I’d like to dispel the myth that Tottenham fans fall into two camps: one that, along with a number of tabloid journalists, hails Harry Redknapp as a messiah, the man that turned us from relegation candidates to Champions League challengers, and the other that thinks he owes his reputation to a fawning media and consider him almost incidental to our success.
My position is somewhere between the two.
Harry Redknapp 1980 – 2008
Redknapp’s managerial career started at Bournemouth in 1983. They won the third division (now League One) in 1987, got relegated in 1990 and stayed there for another couple of years before Redknapp went to West Ham to be Billy Bonds’ assistant.
West Ham were lower mid-table when he took control in 1994 and lower mid-table when he left, but they did hit the heights of 5th in 1998-99. The excellent crop of youngsters were comparable to Manchester United’s from half a decade earlier, but the club had less money and less ambition and the board sold his best talents from under him.
Redknapp acquired a reputation for being astute in the transfer market, particularly with the double signing of Paul Kitson and John Hartson. Paolo Di Canio was snapped up for a mere £1.7m, but there were a fair number of flops too. Marco Boogers and Florin Răducioiu regularly feature on lists of the worst signings of all time.
His most impressive pre-Spurs managerial feat was at Portsmouth. He took over for his first spell at the end of a season where they finished 17th in the Championship. The next season they won the division. He stayed for a season and a half, consolidating their position in the top flight, then quit after a disagreement with the owner and went to rivals Southampton where he made an admirable effort to keep them up, but failed with the damage done before his arrival.
In December 2005 he left Southampton languishing in the Championship to go back to Portsmouth who were facing relegation themsleves. He started slowly, but in the end it was a miraculous escape. Pedro Mendes’ last-second scorcher against Manchester City made for one the all-time great Premier League moments.
The accomplishment was impressive, but it wasn’t done for nothing. They signed 9 players in the January transfer window: Sean Davis, Pedro Mendes, Noe Paramot, Benjani Mwaruari and Dean Kiely on permanent contracts and Emmanuel Olisadebe, Wayne Routledge, Ognjen Koroman and Andres D’Alessandro on loan.
They continued to spend money over the next three seasons, evidently money they didn’t have, finishing 9th and 8th (their highest league positions since the mid-fifties) and won the FA Cup in 2008.
A word on that FA Cup. Portsmouth beat second-tier Cardiff City in the final having only played one top-flight side to get there. In the quarter-final at Old Trafford Manchester United were denied an early stonewall penalty when Sylvan Distin barged Cristiano Ronaldo off the ball in the box. If it had been given it’s unlikely Portsmouth would have been in a position to win the match from the spot against ten-man United, Sully Muntari scoring a penalty with Rio Ferdinand in goal.
Some of his achievements may be more impressive than I’ve suggested, but the point remains that before Tottenham his career was far from glittering and whichever way you look at it it’s quite a contrast to the other managers at the top six clubs this season. Between them they have won 27 league titles (in England, Scotland, France and Italy) and four European Cups, while all Redknapp has to show for 30 years of management is three promotions and an FA Cup medal thanks to some dreadful officiating and one of the easiest draws in the competition’s history.
Tottenham Hotspur 2005-2008
While Redknapp was down in Hampshire Tottenham were quite shamefully and prematurely sacking Martin Jol, replacing him with Juande Ramos. What made Jol’s departure more palatable, aside from his underachievement that season and the one before, was the caliber of his replacement. Ramos won the UEFA Cup with Sevilla and qualified for the Champions League. He guided us to the League Cup win (and the 5-1 victory over Arsenal on the way), but in the aftermath of that triumph Tottenham completely fell apart and with the abysmal start to the 2008-09 season he had to go. Undoubtedly a top coach, but ultimately the fact that he couldn’t speak the same language as the players he was trying to motivate was unworkable.
Within hours of his departure Redknapp was put in charge. An underwhelming appointment.
There is an element of risk whenever a manager is hired, but in Redknapp’s case it was a bigger punt than Spurs needed to take. David Moyes, Sam Allardyce, Martin O’Neill and any number of foreign coaches had more impressive track records, but Daniel Levy chose Redknapp, getting rid of director of football Damien Comolli at the same time.
In Redknapp’s first game in charge Tottenham became the first visiting team to score four goals at the Emirates Stadium. 89th and 90th minute goals from Jermaine Jenas and Aaron Lennon sealed a 4-4 draw in an epic north London derby.
We were bottom of the table, but it was only October and with one of the most expensive squads in the division we were never going to go down. The deficit took time to make up, but it duly was and Tottenham ultimately finished 17 points and 10 places above the relegation zone. We also got to a second consecutive League Cup final, which we lost to Manchester United on penalties.
Last season, Redknapp’s second at the club, he guided us to fourth place, breaking the former big four’s stranglehold on the Champions League places and holding off the world’s richest club, Manchester City. We also could have been in an FA Cup final were it not for a disgraceful Wembley pitch and poor officiating.
The Champions League is billed as football’s promised land it fulfilled every expectation. A second-leg hammeringof Young Boys put us in the group stages and we took the competition by storm racing to a two-goal lead away at Werder Bremen before beating Dutch champions FC Twente 4-1 and playing the already legendary double-header against Inter Milan. Bale’s second-half hat-trick at the San Siro showed the fighting spirit Tottenham displayed for so much of the season. We beat them, the Europeanchampions, at White Hart Lane quite comfortably and beat Bremen 3-0 to seal top spot in the group.
In the last 16 we went to the San Siro again and this time a combative and highly organised performance got us a magnificent victory against AC Milan, who would go on to win Serie A. Again, in the second leg, excellent performances at the back and in midfield showed that we could win playing different ways. Real Madrid were too good, especially as we only had ten men for most of the first leg, and we made a dignified exit at the quarter-final.
At the start of the season we were hoping to repeat a top four finish and get to the knock-outs of the Champions League. Pre-season, with the extra money Manchester City spent and given time to reflect on how narrowly we’d finished 4th repeating the feat looked like a hard task, but two things happened in August to convince me otherwise.
First of all, on the opening day of the season we played City and were much the better team. Despite a number of new signings they were still the same negative team and we would have won that day, as we had in the previous four meetings, were it not for Joe Hart’s heroics.
Then we signed Rafael van der Vaart. The prestige of Champions League football had finally given us some pulling power and more importantly we now only needed one of our so-so strikers at a time.
In mid-February Niko Kranjcar scored a brilliant volley against Sunderland to put Tottenham three points ahead of Chelsea in 4th place. Despite some poor results at the start of the season (the defeats to Wigan and West Ham were the worst) we were in a good position and faced a favourable run of fixtures, but in the next four games (against the bottom four teams) we got just three points and before the season was over had drawn at home against West Brom and Blackpool.
Despite having a better team and rivals that had for the most part failed to strengthen we finished 5th scoring less and conceding more than last time around. Redknapp said we’d be challenging for the league and we didn’t. A run of one win in 10 games meant we finished the season a place lower and eight points worse off. The Champions League run ensured that this was our most enjoyable season in the Premier League era by some distance, but it obscures the fact that the league campaign was a failure and a missed opportunity. A backwards step without a doubt.
We were also humiliated in both domestic cups.
Lack of a decent striker
The key reason for Tottenham’s failure was the lack of a good striker. We didn’t win a league game by more than two goals all season and in only 13 of our 38 games did one of Peter Crouch, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Jermain Defoe or Robbie Keane hit the net. Nobody was expecting them to underperform quite so drastically, but it isn’t a complete surprise that this quartet proved inadequate.
The deficiency is primarily Daniel Levy’sfault. Targets were identified and he failed to capture them. It is true that there was little value to be had in the market – Andy Carroll at £35m and Fernando Torres at £50m show that – but even still, we had a huge hole in the team that wasn’t filled and for all our economising we ended up paying a higher price.
During Redknapp’s first transfer window he re-signed Keane and Defoe for a combined £27.75 million. Keane’s rapid decline may be unexpected, but it was frivolous and short-sighted to sign a couple of strikers so inept at playing together they once led to Grzegorz Rasiak playing for Spurs.
Six months later he spent another £10m on Peter Crouch and has had £14m Roman Pavlyuchenko at his disposal too. All four of them have a worse strike-rate than the previous season, which calls Les Ferdinand’s role into question and also reveals that they weren’t brilliant signings in the first place.
But the fact remains that the club needed a new striker in August and again January. The purchase was sanctioned, but never fulfilled.
Blame also lies at the players’ feet more than the manager. At times Redknapp appeared to be picking either Crouch or Pavlyuchenko based on the flip of a coin, but had either of them (or Defoe for that matter when he returned from a two-and-a-half month lay-off) performed consistently he wouldn’t have been so indecisive.
Where did he go wrong?
I don’t look back at this season and think about all the things we could have done differently. Playing Pavlyuchenko more often wouldn’t have guaranteed anything and whether you prefer Alan Hutton or Vedran Corluka it was hardly the deciding factor. Even the occasional game where Luka Modric played out wide or Gareth Bale was wasted at left-back don’t feel like major decisions.
Redknapp’s worst offence was freezing out Niko Kranjcar. Early in the season some swooning fans were baffled as to why he wasn’t in the team. Gareth Bale was having an extraordinary year, but as the season went on his reluctance to pick the Croatian even when Bale was out injured was baffling and stupid.
Kranjcar was excellent last season and while he isn’t as good a player as Bale he can certainly win a game as he proved two Saturdays in a row in February with a screamer against Bolton Wanderers and a lovely volley against Sunderland. He was sacrificed for a more industrious player in Steven Pienaar for the trip to Milan, but it is bizarre that he didn’t start another league game after that. At a time when Tottenham were struggling for goals why keep a man capable of scoring them on the bench?
Another player foolishly sidelined apparently because for non-football reasons was Aaron Lennon. Whatever happened in Madrid (I’m prepared to take Lennon’s word for it that he was ill and had been for the 3 or 4 days leading up to the game) shouldn’t have led to Lennon being dropped. He started on the bench against Arsenal, West Brom and Blackpool – games we needed to win. He was in good form, but became a casualty of not knowing what to do with Van der Vaart, a conundrum we wouldn’t have faced had we signed the top striker we needed.
Not a great judge of player
Every time a sycophantic journalist calls Redknapp a wheeler-dealer I’m reminded of the David Nugent deal. Only a month after signing him for £6m, a lot of money for a club at the bottom of the Premier League, he said he’d be free to leave if the right offer came in. Not only was it disrespectful to the player and financially irresponsible, but it showed how much of a myth the wheeler-dealer tag is and that his eye for judging player ability is not what it’s cracked up to be. Tottenham’s best performers over the last couple of seasons aren’t the players he brought in.
Luka Modric has been superb in central midfield. He is the best player at the club, but Redknapp’s initial judgement was that he was too lightweight to cut it in the Premier League in middle. He was shunted out wide for a long time, just like Bale only got into the team at left-back and even then it was only when Benoit Assou-Ekotto was injured. In all likelihood Redknapp would have sold Bale if he hadn’t picked up that foot injury before the transfer window opened a couple of years ago.
Pavlyuchenko is another one who he did his utmost not to pick in 2009-10 until he had no choice. The Russian came in and turned our season around.
This year it was Sandro, a Brazilian international and South American champion. With Tom Huddlestone injured Redknapp preferred Jenas and Wilson Palacios and not just because Sandro had played a long season in his home country. He wasn’t even registered to play in the group stage of the Champions League, but when he finally played against Milan he was man of the match and went on to enjoy a superb last 3 months of the season. Admittedly he started quite badly, but it’s Redknapp’s job to spot how good these players are. Instead, like with Bale, he lucked out when injury left us with no choice but to play him.
I have a higher opinion of Harry Redknapp between transfer windows. He went after Joe Cole in the summer without knowing where he’d play, then in January Phil Neville, Charlie Adam, David Beckham and Scott Parker were on the shopping list. None are as good as the midfielders we already have. Pienaar arrived and while he was cheap his wages aren’t and he has added nothing we didn’t already have in midfield.
If we are lacking experience and leadership on the pitch then let’s get some up front or at centre-back, areas where we need to improve, not buy inferior players and crowbar them into the team.
Attitude toward the fans
Redknapp has always had a hostile relationship with the Spurs fans and for no real reason beyond taking boos of frustration personally. He is incredibly defensive in interviews and oddly refers to Tottenham Hotspur Football Club and it’s fans as ‘they’ rather than ‘we’. He always talks in the negative. After one of the European wins he said ‘if you can’t enjoy that you shouldn’t be in football’. Who exactly didn’t enjoy it?
From the start he sought to create hype around himself mentioning the ‘two points from eight games’ statistic whenever we won, drew or lost a game for about 18 months. Realising that that isn’t relevant any more he has changed the line to a variation of ‘they weren’t qualifying for Champions Leagues before I arrived’. Always ‘they’. There are three things wrong with that statement.
1) It minimises the club’s rich history (even if he is correct in pointing out the relative mediocrity before his arrival).
2) It makes him the focal point of everything the club has achieved. Last season Heurelho Gomes, Bale, Modric and Pavlyuchenko all proved him wrong and helped us to fourth place. In other words – there is more to this team than Redknapp.
3) Targets change. Tottenham’s achievements are measured against those of Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City, not the teams who were at the bottom of the league in the autumn of 2008.
This week he reiterated that anyone who phones a radio station, and by extension criticises him, is an idiot. He also told Spurs fans this is 'as good as it gets'. If he feels he has taken the club as far as he can then he is talking himself out of a job.
At no point has their been any acknowledgement that we haven’t done as well as last year or as well as we should have. At the start of the season he said we could win the league. I wonder how he accounts for the 18-point discretion. Every time the poor run was mentioned, one win in 13, he either lashed out at the very idea of criticism or pointed to the amount of money Manchester City and Chelsea have, as if that was in any way relevant to our form against the bottom teams.
In hindsight even Redknapp’s biggest supporters must agree that the club wasn’t in that bad a shape when he took over. He should be credited as taking a top six side and achieving a top four finish, which is great, but it was Martin Jol that genuinely turned Spurs from a mid-table side into top four challengers. Under he stewardship only a bout of food poisoning kept us out of the Champions League.
Jol would never have called us idiots, you can be sure of that.
It’s so difficult to judge his time at the club because of the role of the director of football. Some of Damien Comolli’s scouting has proven fantastic, some of it less so. The very best buys were Modric, Bale, Assou-Ekotto, Edgar Davids and Dimitar Berbatov, while the likes of Hossam Ghaly, Ricardo Rocha and Ben Alnwick are bad memories. No one has a 100% record in the transfer market, but when Jol had Michael Carrick replaced with Didier Zokora or had to pick Lee Young-Pyo or Gilberto at full-back he had a very hard job indeed.
Jol had Lennon, Huddlestone and Michael Dawson when they were inconsistent, learning the ropes, but Redknapp has had the benefit of the faith Jol put in them. Redknapp has Modric as the creative force in midfield where Jol only had Jenas. £12m Wilson Palacios would’ve been a first team regular in Jol’s time, but now he doesn’t even make the match-day squad.
Post-Spurs he challenged for the title in his solitary season at Hamburg, but ultimately finished 5th, and only had a year at Ajax too where there’s no escaping the fact that he lost the league title to Steve McClaren. However much he is adored by Spurs fans the jury is still out on him to some extent.
What the future holds
Now Redknapp finds himself as the bookies favourite for the Chelsea job, one of the most enviable in world football. At first glance he doesn't seem to fit Roman Abramovich's criteria: three of the four managers he hired were European champions or World Cup winners. The other was Avram Grant, so maybe Redknapp, in the short term at least, wouldn't be the most ridiculous appointment.
Throughout the season Redknapp has leveled thinly veiled attacks at the Tottenham board about wage structure and sought to dampen expectations. A similar lack of diplomacy at Stamford Bridge won't get him far with Abramovich. He has sacked better managers than Redknapp, that’s for sure.
His tenure at Spurs has always had a temporary feel to it and with Roy Hodgson making a hash of the Liverpool job Redknapp is the overwhelming favourite to be offered the England job after the 2012 European Championships.
I think he's well suited to international management. Gone will be the temptation to spend recklessly or the need to spot potential on the training pitch. He can watch Premier League games and pick a squad and if it's motivation they’re lacking Redknapp can provide it in spades. There's more to it than that, but at the very least I suspect he'll be able to keep the press on side and persuade the odd player against retiring.
The pending court case could render all these ponderings redundant. The FA won’t give a convicted criminal the England job.
If he is with us for another year he's promised to 'give it another crack’. If we hold on to Modric, Van der Vaart and Bale (and there's no real reason we shouldn't) and buy a decent striker finishing 4th would be the minimum requirement regardless of how much Europa League football we play.
There won’t be room for any more excuses and if we finish 5th or lower Redknapp will have to shoulder some of the blame. If, however, he guides us to the Champions League again there will be little doubt about his credentials and even his fiercest critics will have to stand up and applaud.