As one chapter closes, another opens. Just hours after being cleared of tax evasion charges at Southwark Crown Court in London – a case that dispelled accusations of financial skulduggery that have shadowed him for five years – Harry Redknapp stands alone as the clear favourite with bookmakers and the wider public to be appointed the next manager of England within the next few days following the resignation of Fabio Capello after his row with the FA over John Terry’s suspension as England captain.
Even for a man well used to the rollercoaster nature of life as a football manager, the events of today will have had the 64-year-old Tottenham boss pinching himself. From potential disgrace in a court of law to being within touching distance of a job often referred to as the second most important in the country in the space of a single afternoon trumps anything that even he has experienced in almost 50 years in the game as a player and manager.
The relegation battles, the crossing of bitter divides and the last-minute transfer deals that have nourished his reputation as a wheeler dealer are etched across Redknapp’s face and are explicit in his character, which invokes nostalgia for a bygone age. At a time when football clubs are being increasingly dominated by nutritionists, psychologists and statistical analysts, here is a man cut from a vintage English cloth. A throwback to an age where men in camel coats and fedoras puffed on cigars in dugouts across the country in between devising deals to swap players for lawnmowers or vice versa.
The major factor in Redknapp’s success has been the force of his endearing and shrewd personality, a by-product of which is his ability as a manager of men and as a master motivator. If a poll was conducted to find which Premier League manager most fans would like to go for a few pints and a trip to the races with, you can be certain that Redknapp’s would be at the top. Evidence of this can be found in the fact that the majority of those on the terraces and in the pubs close by appear happy to turn a blind eye to the accusations of financial irregularity that have seen him answer charges. He is a loveable rogue in the mould of a Trotter, despite taking up residence in Sandbanks – an area with the fourth highest average real estate value in the world – instead of Nelson Mandela House.
Yet all of this should not detract from Redknapp’s credentials for the biggest job in English football. The nurturing of several future England internationals during his spell in charge of West Ham, which also included a fifth placed finish in the Premier League in 1999, first served notice of his managerial talents. FA Cup success with Portsmouth in 2008 followed, but it has been his work with Tottenham Hotspur in recent seasons that has seen him earn broader praise at both home and abroad.
Taking over a grand old club in crisis and at the foot of the Premier League at the end of 2008, by the end of the following campaign – his first full season in charge of the squad – he had guided Spurs into the domestic top four and qualification for the Champions League. This term, his team has outshone Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool by producing the only sustained challenge over the first half of the season to the hegemony of the Manchester clubs in the current Premier League title race.
Redknapp has built his Tottenham on the principles of versatile attacking football, in possession of the flexibility of both patience and directness. He has nurtured and developed the abilities of Gareth Bale and Luka Modric and has added the contrasting qualities of Scott Parker and Rafael Van Der Vaart to a midfield that at its best can be mentioned in the same sentence as Barcelona’s without provoking derision. And his effective handling of the hugely talented but notoriously combustible Emmanuel Adebayor, a task seemingly beyond the capabilities of even Jose Mourinho, illustrates Redknapp’s genius as a motivator in a nutshell. England’s squad is full of talented players laden with domestic and European medals on one hand, and exciting youngsters on the other. The older generation have not only become accustomed to disappointment and underachievement, but also to playing with fear. Redknapp’s appointment would give those players the best possible opportunity to to relieve that malaise, while his record of successfully fast-tracking the careers of young footballers has been well documented.
Given the baggage that he has carried around for so long, proven or unproven, whether the naturally cautious Football Association have the courage to appoint him remains to be seen but the outcome of his trial earlier today removes a significant obstacle. The institution’s reluctance to bow to public pressure in the 1970s and employ the controversial but brilliant Brian Clough sets a worrying precedent for Redknapp’s backers. So does its failure to back Terry Venables, himself plagued by rumours of financial wrongdoing, following England’s unfortunate exit at the semi-finals of Euro 96.
The similarities between Venables and Redknapp are pointed. Both are men that have spent their careers trading on their ability to extract the maximum from the players at their disposal, and both are men that you are more likely to encounter at an East End greyhound track than at a UEFA coaching convention. In Venables’ case, that very English mixture made him the England manager that has come closest to glory at a major tournament over the last 16 years. After years of failed experimentation with foreign coaches and fashionable methods, it is time to give yesterday’s man another shot.
© Mark Robinson 2012