When Tottenham's five-man attacking system proved itself alarmingly vulnerable to counter-attacks in the early part of 1994-95, manager Ossie Ardiles brought in Romanian international Gheorghe Popescu to bring security to an overworked back four. Able to play either as a centre back or defensive midfielder, the £2.9m signing from PSV Eindhoven was earmarked as the final piece in Ardiles' jigsaw, bringing balance to the attacking talents of Klinsmann, Sheringham, Barmby, Anderton and international team mate Ilie Dumitrescu.
Tall yet elegant on the ball, Popescu was an intelligent reader of the game, able to make crucial interceptions and start attacks from deep. He saw at first hand the size of the task awaiting him when, in his league debut, Spurs were beaten 4-1 by Nottingham Forest at White Hart Lane. It was their third consecutive loss in the league, making the next game at Wimbledon an even less inviting prospect. Popescu proved to be the hero, but not in the way expected, when his low drive from just inside the box secured a 2-1 win. However, Spurs continued to struggle defensively and the writing was on the wall for Ardiles after a 5-2 defeat at Manchester City in October.
The shape of the jigsaw changed when the Argentine lost his job and Gerry Francis took over as manager in November. Francis reverted to a more conservative 4-4-2 formation, partnering Popescu with the clean-tackling David Howells in a solid central midfield. Spurs kept five consecutive league clean sheets from the middle of December through to mid-January, the pair providing the basis for the team's newfound solidity. Popescu also got forward when he could, scoring two more goals for the club. He got the decisive 4th in a 4-2 win against Newcastle United in December and famously swept home a low Darren Anderton cross to beat Arsenal 1-0 in January.
Sadly, Gheorghe missed much of the last two months of the season through injury and Spurs again started to concede goals in his absence - four at Southampton in April and three against Newcastle and Coventry City in May. Their league form trailed away and they were outfought by Everton in a hugely disappointing 4-1 defeat in the FA Cup semi-finals.
Popescu had indicated during the season that he was not enjoying the physicality of English football, so it was no surprise when the Romanian agreed to join Barcelona in a £3m deal in the summer of 1995, after only 23 league appearances in a Spurs shirt. Despite having the memory of his derby winner, Popescu's departure came as a great disappointment to Spurs fans, who had already seen that the Romanian had the class and authority to be the world class holding midfielder the team had lacked for years. (Alex Voskou)