – despite the hype that accompanied it. There were just 13 foreign players in its first season and whilst admittedly that number contained the likes of Cantona and Schmeichel they weren’t, then, the huge stars they would become, or that the League craved. That all changed when Alan Sugar, then Tottenham chairman, took a trip ashore from his yacht moored off the coast of Monaco that summer.
His trip saw Spurs land a bonafide world star for what seems like a bargain when compared to the sums paid this summer. For a mere £2 million Sugar acquired the services of one Jürgen Klinsmann, an established German international with clubs such as Internazionale and Monaco on his CV alongside a World Cup win four years previously. He was a proven scorer at every level, but also came with an altogether different reputation – diving.
‘When flesh meets flesh, he’s down in a flash’ was the quote attributed to then Manchester United and England full-back, Paul Parker. A couple of high profile incidents, most markedly in the 1990 World Cup final for the winning penalty, had marked his card in England. Ex-referee Keith Hackett had remarked on one incident in the 1994 World Cup that the German ‘went down like a sack of coal’ and ‘that won’t be stood for here’. Unsurprisingly, then, Klinsmann arrived at Sheffield Wednesday for his Premier League debut to home fans displaying cards with scores out of 10 and found himself jeered by the home support in the early stages of the game.
Tottenham manager Ossie Ardiles had set his stall out starting with five attacking players so unsurprisingly were a little open at the back and it made for an exciting match that Klinsmann played his full part and turned opinion around. Playing as the main striker he linked well with his fellow forwards, playing in Darren Anderton with a neat lay-off that allowed the winger to play a one-two with Teddy Sheringham before sliding home Tottenham’s second of the game.
By the 82nd minute, the game was finely poised, Spurs leading 3-2. Wednesday were pressing though, and Tottenham needed another goal to be sure of the win. Klinsmann had yet to score at this point having had effort smartly saved and another lashed well wide to howls of derision from the home support. With eight minutes to go defender Colin Calderwood collected the ball in midfield and drove goalwards, the ball ultimately making its way to the right-wing where Anderton had time and space to cross. His ball was met by the leaping frame of Klinsmann who had left his marker, England defender, Des Walker, flat-footed. The German then twisted his neck muscles, powering the ball into the roof of the net past a helpless Kevin Pressman.
Possibly one of the most famous goal celebrations of all time followed. When unveiled as a Tottenham player Klinsmann had sheepishly asked where the local diving school was, showing wit and self-depreciation in abundance. He took this further at Hillsborough, celebrating his goal by launching into a full stretch dive across the pitch, before being mimicked by several of his team-mates.
It was a defining moment for a player roundly hated on his arrival in England. He was part of the West German side that had knocked England out of the 1990 World Cup, with Guardian journalist Andrew Anthony ‘welcoming’ him with a piece entitled ‘Why I Hate Jurgen Klinsmann’. By the end of the season, the same writer was penning a piece ‘Why I Love Jurgen Klinsmann’.
He went on to win the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year award. Journalists, and the general public were eventually able to see beyond the negative image they initially had of him, instead seeing a witty, sophisticated, caring man and above all a great player.
The shame for English football was that it only lasted a season – barring a brief loan spell in 1997/98 – as the German realised Spurs were far from a top six side back then. He craved European competition that Bayern Munich back in his homeland gave him. He left England with a changed reputation to the one he arrived with, opening the door to the Premier League for other superstars of the game.