The Premier League had been trying to make a lot of noise for a couple of years since its inception, but it was arguably the 1994/95 season that it really started to make a breakthrough outside of England.
On the Totally Football Show this week, our panel discussed a couple of major incidents which really punctured the public consciousness abroad, and had a massive knock-on effect in making the Premier League the global behemoth it is today.
One was Jurgen Klinsmann’s arrival at Tottenham from Monaco, and the other was Eric Cantona’s kung-fu kick on Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons.
Both made waves in their own way, at the time both positive and negative, but equally both seemed to support the old maxim that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
“If I could approach this from a slightly self-indulgent perspective,” said Michael Cox, “I was on holiday in New Zealand for three or four weeks, and at this point before the internet I couldn’t get any football news, without finding out any results whatsoever. Then one day, top story on the news in New Zealand was ‘Cantona attacks fan’.
“It just felt like that was the first time the Premier League became a really global story. It introduced everyone to someone who, OK had done something ‘disgraceful’, but who was by far the most interesting character in the Premier League.
“I think it was the making of the Premier League. I just remember thinking ‘wow, people care about the Premier League outside of England.”
Before the season, Tottenham pulled off an enormous coup in signing Klinsmann, who was a genuine global superstar having won the World Cup with West Germany and having played for Monaco (under Arsene Wenger) and Inter.
“The arrival of Klinsmann felt like a PR triple-header,” said Matt Davies-Adams on the Totally Football Show. “From Klinsmann himself, Spurs and the Premier League. You go into this season with Spurs having been deducted six points and kicked out of the FA Cup for financial irregularities (which was later overturned), Klinsmann had the reputation as being a diver, and the Premier League wanted to show they could attract these sort of players. Klinsmann, I seem to remember, was front and centre of every post-match interview.
“The famous goal he scored on his debut against Sheffield Wednesday: people forget that he was knocked unconscious later in that game but they still wheeled him out to do the post-match interviews looking particularly groggy. And I can’t remember a time when he didn’t do the post-match interviews in that season.
“That felt to me like a sort of ‘campaign’ for Spurs: to say that “OK, we’ve been cast in a bad light, but hey look! We’ve got Jurgen Klinsmann!”
Michael Cox continued: “It was a real game-changing moment. It was probably the first time the Premier League had welcomed a genuine superstar. It’s incredible how good Klinsmann is: he just looks on a different planet to every other player – certainly the defenders he’s playing against but even in comparison to Andy Cole and Ian Wright. His movement is so good, he’s so quick going in behind the defence. His finishing was sensational. It was just really exciting that he was here.”
And the impact Klinsmann’s arrival had wasn’t just in that season.
“We also have to remember just how much of a game-changer he was in terms of foreign players for the future,” Daniel Storey said. “He arrived not just with a diving reputation but among a media who was still pretty mistrusting of foreign players. At the end of this season, of the 22 managers and captains of the Premier League clubs only one was born outside England, Scotland and Wales – that was Joe Kinnear who was born in Dublin and moved to England at the age of seven. This was still such an insular league.
“I don’t think without Klinsmann we would get Ruud Gullit, then Dennis Bergkamp – the knock-on effect of his signing was absolutely monstrous.”
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