ABOVE ALL ELSE, Harry Redknapp is a football manager, arguably the last English manager to work at a top team in his homeland, and one who represents a dying breed. Seen as a relic by some and an embarrassment by others, it’s fair that his style can sometimes leave a little to be desired.
There will always be question marks about his tactical nous, despite winning silverware and claiming notable scalps in various knockout competitions, and rumours abound that he gives his team free reign on the pitch, with little tactical input. Of course, it’s unlikely that he just tells his teams to ‘go out and play’, but man-management is clearly his main strength.
He knows how to pick a quality player, but he never got the chance he craved with the national side. Was he a busted flush or was he a victim of circumstance and a misinformed reputation? It’s probably best to decide for yourself, but this interpretation of his career shows there’s more to the man than his hated wheeler-dealer persona.
Harry for England
Roy Hodgson was bad enough, but what if Harry Redknapp ended up getting the managerial role he openly coveted in 2012? Perhaps it would be the dankest timeline, as Crouch and Defoe rolled back the years to dominate defenders with the traditional mix of little and large up top.
There could have been robots galore, but there was a perception that Redknapp wasn’t enough of an FA man, whatever that means. At the time he had decent support from sections of the press and the fans, despite murmurs he had already reached his pinnacle. He planned to ask Brendan Rodgers to be his number two, while he’d spoken to a number of senior pros who were receptive to the idea.
For all of his qualities, Roy Hodgson lacked the killer instinct. Rather than squashing a fly, he’d probably nurse it back to match fitness, before assigning it to take corners despite being a hexapod with no concept of the offside rule.
Redknapp would have been a risk, but at least he could get his team to play good football. For those who believed that he had already peaked during his time with Tottenham, it’s fair to say that Harry could have done little worse in hindsight. It could be that the ‘Allardici’ effect at play, but just how good was the elder Redknapp? Was he deserving of a shot, or were the FA right to go for somebody who wouldn’t rock the boat? So many questions, but they can be answered by looking at his career in depth.
Beginnings at Bournemouth
In a playing career that began at West Ham and ended with Bournemouth, Redknapp was a fairly unremarkable midfielder. A stint with Seattle Sounders in the North American Soccer League saw him take more responsibility as he was named as their assistant manager while he was still an active member of the squad. After retirement, Redknapp joined former club Bournemouth in the same capacity, and eventually took over the helm in 1983 as the club were flirting with relegation.
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He’d already been overlooked for the role once before, but it proved to be the right choice as he led the team to safety. He stayed with the Cherries until 1992 following a serious car crash, and won the Division Three title in 1987.
The West Ham years
The legendary Billy Bonds was West Ham’s manager when Redknapp joined another of his former teams. Once more he took a step down to be assistant manager, waiting a further two years to become the boss.
His keen eye for a player is legendary, although he didn’t have to look far for a few of his signings. There are claims of nepotism considering he blooded both his son and nephew in Jamie Redknapp and Frank Lampard, although they ended up proving all the doubters wrong. Aside from members of his own family, Redknapp brought in Paolo Di Canio and worked tremendously hard to keep a difficult squad happy.
He explained the lengths he would go to in order keep Di Canio satisfied in an interview with Betsafe: “I used to make sure I put him on a team in training where nobody would kick him, because otherwise it would all blow up. He was volatile. He’d kick one wide and I’d used to say it was a goal. It’s Paolo. Got to keep him sweet for Saturday.”
Then there’s the tale of Steve Davies, a fan who got to play up front in a friendly against Oxford, after sending a torrent of abuse towards Redknapp and the team. He scored in his first (and only) game. “I just hit it, I hit it like nothing else. Know what I mean? I belted it. It was like time stopped still – it was the greatest moment of my life, after that, I was exhausted. I was on 30 cigarettes a day back then, I wouldn’t condone it. I had a couple of cigs and a couple of beers in the first half, didn’t I?”
Despite the highs, Redknapp ended up leaving his boyhood club after being too candid with a fanzine in 2001, becoming the director of football at Portsmouth soon after. When he joined the Irons, they were struggling in the league, and he left the team as an established mid-table side, having blooded a number of superb youngsters and having brought in various players for the cheap who went on to succeed in east London.
To the south coast and back again
Both of the south coast giants that Redknapp represented, Portsmouth and Southampton, had a problem with him at one time or another. Portsmouth fans and players were receptive enough to his unique style when he joined after his spell with West Ham, and the proven results led to promotion to the Premier League in 2003 – at the expense of the Hammers, who were relegated.
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He kept the team up the following season, but another argument with his chairman following the appointment of a director of football saw him out of the door faster than the average X-Factor contestant. Being Redknapp, he managed to hit the ground running.
For a man who began his career by spending several years with Bournemouth, he’d clearly adapted to the cutthroat nature of modern management. However, what he did next was seen as the ultimate betrayal by the Pompey supporters; joining their bitter rivals Southampton was just a bridge too far. The Portsmouth support came to view Redknapp in the same way as you would look at an ex-partner who decided to shack up with your best friend. Of all the fish in the sea, why pick them?
Redknapp’s failure to keep Southampton up was the first major curveball of his career, and he moved back to his so-called spiritual home of Fratton Park almost immediately. Rocking over to Portsmouth took a lot of front, but relegating their rivals had bought him a little breathing space. It was hardly of case of Agent Redknapp strikes, although he did improve the team with his trademark combination of solid signings and expansive football. It’s easy to overlook, but Redknapp’s teams have almost always entertained fans, and in an era of financial peril for many teams outside the top half, his work in the transfer market was intelligent.
Their best moment came in the form of an FA Cup triumph over Cardiff in 2008. It showed that Redknapp could mastermind a tactical victory in a knockout tournament, and they scalped Manchester United along the way. Ever the opportunist, he jumped at the chance to join Tottenham in October of that year, with the symbolic key of the city weighing heavily in his pocket.
The team have yet to reach the heights they experienced under Redknapp in the proceeding decade, but his role in their debacle since is certainly debatable. What isn’t up for conjecture, however, is that the good times rolled at Fratton Park under his stewardship, and a host of big names arrived on the south coast to ignite some of the best football ever seen in Portsmouth.
Taking Tottenham towards the top
No matter your allegiance, the Tottenham team of the early 2010s was undeniably talented, despite being the runt of the litter compared to their English cohorts in the Champions League. For some Spurs fans, they were happy enough to be in the competition in the first place, and it took a mighty effort to displace the traditional top four. Their beginnings under Redknapp were humble, as he dragged Spurs from relegation troubles to a Champions League spot in 2010.
Converted left-back Gareth Bale and the talented Luka Modrić were their star players, but the supporting cast were just as interesting in their own right. They included a left-back who disliked football, a captain who couldn’t train, and a Russian striker who conversed with the manager via an interpreter. Their reserve goalkeeper had broken both wrists and his pelvis in a motorcycle accident during the previous year, and their number one had an interesting style of play.
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Rafael van der Vaart was a key member of the squad, and he was open about his coaches lax attitude to training and match preparation: “Harry is a very special man, that’s why I already feel at home at Spurs. It feels like I’m back on the street. There are no long and boring speeches about tactics, like I was used to at Real Madrid. There is a clipboard in our dressing room but Harry doesn’t write anything on it.
“It’s not that we do nothing – but it’s close to that. For instance, last weekend Gareth Bale scored a header against Blackburn from my corner. But we didn’t train one minute on it, it was pure luck. Good kicking, good heading, nothing more. And our win at home over Champions League winners Inter Milan was a clear example of playing on intuition. You can’t train the goal I scored in that game.”
The natural progression of Redknapp’s career had led to this point, and he was deserving of a chance to prove himself. His methods were debatable, and certainly old-school to a point, but letting the players get on with it led to career-defining displays by many. It’s almost as if professional footballers that are trusted to do their jobs can perform to expectation, although it flies in the face of the Pep Guardiola and José Mourinho approach to meticulously preparing for games.
They matched up to the best in Europe, seeing off both Milan sides before bowing out to the might of Real Madrid in the quarter-finals.
After four years, it was the end, despite ending the season in the Champions League spots, as Chelsea made their fourth-placed finish redundant, having won the tournament outright. Redknapp was unable to work out contract negotiations with Tottenham, and it was hard to tell if he jumped or was pushed. Certainly, off-field issues at the time dented his reputation, although he was later cleared of any wrongdoing.
He’d been in the hunt for the England job in the proceeding months and looked to be a dead cert, incurring the wrath of the Spurs faithful by publicly stating his desire to take the job. Instead, Hodgson was entrusted with the poisoned chalice, and Redknapp was left to rue the FA’s decision. Out of work having left Tottenham and without the England job, he became a figure of public ridicule to a greater extent than ever, with my discarding what had been a successful stint in north London.
A bridge too far at QPR
QPR, who Redknapp joined in 2012, is where it began to go wrong in the dugout. The newly minted outfit were desperate to gain promotion from the Championship, and Redknapp was experienced enough to handle an expensively assembled team. It was well within his remit, but there were question marks regarding his commitment to the game – certainly at that level – after the England saga.
The Rs went up through the playoffs, which was disappointing considering chairman Tony Fernandes’ outlay, but Redknapp decided to double down regardless. The club ended up with a who’s who of modern mercenaries, whose talent was squeezed out well before they got to London, and it only reinforced the wheeler-dealer tag that had come to define the career of Redknapp. Their collective tube of toothpaste had long been dry, and the manager seemed indifferent to their lack of progress in the Premier League.
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He left the club second from bottom, staring relegation in the face, opting to take time out to recover from knee surgery. In what was his most unsuccessful spell in the game, punctuated by poor signings and a defence that continually struggled to gain any order, Redknapp left QPR alongside the notion that he was finished in the game.
Dogs and taxes
There’s a market out there for established older managers, as long as they’re willing to slum it in footballing backwaters. Regardless of that, Redknapp didn’t have to wait for too long to get back to management in England. Jordan was a port of call for a few World Cup Qualifiers in 2016, but he joined Birmingham in 2017, impressing enough to keep the Blues in the Championship and earn another stint at attempting promotion from the Championship. In a league that requires shrewd business, and with his track record in previous years, it would be unfair to write the Redknapp and his team off for promotion.
Perhaps why Harry Redknapp seems to have become the widely disliked public figure that he is stems from the most damaging saga he has faced – a tax evasion charge that he was eventually cleared of. Redknapp spoke of his near illiteracy, which actually makes sense given part of the van der Vaart quote above: “There is a clipboard in our dressing room but Harry doesn’t write anything on it.”
It damaged him as he aimed to get the most coveted job of his life, and one that could have been the apex of his career. But, having been cleared in court, it shouldn’t dimish his achievements in the game, and if his personality, way of talking and general persona is something people dislike, his football ability should be kept separate. After all, people seem to do that particularly well with the likes of Mourinho.
He claims he’s not a wheeler-dealer, and to some extent that’s true. Redknapp has always spent money where available, and obviously had an eye for talent at both ends of players’ careers. At his best, his intrepid brand of football was a joy to watch, while the comedic value of his interviews through the medium of car windows was both refreshing and different. After all, what was he supposed to do when a microphone is shoved into his car when he’s leaving work? If he didn’t grant those interviews, he’d be derided for a wholly different reason.
Looking back on his career objectively, perhaps he should have been given a chance with the international team after all. This widely-held persona of a dodgy car salesman might have won over the media, but it works both ways. Perhaps too personable, many found it too easy to attribute characteristics that may not have been true, and it made the tax saga more believable at the time.
Regardless of that, he improved most teams he worked at and gave supporters glory in the form of trophies, scalps and lasting memories. He brought players to clubs that many believed would never grace their stadium and his work with young players is in black and white. Despite deserving the England job after his work at Tottenham, contrarily, perhaps it’s a good thing that he avoided the most poisoned of chalices, despite forging a career path that he hoped would lead him to glory with the national team.
From playing a rabid supporter in a friendly game to losing it when he was hit in the head by a stray ball, Redknapp has offered football countless laughs and soundbites. They may belie his talents as a manager, which seem to be lost under the sheer weight of his characterisation as a modern day Del Boy, but his work at West Ham, Portsmouth and Tottenham speaks for itself.
By James Milin-Ashmore @jamoashmore