One of Martin Cloake's favourite players could be set to leave Tottenham - Ronny Rosenthal

Everyone has their own opinion about which players could truly be classed as entertainers, the ones who send a shiver of excitement through the crowd whenever they touch the ball. But I’ll bet there’s a name who wouldn’t feature on any list, one of the most extraordinary players ever to pull on a Spurs shirt – Ronny Rosenthal.

Ronny may have many (many) faults, but if he does leave the club for Marseille this summer I, for one, will miss him. He has frustrated and infuriated me on so many occasions, but he’s also helped me realise just how important hurling abuse at your own players is to the experience of being a football supporter. In the dour world of New Tottenham (tough on thrills, tough on the causes of thrills), he’s provided a spark of passion.

Ronny arrived at the start of 1994 from Liverpool, bought by Ossie Ardiles for £200,000. Invariably he would be brought on as a substitute when things weren’t going well, and would immediately get the crowd going by zooming off to every corner of the pitch. His enthusiasm was infectious, prompting choruses of “Ronny, oh Ronny Ronny...’ to the tune of Ha’va Nagila – demonstrating another of the game’s laws, that no cliché is too obvious.

But it soon became obvious that Ronny’s repertoire was limited to running very fast in a straight line – with or without the ball – then falling over, and loosing off shots that could go anywhere. David Lacey in the Guardian memorably described him as “a rogue rocket, waiting to be aborted by mission control”.

Other players will be remembered for their goals, Ronny for his misses – although he never quite achieved the level of the awesome miss he made for Liverpool against Aston Villa when, faced with an open goal, he cannoned a shot against the bar. His consistency in this respect was quite remarkable, but the beauty of his game was that you could never be entirely sure what would happen.

By March 1995 most Spurs fans were convinced Ronny was rubbish. Then the team went to The Dell for an FA Cup fifth round replay against Southampton. By half-time the Saints led 2-0. At half time the hapless Stuart Nethercott was removed and on came our Ron to score three goals – two of which were absolute beauties. Southampton were overwhelmed, and Spurs added three more before the whistle. Ronnie was a hero. “It was one of the greatest moments of my career” he later told Spurs fanzine Cock-a-Doodle-Doo, back in the days when players were allowed to talk to fanzines.

His hat-trick, and the manner in which it was scored, endeared him to Tottenham’s support. He still missed when he should have scored, didn’t – or couldn’t – pass when he should, was incapable of controlling the ball or changing direction when he ran, and invariably fell over whenever he began to threaten.

But there was always the possibility of his arrival as substitute sparking another astounding turnaround and, as Tottenham’s performances became increasingly lacklustre, at least Ronny seemed prepared to make the effort. For this, many of us identified with him.

The relationship between Ronny and the fans was, like in all the best love stories, doomed. Ha’va Nagila was replaced by an ironic rendering of ‘...and after all, you’re my Rosenthal’. Confronted with some of the worst football ever seen at White Hart Lane it was no time for indulgence or humour, and Rosenthal was firmly identified as part of the problem.

If Tottenham are ever to be a great club again, this greatness will be forged by players better than Ronny. But for all his faults, and for reasons he inevitably won’t like, I shall remember him fondly as someone who has been an integral part of supporting Spurs, as an entertainer. 

From WSC 124 June 1997. What was happening this month

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