Ossie Ardiles, One-on-One: "At Spurs, Alan Sugar said he was mortified when he fired me"

The early-80s' most famous import on Argentina, Spurs, the Falklands and THAT song...

There’s an internet rumour that Osvaldo ‘Ossie’ Ardiles would like to clear up.

“I’ve never had the tune from [Chas & Dave’s 1981 FA Cup Final single] Ossie’s Dream as the ringtone on my phone,” he says, laughing in a salubrious meeting room at White Hart Lane. “I know some people think this, but it’s just not true. My son has it on his phone, and I know some friends use it too, but not me.

“We were the first foreigners in England,” he says. “Now there are many. But we knew nothing about Spurs and the country when we arrived. I knew of some players like Kevin Keegan and the 1966 World Cup team, but that was it. Coming here was quite a shock... especially the food.”

I’ve heard the reason you adapted to English football better than Ricky Villa was because you embraced English culture more. What typically English things did you do? Go to the pub? Eat fish and chips?
Laurence Dodd, Whitehaven
Oh yes, we ate all the food – fish and chips, your overcooked roast beef. But that was probably why I adapted more quickly. Before I came here, I studied English for seven years, but Ricky didn’t. So I could read the papers and talk with the other players, Ricky found it harder because he couldn’t speak the language. We would do English things like go to the cinema and eat fish and chips. But one of the weirdest things to understand was that the shops didn’t open on a Sunday. Nobody told us this! We would play on Saturday, go out in the evening and then on Sunday there was nothing to do.

You and Ricky Villa are still great mates, but do you ever get sick of him talking about his goal in the 1981 FA Cup Final?
Jason Green, via e-mail
[Laughs] I’m starting to. People ask the question and it’s like he’s turned a tape recorder on. I know exactly what he’s going to say. Seriously, he only talks about it when he’s been asked and it deserves the attention. It was a wonderful, wonderful goal and I am so pleased that it has been chosen as one of the best FA Cup goals ever.

You were known as ‘Piton’ in Argentina. What does that mean?
Christopher Whittle, Southport
When I was younger I used to play football in the streets. I was very small  and wouldn’t pass it much – I would keep it to myself and dribble and dribble and dribble. My brother said I looked like a snake because I would wind around the pitch. He looked for the name of a small snake for my nickname, but could only find the name of a big snake, which was ‘Piton’.

Why did the Argentina squad wear shirts in alphabetical order – with you wearing the No.1 shirt during the 1982 World Cup? Was this normal or was it the coach’s idea?
Jamie Souness, Fort William
The reason for it was that there were a lot of arguments over which shirts people wanted to wear, so [Argentina manager] Cesar Menotti decided to do it in alphabetical order, which was why the number 1 shirt in 1978 went to Norberto Alonso. [FFT points out that Maradona got the No.10 shirt in 1982, regardless of alphabetical order] Menotti must have made that decision [laughs]. As if by magic, Mario Kempes also got the No.10 shirt in 1978, so maybe Menotti did something there, too.

Argentina seemed to have enormous home advantage in the 1978 World Cup. They even played in the evening after everyone else. Did the players feel like they had a helping hand?
Carl Durkin, Newcastle
We certainly didn’t feel there was an advantage – there was an enormous pressure every time we played because we were at home and because of the political situation [the junta pressurised the team to win in the hope it would help them gain support from the Argentine people]. There is always a feeling that playing at home in a World Cup gives you an advantage but I always feel that once the ball has been kicked there is no more advantage. It’s just 11 players against 11.

How hard did you find English football? Were the defenders dirtier in England or Argentina?
Jim Alexander, Plymouth
Me and Ricky turned up and played a very different type of football to the one being played in England. We played quick passing football in the midfield and we weren’t used to the physical challenges. In England the ball was in the air a lot more and the style of football was much more aggressive with a lot of crosses. So the football was very different. That had to change because we were playing football one way, and the rest of the team were playing another. As for who was dirtier, I would say the football here was very tough – there were a lot of tackles that would never happen in Argentina. But in Argentina, the players are naughtier and will always look to get an advantage.

Is it true that after the 1981 FA Cup Final, you met Princess Anne in your jeans while all the other Spurs players were in tuxedos?
Tom Smith, Southend
Yes [laughs]. It wasn’t just me, it was Ricky, too. We were always wrong. We were invited to a party in a fancy hotel and nobody told us that Princess Anne was going to be there. It wasn’t so bad for us because we had jeans and a jacket and somebody gave us a tie each. But all the wives were in beautiful long dresses, except for ours who looked like they were going shopping. They were very upset. You know how women are.

When the Falklands war began, you were forced to go on loan to Paris Saint-Germain. How dangerous was this country for you? Did you worry that you might not be able to return?
Simon Haskle, Bournemouth
I didn’t leave because of the war. I played in the 1982 semi-final against Leicester, but after that, the manager of Argentina wanted us to go and train for the national team. At that point that war hadn’t really started. It began when I was in Argentina while I was training – it was one of the worst moments of my life, watching two countries that I love fighting each other.

The war finished during the World Cup in Spain but by then I decided I couldn’t carry on playing in England. I was loaned to Paris Saint-Germain for a year, but had a very bad time. My mind was not right; I was shocked by everything that had happened during the war. After six months, I came back to Tottenham. Keith Burkinshaw promised me there wouldn’t be any problems and he was right. I was very happy to be back.

By the time you left Spurs there were a lot more foreigners playing in England. When did you realise you might have started a trend?
Paddy Davis, via e-mail
We definitely started a trend, but it was a simple question of economics. Keith had taken an incredible gamble by signing me and Ricky – there were no foreign players in England at that time. But when we came we did very well and people realised that you could spend a million pounds on one English player, or you could spend the same amount of money on three foreigners who were probably better than the one English player. Everybody started signing foreign players. Then there was more and more, and now you have the best league in the world.

What’s the better song, Ossie’s Dream or Diamond Lights?
Steven Florence, Govan
Oh, Ossie’s Dream by a long way. When was the last time I heard the song? Last week! I was at a party at White Hart Lane and somebody played it, but I haven’t seen Chas & Dave for a long time.

How did your involvement in Escape To Victory come about? Is it true that Kevin Beattie beat Sly Stallone in an arm-wrestling match? And who had the bigger trailer, you or Michael Caine?
TJ Rosenthal, New York
I was here in England in 1980 and they were looking for a couple of foreign players. They had a lot of Ipswich players in the film – Kevin Beattie, John Wark – as well as Bobby Moore and Pele, but they wanted another South American player, so they came to me. Michael Caine definitely had a bigger trailer, by far. But I had my own special chair – it was like a director’s chair and it had ‘Ossie Ardiles’ written on the back. It was an amazing experience. We would be sitting there with me, the players, Sylvester and Michael Caine – it was amazing. And if Kevin Beattie says that he beat Sly Stallone in an arm-wrestling match, then it’s probably true.

How did you feel when, during the second leg of the play-offs between Swindon and Blackburn, Town fans tried to recreate the ticker-tape atmosphere of the 1978 World Cup?
Nick Judd, Swindon
It was wonderful. The Spurs fans also did it when I joined the club. At the time we were in the old Second Division and there were some big teams there – Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday, Blackburn and Sunderland. But gaining promotion in the play-offs was a wonderful, wonderful achievement for me and the club.

How did you feel after having your promotion at Swindon blocked due to the actions of the previous management? Were you bitter about what happened?
Mark Hanrahan, Croydon
It was horrible. I was in Argentina on holiday when the chairman rang me and told me we had been demoted to the Third Division. I took a plane back to England straight away to help fight a legal battle in the court. I believed there were lots of bad things happening in English football, but Swindon had been made an example of. The game needed to be clean, yes, but it wasn’t fair that it just happened to us. So yes, I was quite bitter.

Why did Kevin Keegan succeed at Newcastle when you failed? You both liked to play similar football, after all...
Nathan Cross, Burnley
I had a lot of admiration for Kevin. Maybe tactically he was not the best, but I liked his mentality. The differences between us when we managed at Newcastle was that I didn’t have any money to spend and there was a political fight going on behind the scenes. Sir John Hall was the guy with the most shares at the club and he was blocking every move. We couldn’t buy anybody. Because of that I was forced to play all the young guys such as Steve Howey. It was a difficult time. When Keegan arrived all the young guys were getting better and he was able to buy players like Alan Shearer.

Did Alan Sugar use his catchphrase ‘You’re fired!’ when he sacked you as Spurs manager?
Barry Hill, Orpington
No, happily it was not his catchphrase at the time. He was a good friend. He said he was mortified when he sacked me. His words came from the heart. I was surprised at the time, but in hindsight I should not have gone to Spurs at that time. I should have waited for the opportunity to manage Tottenham later in life.

Although you were one of the first, do you think there are now too many foreign players in English football? And do you think it’s the reason why England didn’t qualify for Euro 2008?
Matt Day, via e-mail
There are a lot of foreign players here. Maybe too many, yes. But it’s not the reason England didn’t qualify. The reason why England didn’t qualify for Euro 2008 is because of the organisation of football in this country. They never win the under-23, under-19 or under-17 tournaments. This never happens, so they are not creating the stars of the future. This is the basic reason: the development of youth football in England is very poor.
From the April 2008 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe

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