Former Tottenham Hotspur and Germany star Jurgen Klinsmann was not in the Premier League for a very long time, but his impact was unquestionable.
Some of the legends featured on this site have been one club men, others have been players who moved around before settling at a club and endearing themselves to the home faithful. But Jurgen Klinsmann doesn’t quite fall in to either of these categories.
Klinsmann arrived in England, stayed for a short period but left such a mark on the league and Spurs in particular that he is almost as much a myth as he is a legend.
The striker’s move from Monaco to White Hart Lane was shrouded in controversy. You have to remember that this was the early days of the Premier League. A time when footballers were men, hard men, who drank pints of beer and kicked lumps out of each other every weekend. Klinsmann was, for a start, German.
The poster boy for The Old Enemy, or so some fans thought. Even worse he came with a reputation for diving, the worst thing a footballer could, heavens forbid, possibly do. Headlines labelling him “der Dive Bomber” filled the tabloids to give you an idea of the reception he received.
It didn’t take the striker long to win over the public, though. In his first press conference he tackled the subject head on, asking the gathered journalists the now famous question: “Are there any diving schools in London?”
Any concerns that he might be a “soft foreigner” were soon put to bed when, on his debut against Sheffield Wednesday, he hammered home a bullet header from a Darren Anderton cross and celebrated by theatrically diving to the ground and sliding across the turf. Wednesday fans had brought signs displaying diving scores with them in an attempt to wind him up but with this one act he simultaneously killed the whole ruse, creating one of the most iconic and repeated celebrations in the process.
“Sheringham had the idea.” Klinsmann said: ‘If you score today, we’ll all dive.’ The wonderful thing was that the rival fans even laughed about it.”
It wasn’t just Spurs fans who fell for Klinsmann after that. He was something new, something football fans hadn’t really seen before. Klinsmann was a bona fide international superstar. He was tough and fought hard on the pitch but he was also a supremely talented footballer, adding a touch of stardust that was somewhat lacking in English football at the time.
Klinsmann, too, was falling for England and the type of football that was played there. Throughout his spells in France and Italy he felt that things were too cautious. He loved the pace and intensity of the Premier League and he fitted into it easily, but it was the skill and control he had learned earlier in his career that marked him out as something special.
“You have to work more than your adversary.”
— Jurgen Klinsmann
He was in a different class to most of the league, scoring every kind of goal you can imagine, including one spectacular bicycle against Everton, as he racked up a very impressive twenty one league goals in his first season with the club, 29 in all competitions. What was just as impressive was the partnership he developed with fellow Lilywhite legend Teddy Sheringham, who bagged himself 18 goals that season.
Things were going well in the FA Cup too as Spurs went all the way to the semi-finals. Klinsmann was key to their cup run, scoring five goals in six games in the competition including one memorable strike against Liverpool that sent them into the last four.
Going forward Spurs were a sight to behold, the only problem was that hey were incredibly weak at the back. A number of embarrassing defeats, including a bruising 4-1 defeat to Everton that ended their cup dream in devastating fashion, hit the club and Jurgen particularly hard.
Investment was needed if they were to progress and, more than that, they would need to spend to convince their star player that there was a project worth sticking around for. Alan Sugar, the club’s owner at the time, was reluctant to put the money in and with a month left to go in the season Klinsmann announced that he planned to return to Germany to play for Bayern Munich. Due to a clause in his contract there was little the club could do to stop the move.
Understandably this soured things with the club’s hierarchy. Klinsmann rather cheekily offered Sugar a signed shirt to say thanks for bringing him to the club. The owner was, unsurprisingly, less than impressed, responding that he could wash his car with it.
It seemed as though that might be the end of the Klinsmann-Spurs story but two years later, with the German plying his trade at Sampdoria, the London club were in trouble. They were heading towards relegation under Christian Gross, so they put out a distress call to their former talisman, and he duly answered.
Playing alongside Les Ferdinand he found the net against West Ham, Newcastle and Crystal Palace to give them a fighting chance. He scored a further four goals against Wimbledon that all but secured safety in the penultimate game of the season, while his equaliser on the last day of the season against Southampton officially confirmed their status as a Premier League club. His nine goals in 15 games reaffirmed the love Spurs fans had for Klinsmann and guaranteed his place as a Spurs legend forever.
More than that, he changed the Premier League forever. His arrival and subsequent success paved the way for players like Gianfranco Zola, Fabrizio Ravanelli and Dennis Bergkamp to come to England close to their peak and changed the way fans viewed these foreign imports.
And then of course, there’s that celebration…