Tottenham’s Foreign Legion

This article originally appeared in MEHSTG Vol. 2. Issue 30 (December 2002)

It is perhaps one of the greatest losses to our club that having been signed by Christian Gross, the Algerian captain, Moussa Saib, could be fitted into the Tottenham side no more than three times from the start and ten more times from the bench. 

Brought in from Valencia, where he had been playing in their side during the one season he was there and came with a reputation for being a good passer of the ball and the type of player who would be an asset to the way Tottenham would like to play. 

With good international experience and having played on the continent with Auxerre before moving to Spain, he was intended to bring some much needed creativity to the Spurs side that had been struggling under Gerry Francis and taken on by Gross in an attempt to keep them in the Premiership.  At only £2.3 million, he seemed to be a fairly reasonably priced purchase and with games running out, someone was needed to supply ammunition for Klinsmann and Ferdinand up front. 

Arriving in February, he made his debut against Bolton, coming on from the bench in a 1-0 win and was introduced the same way in the next match against Leeds. Saib’s first start was away to Crystal Palace.  This ended in a 3-1 win for Spurs, with Saib featuring strongly and his passing was a revelation. Not an all action midfielder, but he moved so smoothly with the ball whether running with it or passing it on, there was a fluidity that was very easy on the eye. 

He suffered when George Graham came into the manager’s office and when he flew off to join up with the Algeria squad while claiming not to be fit enough to play for Spurs, it was the beginning of the end for Moussa.   The player had undergone a back operation at the end of 1998 and two months later, in January 1999, he played two reserve matches only for the new manager, who had arrived while he was injured, to tell him he was not fit enough to play for Algeria.  He never really made it back into the first team picture … quite literally, as he didn’t get included in the team photo for season 1999-2000. Graham’s nickname of “Gadaffi” probably made his approach clear to Saib and his disciplinarian manner left Saib out of the side, with little chance of breaking back in.  The main example of this was in not allowing Saib to don tracksuit bottoms in training when it was cold, because it was his rule that players were not allowed to wear them before December.  One would have thought that our injury list was long enough anyway without players risking pulls and strains because they are not warm enough !! 

At a time when GG was turning Tottenham into a workmanlike side with little to get excited about, Moussa would never have fitted the ideal player the former Gooner boss would have considered for the line-up.  While it is no compensation, Saib was not the first or last player that Graham “out-ed” because of the flair side of their game. The midfielder was not allowed to train with the first team or play for the reserves. 

With little option other than to move on, the Algerian took a six month loan move to Saudi Arabian side Al-Nassr in 2000 and featured for them in the World Club Championships. Some difference to playing in front of a handful of fans at Spurs reserve games … he was now showing what he could do in front of a handful of neutral fans in Brazil. He managed one goal in the tournament, five minutes from time against Raja Casablanca to give them their only win in South America.   The transfer for £640,000 was agreed, but his stay didn’t last too long before he was on the move back to his previous employer Auxerre after about four months, before leaving to play for Monaco.   Then he was loaned out to side Lorient, fighting to prevent relegation from the French First Division, from January 2001 until the end of that season.

He is still at Monaco, although not a first choice player there. A look at his club record shows that he has not stayed anywhere very long and one might question why that is, but his lack of appreciation of the defensive side of his game appears to be a constant concern to fans of the clubs he signed for.   But if you have the right players around you, such matters are not of great import. What might have worried Spurs fans was his interview in a well-known Sunday tabloid on his signing, when he said he had come to London for the money and the pretty women. Did this imply that his focus was not going to be totally on the game or was it just that he was amazed at the culture he found himself in. While he may have been sold a different view of what he came to experience at White Hart Lane, especially when the new manager was brought in, he showed that he could have been good for Tottenham if he had continued to show the effortless movement of the ball from his midfield position. 

Unfortunately, for some, the fact that he looked effortless set them against him.

Martin Matthewson