I started to write this piece at the weekend. Roughly speaking, the original draft was going to suggest that Harry Redknapp gets a raw deal from fans who don’t appreciate his achievements. I was going to look beyond the tired stereotype of ‘Arry’ as a walking cliché and relentless self publicist. And then, on Tuesday afternoon, this happened. I discovered the official website of Harry Redknapp, and for a moment, at least, I was back to square one.
To say that Harry’s website was something extraordinary would be significantly underplaying its worth. It’s bordering on a spoof site, to the point that I’m still not convinced it’s real. The only thing that suggests it is indeed real is that it’s linked from Harry’s official Twitter page, which has been verified by QPR. There’s a section called “Harry’s View” that features only two entries so far, suggesting only his most unique and original insights are deemed worthy of inclusion. This observation, on David Beckham, is one such example:
“He’s a top fantastic player. We had him training at Tottenham and it was amazing to have him round the place. He is absolute class.”
He might as well have just written “Terrific”. Another section, called “Harry’s Players”, (Harry is a bit of a running theme) has been created to highlight talents that Redknapp spotted and nurtured to greatness. It features some predictably impressive names from his time at West Ham – Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, and Joe Cole. Fair enough, but for some reason he’s chosen to include a slightly more incongruous entry in the form of Stuart Pearce that reads, “I helped re-establish Stuarts [sic] career when I signed him in 1999”. Pearce was about 37 when he joined West Ham. I don’t recall him spending many years lost in the wilderness before that. In any case, after 2 years with the Hammers he played a season for Manchester City and then retired.
So, is Harry taking the piss out of the internet, in which case, he’s the greatest manager alive. Or, is it just a very special website? Undecided, I could have continued in this vein, going through the website page by page, but it’s childish and lacking in effort. In any case, someone funnier will probably do that fairly soon. Instead we return to the original thread of this post – the perception that Harry Redknapp, football manager, does not always get the credit he deserves, and that his record is tarnished by his other, more superfluous traits.
Joining QPR probably hasn’t helped. Of all the clubs in the relegation fight, QPR are least likely to win a popularity contest. Of course, I’m well aware of the limitations of Twitter as a barometer of popular opinion – that’s why I painstakingly cross referenced my research against conversations I had/overheard in the pub. But, combining these two essential sources, the conclusion is clear – Harry Redknapp is often regarded as a bit of a joke, and at worst, he’s seen as an incompetent fool. And yet, Redknapp has been around for ages. He started his managerial career at Bournemouth back in 1983 (or, when Andre Vilas-Boas was six years old).
So, while David Moyes has plaudits heaped upon him for maintaining Everton’s presence in the top half of the table, Redknapp’s achievements – an FA Cup, two top four finishes, Champions League quarter finalists – are easily dismissed as fortuitous. His Portsmouth team only had to beat Cardiff in the FA Cup final, never mind that they beat Manchester United at Old Trafford along the way.
People mock Redknapp for a variety of reasons. Some just don’t like his manner, and find the ‘Arry persona grating. His personality has probably been exaggerated by his media profile, but he is a genuine product of working class post-War East London. In his own view, he would have worked on the docks had he not been a footballer. He is old school, like Alex Ferguson, and there aren’t many of his kind left. I always thought football loved a working class hero, or at least, it used to, but it doesn’t always love Redknapp. Perhaps that’s because he won’t shut up, ever.
One of the defining images of Redknapp in recent years is him sat in his car, window wound down, cheerfully offering a banal soundbite for the waiting Sky News reporter on whichever reasonably talented player was apparently unsettled – it’d be something hilariously hypocritical like, “obviously he’s a ‘triffic player, and I’d love to have him, but obviously it would be disrespectful to talk about someone else’s player.”
As his son might put it, he literally can’t keep his mouth shut. He is a dependable rent a gob; guaranteed to have an opinion, but not always one that people attach much value to. And it’s a law of diminishing returns; if you’re always talking, people are going to stop listening. Still, the ‘Arry thing is generally light hearted, but there is a negative side to the East End stereotype that Redknapp would clearly like to be free of – the Del Boy trader. He’s never been found guilty of anything untoward, despite the best efforts of a BBC investigation in transfer dealings, and an attempt to prosecute on tax evasion, so you can understand why his portrayal as someone ‘a bit tasty’ can be a sensitive issue.
Ouch. Redknapp’s time at Portsmouth is also a contentious matter. It takes a bold character to leave a club for their bitter arch rivals, get relegated, then jump ship back to the original employer to try and pick up where you left off. And that’s exactly what Redknapp did. He did then win an FA Cup, but in doing so played a part in bringing the club to financial ruin. Not that it’s Redknapp’s job to manage the finances of a club that employs him. He shouldn’t have been allowed to sign the volume of players he did on the contracts that were offered. But, no manager can leave a club in that way with his reputation escapes unharmed.
He did a pretty good job of rebuilding it at Spurs, however, despite a rocky start that exposed Redknapp’s occasionally brittle exterior. When Darren Bent missed a great chance that cost his struggling Spurs team a much needed victory against Portsmouth, Redknapp remarked that “my missus could have scored that one”. Some people thought it was funny, but in the process of making his views clear, Redknapp was deflecting blame onto one of his players, something the very best managers rarely seem to do. Bent obviously didn’t find it funny, and he was soon off to Sunderland to score a lot of goals.
Still, Spurs did alright without him. During the first half of last season, they were the best team to watch in the league. And, the season before, they enjoyed a wonderful debut appearance in the Champions League – compare and contrast to Manchester City’s first two attempts. These are not the exploits of a fool. Spurs were a shambles when Redknapp was appointed. It’s true that he benefited from the timely flourishing of some Martin Jol signings, in particular, Benoit Assou-Ekoto and Gareth Bale. Redknapp made some useful signings too – Kyle Walker, Kyle Naughton, Sandro, and Younes Kaboul (initially signed by Jol and sold by Ramos – to Redknapp’s Porstmouth). And let’s not forget the fun we had watching the sporadic brilliance of Rafael van der Vaart.
You can of course point to some duds too, but Redknapp’s real gift at Spurs was to take what they already had and turn it into a very simple but wonderfully effective team. A tendency to over complicate things was never an issue at Spurs. Modric in the middle pulling the strings, Bale and Lennon tearing up the flanks, Van der Vaart and whoever up front.
Does Redknapp get tactics? Apparently not, according to Rafael Van der Vaart. During his time atWhite Hart Lane, the Dutchman said in one interview,
“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.”
This is treason – the ultimate affront to modern football. And I like it. If Redknapp keeps QPR up people will say he inherited a decent squad and it was only Mark Hughes ineptitude that threatened them with relegation in the first place. If he fails, it will satisfy the doubters who want to conclude once and for all that Redknapp doesn’t know what he’s doing.
While he clearly isn’t one of the great managers of our time, he has consistently produced football teams that entertain and play to win. Isn’t this what fans always talk about, that they don’t really care about winning all the time as long as the team is trying to play good football? At West Ham he fielded Paulo Di Canio and Paulo Wanchope up front. What more do you want, are you not entertained?