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Pioneer of crossing a great divide

When Tottenham Hotspur's manager Keith Burkinshaw traveled to Argentina in 1978, he never imagined the impact his journey would have on the North London club.

After watching the Argentinean 1978 World Cup triumph at home, Burkinshaw had been particularly impressed with the talents of two players including the 'Player of the Tournament' Osvaldo Ardiles and super-sub Ricardo Villa.

'I'd admired this little fella who played for Argentina', says Burkinshaw, 'His feet never stopped moving and he was an excellent passer of the ball. He never got caught on the ball or gave it away.

'I'd also seen this guy called Ricky Villa who came on against Brazil and put himself about a bit, and thought I liked the look of him too.'

Burkinshaw would then take one of the most famous gambles in footballing history as he flew to Argentina to meet with Ardiles.

'About two or three weeks after the World Cup, I got a phone call saying there was a chance of signing Ossie Ardiles if I went out to Argentina. I thought it was a joke at first, but because he was such a big player, I jumped at the chance.

'I was there on the Saturday, met Ossie on the Sunday and by Monday he had signed for Tottenham. He had also asked me if I'd be interested in taking his friend Ricky Villa back to England.

'After ringing the club and checking the finances were ok, I got the go-ahead to sign Ricky and did so in about five minutes.'

And he wouldn't regret it. Ardiles went on to become one of the greatest players to grace White Hart Lane, and later the club's manager, while Villa cemented his place in history by scoring the 'Wembley Goal of the Century' when Spurs beat Manchester City in the 1981 FA Cup Final replay.

Both players would have a massive effect on the club, winning two successive FA Cups in 1981 and 82 and Ardiles played a role in conquering the UEFA Cup in 1984; yet the reaction to their arrival was understandably sceptical.

'People could hardly believe that we'd brought them', says Burkinshaw. 'South American players had never been over here before and the league was a lot different then, dominated with UK players and hardly any foreigners at all.

'People looked at it and thought, they're 'fancy dan' players, they won't last the winter here. But they made us into a massive club and contributed to the ascent of Tottenham more than anyone I think.

'Even the likes of Glenn Hoddle and Steve Perryman, who were great players already, benefited hugely from their arrival and the players looked up to them a lot.'

With the arrival of two more Argentinean imports, Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, this time at London rivals West Ham, does the man responsible for opening the South American market think they'll settle here?

'I think they've done the right thing at West Ham by bringing both players across at the same time' he says. 'With Ossie and Ricky it wasn't easy, and it took a year to a year and a half before they became accustomed and settled into playing football in England.

'We struggled in that first season with them, but they eventually realised what the game was about in England and adapted well.'

So with Alan Pardew facing a similar task at Upton Park, Burkinshaw has only one piece of advice for him:

'Be patient. I know they're top players and play for one of the biggest nations in the world, Argentina, but it's not always going to be easy in our league', he says.

Burkinshaw can see the potential problems that West Ham could have, as he had to overcome them himself in 1978.

'Neither of them could speak English very well', he says. 'The culture was totally different from that of Argentina, but we put them in a house together with their families for 3 months and enrolled them in a language college. Within six months or so, they were fine.

'I could see, especially with Ossie, that they would be successful in this country. He had the fundamentals of the game: terrific control, passed it well and his movement was unbelievably good.'

But do any of the current crop of Spurs starlets impress Burkinshaw as Ardiles did?

'I think the new signing Berbatov looks a very good player', he asserts. 'The team have a good back line, Dawson and King look very good and Robinson is safe in goal.

From one manager to another, Burkinshaw also has praise for Martin Jol.

'He's a very sane, sensible guy and very easy to talk to. Sometimes some of the managers these days have massive egos, but he's quite calm, down to earth and humble, which is a good quality.

'I think he's got the players here to win some silverware, but he really needs that first win to get the ball rolling. That first winning of the trophy is all important and you can build from there.'

Burkinshaw is wary of comparing Ardiles to anyone in the current game, but does rate him as one of the top three players he's ever seen.

'Glenn Hoddle was unbelievable, the best English player I've seen from a technical point of view', he says, 'but Ossie was just the best.

'Ricky Villa was inconsistent, and he'd admit that himself. He'd have a great game and then the next game you wouldn't be sure that he could reproduce it. Like he did in the 1981 Cup Final (Hot Spurs Programming on ESPN Classic), he had a poor game in the first one, and then won it for us brilliantly in the replay.

'I think if there's a player that's among the elite in the world, it doesn't matter where you get them from, you just do everything you can to get them.

'You've got to look at things a little bit differently with players from South America, rather than the guys from Europe. You have to be tolerant but let's hope the Hammers pair make as big a name as the guys I brought over.'

West Ham have certainly turned a few heads, as Burkinshaw did in 1978 and it's hard to ignore the similarities between the two almost 30 years later.

The parallel runs deeper as the 1978 Spurs side gave starts to their new pairing against a good Aston Villa team in their second match of the season, and lost 4-1 at home. West Ham will be wary of such omens when they blood their own duo at Upton Park on Sunday against Villa.

Whether Tevez and Mascherano can register the kind of success that Ardiles and Villa enjoyed at Spurs remains to be seen, but they certainly have a hard act to follow.

To see great matches from Spurs great history and other iconic sporting moments tune into ESPN Classic, Sky channel 442 next week.

  • Any comments? Email Jon Carter