There is an anecdote about Ilie Dumitrescu’s arrival at Tottenham on July 27, 1994, as told Ossie Ardiles, that sums up how the Romanian’s career was to unfold in north London.
“When Ilie asked me when Spurs last won the championship, I couldn’t answer him,” Ardiles, the then-Spurs manager recalled.
“That shouldn’t be the case for a club this big”.
It spoke of two things. First, that for all their problems on the pitch, feuding off it, Spurs never lacked ambition.
At the same time, the forward’s unfamiliarity with his new employers’ illustrious history didn’t bode well. Here was the unlikely star of the 1994 World Cup, signing on for £2.6million from Steaua Bucharest, and immediately there was a slither of doubt as to whether he was the right fit.
Ardiles wanted Tottenham playing attacking football, almost regardless of the outcome.
George Graham later recalled that over at Arsenal, that philosophy had been looked on with a little confusion, and considerable disdain.
“When I was at Highbury”, Graham reminisced, “the message from White Hart Lane used to be ‘let Arsenal win things with boring football, we’d rather play entertainingly and lose’.”
The thought was never really entertained that they might be able to do both.
In Ardiles’ first season, his side had leaked goals, but the Argentine decided to answer his critics by going at it full throttle at the other end of the pitch.
With that in mind, two days after Dumitrescu came the surprise addition of Jurgen Klinsmann.
The irony was that the former was arguably better received in some quarters than the latter, the German vilified in the media as a diver – an image he playfully bit back at with his celebration.
As for Dumitrescu, he was fresh off the back of Romania’s shock march to the quarter-finals at USA ’94, dismantling Argentina’s defence with two goals and an assist along the way.
His national side’s romantic story captured the imagination of football fans around the world, the 25-year-old forming part of a formidable front line alongside Gheorghe Hagi and Florin Raducioiu.
They had sent the Albiceleste packing – and this was still the Argentina of Gabriel Batistuta, even if they were coming to terms with losing Diego Maradona.
By the time Romania had lost to Sweden on penalties in the last eight, Dumitrescu’s legacy was already secure. It was to take a considerable dent in England, however, even if Spurs’ glittering attack got off to a decent enough start.
Ardiles’ mantra was that the opposition could score three, so long as his players got four. That’s exactly what they did on Dumitrescu’s debut with a 4-3 win over Sheffield Wednesday.
What he could not have predicted is that he would make just 15 more starts, scoring a grand total of four goals.
After two years, he moved to West Ham, where he made only five more appearances in the Premier League.
It goes without saying that Klinsmann fared much better in his first spell. He scored 21 league goals, and 30 in all competitions, before quickly moving on to Bayern Munich.
His battle to win over the press was complete when he was named Football Writers’ Association’s Footballer of the Year having scored 30 goals in all competitions.
One man he hadn’t won over was the Spurs chairman Alan Sugar, who later accused him – and incidentally Dennis Bergkamp, who had just signed for Arsenal in 1995 – of only being interested in money, happy to play for whichever club was paying them the most.
The moral high ground did not do Sugar any favours, having to sack Ardiles three months into his second season. The new philosophy had not worked, for a variety of reasons, and it was back to the drawing board.