This feature is part of Duology
It’s a blisteringly hot day in the summer of 1994 and longtime Tottenham striker Teddy Sheringham goes through a light day of training. England aren’t in the World Cup so Teddy is staying fit for Tottenham’s upcoming season. The manager and he have a good relationship and Ossie Ardiles pulls Teddy aside. “Hey, I just wanted to let you know I’m thinking about signing someone,” he chirped with excitement into his striker’s ear. “Well, go on!” Teddy replies excitedly. “Diego Maradona!” Teddy’s jaw subsequently drops.
That signing, rather spectacularly, didn’t come to fruition. Maradona became entangled in a doping scandal after his man of the match performance that summer and the rumours of his cocaine addiction turned Ardiles away from signing the masterful striker. Alan Sugar and Ardiles were subsequently forced to pursue their second choice striking option. As history would have it, he turned into one of the most popular players in Spurs’ history and the £2m fee to Monaco was one of the club’s greatest ever investments.
Just a month before Jürgen Klinsmann arrived in London, The Guardian’s Andrew Anthony wrote a column titled, ‘Why I hate Jürgen Klinsmann’ and, just two months later, he wrote another titled, ‘Why I love Jürgen Klinsmann.’ He claimed a decade later that, “No other foreign player had as much impact in one English season as Jürgen.” Though he just stayed for one full season in the English top flight, he left one of the longest lasting impressions that endures still to this day.
Ask any Spurs fan, and they’ll speak about Klinsmann as one of their own. Sheringham couldn’t have been more excited about the prospect of working with the World Cup Winner, even if Klinsmann had been a part of the team that broke English hearts in the 1990 World Cup. This was a time where foreign players were yet to feature widely in England and anyone from across the channel was looked at as an outsider. That all changed with Klinsmann.
Though their time together was brief, Sheringham and Klinsmann came together to form one of the best strike partnerships of the Premier League. Totalling 53 goals between the two in all competitions, and 39 in the league, made them the most lethal duo in England, leading to the greatest English-German diplomacy that the world has ever seen. Furthermore, the way that they worked together set up a model for striker partnerships in the future.
Look at Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann’s partnership, especially at Euro 2016, to see how Klinsmann and Sheringham might operate in today’s footballing world. Sheringham would be able to create opportunities for Klinsmann through his height and strength; he would lay balls off and assist Klinsmann more often than not, aiding him in winning the golden boot that year.
Klinsmann was quicker and more technical and, according to Tedding Sheringham, “You give him half a chance from anywhere, and more often than not he would hit the target, and he would score. He was just ridiculously good.” The compliments weren’t just a one-way street either. Klinsmann called Sheringham “the most intelligent striker I ever worked with.”
The two of them had a chemistry on the field that rivalled any other partnership at the time and the speed at which it came to them startled even the harshest of critics. If there were two perfect stereotypes of their countries then Sheringham, with his English grit and toughness and Klinsmann’s German efficiency fit the bill. Tottenham were scoring goals, and they quickly became one of the most enthralling teams to watch in England.
When Tottenham arrived at Sheffield Wednesday, on the opening weekend of the season, the home fans gleefully greeted the travelling Spurs, and specifically Klinsmann, with diving scorecards. Klinsmann had already eased notions of his diving claims in his opening press conference, asking where the closest diving school was in London. Eager to not let the opposing fans to rattle the German, Sheringham looked over at Klinsmann and told him, “If you score, we all dive.”
Sure enough, when in the second half Darren Anderton sent in a teasing cross and Jürgen got his head to nod it into the net, all the Spurs forwards ran over to the side of the pitch and took a dive. That goal not only marked the incredible goal scoring season to come but entered Klinsmann into one of the most iconic goal celebrations in Premier League history with that opening tally. Sheringham dived too, and landed right next to his partner, hugging his head. Sheringham scored in that opening match too, from another brilliant Anderton cross, as the Englishman finished with the outside of his right foot.
If foreshadowing truly exists in the real world then that first match was the perfect anecdote of what was to come for Tottenham during the whole season. The final score of 4-2 showed both Tottenham’s offensive prowess and the defensive frailties that would haunt them the entire campaign. Tottenham would have to score more goals than their similarly free-scoring opposition were they ever to secure all three points and, boy, were Sheringham and Klinsmann up to the challenge.
When Tottenham travelled back to White Hart Lane, for their home opener, expectations were high for Klinsmann and Sheringham and the fans were ready to cheer on their new German. In front of the 24,500 people at an under construction White Hart Lane, they may just have produced the greatest piece of magic between the two.
Another cross from Anderton was swept in and Sheringham put a beautiful chest into the air for Klinsmann to bicycle it in, sending the Tottenham fans, and the Gernan, throwing their arms in the air with glee. The stage was set and the Spurs players obliged, with the entire squad diving in celebration again towards the home fans. The iconic partnership was created. Klinsmann scored seven goals in those first six games, marking the best scoring record for a new transfer at the time, but Spurs left those six games with nine points and a 3-0-3 record. They were scoring but they didn’t keep a clean sheet until November of that year; a 0-0 draw against Chelsea.
Sheringham might not have been getting all of the headlines from that season but his contributions were just as important. He was the yin to Klinsmann’s yang. They both fed off of each other and helped the other succeed. Sheringham talks often about how he adapted his game for Klinsmann during that season, learning to create and give to his strike partner, which undoubtedly helped him when he made the switch to a star-studded Manchester United squad. Sheringham knew to pop up on the scoresheet when it counted, with the highlight in the league coming when he grabbed a hat-trick in a 4-2 win against Newcastle at home. He was happy to be the second fiddle to Klinsmann that season, and his talent didn’t go unnoticed.
Klinsmann might not initially have known who Sheringham was when he showed up at Tottenham but the bond they formed was that of friends who had been together their whole lives. The cult of Sheringham and Klinsmann grew throughout the season and, even though they sat in 10th after matchday 19, the mood wasn’t dull in the Spurs camp.
Watching this Spurs team faintly brings to mind thoughts of another great strike partnership with the work of Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge at Liverpool. That modern Liverpool team was able to score goals, but they were left wide open at the back. It meant exciting, mesmerizing football, but sometimes the risk outweighed the reward.
Tottenham knew they could push on for their trophies with the talent at their disposal, and the best route at getting a trophy came in the FA Cup. Against Altrincham, a Sheringham goal in a 3-0 win. At Sunderland, Klinsmann had two and Sheringham added another in a 3-1 win. Klinsmann scored in a 1-1 draw with Southampton and, in the replay, Sheringham scored in a 6-2 victory that sent them to the quarter-final at Anfield.
If there’s a single match you want to see, to show Sheringham and Klinsmann’s partnership at its very best, look no further than this. Liverpool had their own collection of attacking talent in the mid-90s with Ian Rush, Robbie Fowler, John Barnes and Steve McManaman in their ranks. Fowler grabbed the opener that day but, right on the stroke of half-time, Klinsmann received the ball near the top of the box and just waited, ever so calmly, for Sheringham to run on and he bent the strike beautifully into the right side of the goal.
With the score still tied, and only two minutes left in the match, their roles were reversed as Sheringham beautifully flicked a ball through to Klinsmann who finished coolly past David James. It was the perfect showpiece for the dynamic duo, Klinsmann made his run before the ball had even been played to Sheringham, and there wasn’t a thing the Liverpool defenders could do about it. Klinsmann would go on to score yet again in the semi-final but Tottenham’s defence would be liable again as they lost 4-1 to Everton at Elland Road.
It is truly striking how much one season can linger in the minds of fans, even without a trophy to show for it. It is a testament to how hypnotic Klinsmann and Sheringham were, in their short time together at Spurs, that these memories will continue to live on in the hearts of Spurs fans everywhere. The greatest feeling looking back on these moments is that we were truly robbed of something incredibly special.
Klinsmann was notorious for his willingness to leave his contracts early, but one must wonder if he regrets leaving that Spurs team so soon. When Klinsmann found his way back to north London, in January of 1998, it’s a shame that Sheringham had already departed for Manchester. It wasn’t the same to see Klinsmann without his partner leading the lines. The moments we do have, though, those timeless memories, provided us with a rare glimpse of what a truly great partnership can offer.
By Christian Candler @thecandler
Edited by Will Sharp @shillwarp