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On This Day In 1989: Gary Lineker Leaves Barcelona For Tottenham Hotspur

Gary Lineker - dressed for business and pleasure apparently - is welcomed to Tottenham Hotspur by Terry Venables
Gary Lineker - dressed for business and pleasure apparently - is welcomed to Tottenham Hotspur by Terry Venables

Gary Lineker pinned his colours firmly to the Leicester mast during the 2015/16 title race. Despite being a well-known Foxes supporter, that stance didn’t go down well with the Tottenham fans who had revered him in the late 1980s and early 90s.

The former striker arrived to a fanfare at Spurs on June 21, 1989, putting an end to his path-making adventure in Barcelona.

Lineker had scored 42 goals in 105 appearances in Catalonia, but as the innovative tactics of Johan Cruyff constantly evolved, that tally wasn’t enough to convince the Dutchman that he should continue to operate as a goal-hanger.

It was a strategy that had proved so effective throughout his career, not least at the 1986 World Cup. Until the feat was matched by Harry Kane in 2018, he had been the only Englishman to win a Golden Boot at the tournament.  

The Three Lions international continued to attract attention from his native country during his adventure at Camp Nou, not least when he hit the headlines with a hat-trick in a 3-2 El Clasico triumph over Real Madrid.

Yet Cruyff was convinced he would be more useful to Barcelona’s overall system out wide and with that, Lineker returned to England.

Spurs would be the last club for which he featured in his homeland, before eventually seeing out his career in Japan with Nagoya Grampus Eight.

In his first season at White Hart Lane, he scored 24 goals and helped Spurs to a respectable third. Typically, silverware was not immediately forthcoming in north London, despite a squad featuring both Lineker and Paul Gascoigne.

It was curious that Tottenham struggled to match one of England’s most impressive periods in the modern era when they reached the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup.

That changed in 1991 with victory in the FA Cup final against Nottingham Forest, incidentally the last time the Lilywhites lifted the trophy and four years after they had suffered unlikely heartache against Coventry City.

While he failed to get on the scoresheet, Lineker had played a key role in getting Spurs back to Wembley, scoring a brace in the 3-1 semi-final win over Arsenal.

His late strike was especially crucial, putting the game to bed after Alan Smith had got the Gunners’ back into the tie.

It is Gazza’s immortal free-kick in that north London derby that has gone down in folklore, but it would have meant little without Lineker’s assistance.

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