Although Alan Sugar rightly takes much of the blame for Spurs’ slide into mediocrity between 1995 to 2001, the monumental role of Gerry Francis in this decline should never be underestimated. We are, in fact, still suffering from his legacy. Francis was not just the worse manager in Spurs’ history, but probably (based on his time at Spurs) the worse manager in the history of the top division.
To support my view, let’s first look at the players he bought, sold and missed (restricting all discussions to major transfers, above 0.5 million). Francis inherited a team with a number of truly top class players, but he sold all of them: Klinsmann, Popescu, Barmby, Sheringham - the first 3 were all sold within his first 7 months. He also sold Dumitrescu – and, although this is widely assumed to be his one sensible transfer, it was not obvious that such a talent could not have blossomed under a proper manager.
But if his sales were bad then his purchases were nothing short of disastrous. From memory only I have listed GF's major signings and given my own subjective rating in terms of: unqualified success; moderate success; failure; total unmitigated disaster. They are:
Armstrong - total unmitigated disaster
Fox - total unmitigated disaster
Sinton - total unmitigated disaster
Scales - total unmitigated disaster
Vega - total unmitigated disaster
Iversen - failure
Dominguez - failure
Neilsen - total unmitigated disaster
Ferdinand - total unmitigated disaster until the current season under Hoddle
Ginola - moderate success
In case anyone disgrees with my assessment that almost all were total unmitigated disasters just compare the price paid for the failures with the price we either got for selling them or would get if we sold them today (25 million pound cost for a return of 1.5 million I reckon). I challenge anybody to provide any example of any manager in the history of football who conducted a worse sequence of transfers. GF actually signed Vega, Scales, and Iversen within a couple of days of eachother at the end of 1996 for a lot of money and I distinctly remember him crowing about how this proved he could attract the "world's very best" players to the club. While there were plenty of suckers who fell completely for this nonsense anybody with any knowledge knew that Scales was a waste of time, while Vega's incompetence was there for all to see on his first appearance. For me those signings - which GF regarded at the time as the high point of his career - merely confirmed his footballing ignorance.
But it doesn't just stop there. Look at some of the players who were offered to GF that he turned down:
Petit - apparently GF watched him on 6 separate occasions but couldn't make up his mind. When he finally invited him to transfer talks Petit was so unimpressed that he caught a taxi to Highbury and the rest is history.
Juninho - was available at the same time and for the same money as Fox. GF preferred Fox.
Berkovic - was offered to Spurs for free in the summer of 96 - GF said he wasn't good enough for the premiership. GF then semi-reluctantly tried to buy him for £1.5million a year later but lost out to West Ham after obsessively talking about defending and 'tracking back' (Berkovic is quoted as saying he thought that he was a joke)
Gullit - was offered to Spurs in the summer of 95 when GF famously said 'what could I possibly use him for'
Bergkamp - was offered to Spurs in the summer of 95 - GF said he was too great a risk.
Zidane and Djaokaef – offered to GF as a pair in the summer of 95 for less than half a million – GF said they weren’t good enough for the premisership.
Then there is the issue of Francis’s playing style. It was the worst ever seen at WHL. During a period of several matches in early 1997 he played EIGHT defenders. I remember Jason Dozzell saying that GF was obsessed with stopping the 'other team' and never concentrated on how Spurs could impose themselves on a game. This was also the same impression GF gave to several players who refused to join Spurs after meeting him.
Finally, we have to consider his record of achievement. It still bugs me that there are lots of people who think GF did 'pretty well' (saying crap like 'steadying a sinking ship left by Ardiles), while MOST people automatically assume he was better than Gross and Ardiles. This is nonsense. When he ‘rescued us’ from Ardiles in November 1994 we had, in fact, played 12 league matches of which 5 were won, 5 lost and 2 drawn. Moroever, this had included some of the most exhilarating football seen by Spurs in a generation. When GF left us over 3 years later we were just one point off the bottom of the table nearly half-way into the season. In the previous (1996-97) season we ‘achieved’:the following
- lost 18 times - the highest number of defeats in the premiership (equal with Sunderland who were relegated)'
- our highest ever defeat in a cup competition (6-1 at Bolton)
- our worst ever premiership defeat (7-1 at Newcastle).
- lowest ever number of goals at WHL in a season - just 19 in 19 matches
But the most damning statistic of all is his record against 'good' teams. Here is his record against teams who finished in the top six either in the season the match was played or the previous season:
Played 43 Won 3 Drawn 19 Lost 21
(The 3 victories were Arsenal in Nov 95, Man U in Jan 96 and Villa in Sept 96).
GF's current stewardship of Bristol Rovers accurately sums up his level of managerial skill.