Today is the 67th birthday of Terry Venables, otherwise known as ‘El Tel’, or ‘Tel Boy’, as the tabloids christened him when he became our manager.
Venables association with Tottenham began in 1966 when he signed from Chelsea for £80,000. Venables played for Spurs for three seasons before being transferred to QPR. Despite making 115 league appearances and scoring 19 goals, Venables was never really accepted at Tottenham, by a crowd that still had memories of the glorious double team of 61.
In 1987 Tottenham sacked David Pleat a couple of months after Venables was given the boot from Barcelona. He was soon appointed as our manager and the papers labeled him as Spurs’ saviour.
Venables didn’t turn out to be the next Bill Nick, but he certainly did well in the job. He brought players like Gascoigne and Lineker to White Hart Lane, but he also had his fair share of dud buys. One of his favourites, Terry Fenwick springs to mind, while the £1.7m spent on Paul Stewart was a huge investment at the time, which was only justified when the striker was converted to a midfielder, after a couple of fairly fruitless seasons.
Still, Venables guided Spurs to third in 1990 (which would be an achievement that would warrant open top bus parades and commemorative DVDs galore, these days) and won the FA Cup in 1991, amidst uncertainty regarding the club’s future, due to the huge debt owed to the Midland Bank.
At the time of our FA Cup win, Venables was frantically trying to get a consortium together to buy Spurs and eventually got financial backing from Alan Sugar. Upon purchasing the club, we were told that Venables would handle the football side of things and Sugar the financial side. It looked like a match made in heaven, but it proved to be anything but.
Venables became chief executive, with Peter Shreeves and then later, Ray Clemence and Doug Livermore taking charge of the first team. Looking back it seems like a strange move. We’d always heard that Venables was good on the training field and a man that players loved to work with, so why would he be satisfied with a glorified ‘Director of Football’ role behind the scenes?
The truth is that unlike many people working in football, Venables always had aspirations and interests outside of the game. He formed his first limited company aged 17 and had ambitions in the business side of football, dating back to his time as boss of QPR.
You do wonder what might have happened had Venables just carried on coaching and managing the players, as he did up to 1991 and left the off field stuff for Sugar. That might have proved a dream ticket. Instead the two men ended up stepping on each others toes and Venables was sacked from his position in 1993.
The fans and the players were on Venables’ side but money talks and Sugar was the man who had it and control of the club. Ossie Ardiles was appointed as manager to appease the supporters and once again, what looked like the makings of a good side at Tottenham, was allowed to disintegrate. Back to square one.
Since his time at Spurs, Venables has flitted between jobs, most notably and successfully with England. He took the national team to within a penalty shoot out of reaching our first major final since 1966, but instead of building upon this achievement, resigned from his position to devote his time to clearing his name, in connection with off-the-field business dealings.
It kind of sums things up. Terry’s off-field exploits having got in the way of what he was really good at. Venables saw himself as a renaissance man, with many strings to his bow. Some of his activities, such as the Hazell novels that he wrote with Gordon Williams were harmless enough, but the business deals have cast a dark shadow over his successes as a manager. It created a certain distrust when Venables was linked to a managerial role, as was the case when he was rumoured to take over as the Republic of Ireland boss in 2007 and had Eamon Dunphy shouting all over the television in protest.
At 67 it seems doubtful that Venables will ever get a major job in football again. His best hope (if he’s still interested) is that he might get a position as an international coach somewhere. He remains a successful TV pundit, these days popping up on Sky.
His managerial legacy is that of a ‘nearly man’ in terms of honours, whose teams played expansive football that was easy on the eye. The La Liga title won with Barcelona and the FA Cup with Spurs remain the only major trophies that he won. You can’t help thinking that a man of his talents might have achieved more, but for other distractions.
I don’t think though that Venables is the type of bloke to have many regrets. He’s remained his own man, making the decisions that he wanted to, rather than what was expected of him. When you live by the sword you have to be ready to die by it too.
Despite all the ups and downs in his life, ‘El Tel’ remains a well-liked figure, especially amongst Spurs fans. Let’s hope he has a happy birthday and enjoys himself today. Somehow I have the feeling that Terry doesn’t know how to live life in any other way.