I’m sad Harry Redknapp’s gone from Spurs. We’ve seen some great football during his time at the club, and the record of 4th, 5th, and 4th again speaks for itself. But I’m not going to join in with the kicking of the Spurs board for sacking Harry. I think a build-up of factors led to the decision to sack him, and I think Redknapp overplayed his hand when foolishly opting to negotiate through the press. I’ve thought for some time that the hard-line anti-Harryists were as deluded as the ‘Harry is the Messiah’ lobby and, predictably, both camps have talked some utter tosh since the news. This, for what’s it’s worth, is my take.
When Harry was first appointed I had some reservations. I was suspicious of the fact that Harry always put Harry first, and I wasn’t sure whether he had the drive or the tactical nous to succeed at the very top level. But those reservations were outweighed by the fact that Spurs were, when he arrived, quite some way from competing at the top level and that Redknapp’s arrival signalled the end of the disastrous Director of Football system and put a football man unequivocally in charge of the football – something that had been missing at the club for some time.
Put simply, Redknapp got a talented group of players to believe in themselves, set the team up in a straightforward manner, and encouraged it to play football the way we like to see it played. It didn’t work every week, but things steadily improved during his time in charge. Any criticism of what he achieved seems to be based on a view about what the team could have achieved but didn’t. It’s a strange way of judging any manager’s tenure, not least because it’s only the success we had that meant we could seriously contemplate further success. When was the last time we were seriously talked of a title contenders? Or Champions league regulars?
That said, I still have a nagging doubt about whether we could have mounted a stronger title in a couple of seasons when the so-called Big Four were stumbling or rebuilding and Spurs did not have the added pressure of the Champions League. One of my concerns about Redknapp never really went away, and that was that he was more focussed on relative success than absolute. Harry never hestitated to point out how much Tottenham’s rivals had going for them compared to us, always portraying himself as the underdog in order to play up any achievement and minimise the risk of blame for any failure. For all the sniffy dismissals of the club’s stature by Redknapp’s enraged media mates since the sacking – where will they get those quotes from now? – the fact is that Spurs are still a major force able to attract top players and have significant money to spend. It’s absolutely right to say the club needs to win something and compete regularly in the Champions League to be considered top-tier, but wrong to describe it as second rate. Under Harry, we were very successful – but it’s not wrong to ask if we were as successful as we could or should have been.
If some of the above seems harsh or ungrateful – and those words have been used about Spurs fans who, in the eyes of the Redknapp lobby, have paid insufficient homage to their man – it is not meant to be. I’ve said we had some great times under Harry – in particular that Champions League campaign with the exhilaration of sweeping aside Inter at home and the very mature performances in both legs against AC Milan which give the lie to anyone who says Harry didn’t do tactics. But the question mark that will always hang over Harry is whether he had that killer touch, that iron desire to win that marks out the very top managers. That’s partly why I’m sad he’s gone, because I saw the coming season as the last before this squad breaks up and the last chance for him to prove he could win a major trophy with the best squad he’s had. Those factors may have instilled the edge needed. Now we’ll never know, and Redknapp will always be the nearly man – a manager who for all his experience has won just one trophy, and that in a year when the competition was not as keen as it has been.
A personality as big as Harry was always going to divide opinion. For every person who saw him as a loveable Cockney rogue there was another who saw him as a bullshitting chancer. I quite liked the humour and the attitude he brought to the role, but as a Londoner myself I’m drawn to that style of engagement. I recognise too, that’s it’s a kind of survival tactic – a way of keeping potential critics on the back foot and disarming them. And that’s needed at Spurs. The club’s board may not like it, but the shadow cast by their disgraceful treatment of Martin Jol is a long one. So it’s understandable that Harry tried to look after himself, and tried to establish a counter to Daniel Levy’s powerbase. He was, if you want to put it more bluntly, wisely watching his back.
For much of the past four years, the very different approaches and personalities of Levy and Redknapp counterbalanced nicely – each cancelling out the worst aspects of the other and in so doing allowing the best to thrive. In the end, that delicate balancing act fell apart.
I’ll admit to being infuriated on more than one occasion by the utter claptrap Redknapp could come out with whenever there was a microphone within five miles. He was capable of totally contradicting himself from one day to the next without a flicker of recognition he was doing so, and some of what he said was laughably unprofessional. One such statement that really sticks out for me was when he said the Benoit Assou-Ekotto was a lovely lad but didn’t have a clue who the team was playing against from one week to the next. It was a pretty insulting thing to say about a professional footballer, but worse still, if it was true it would also be an indictment of a manager who allowed a member of his team to take to the field without researching who he’d be up against.
With this, and so many other statements, it was – I learned – best to just ignore them. When Redknapp was interviewed I got used to chuckling at the gags and not believing a single word he said. That made it so much easier. So I didn’t get wound up about him referring to the club as “them” rather than “us” or any of that stuff. What mattered was what the team did on the pitch. It played some great football and it achieved more than it had done for some time.
It’s worth considering the kicking Spurs have received since Redknapp went. The award for most ridiculous comment in a hotly-contested category goes to Mick Dennis in The Express who, in an outraged rant that said ‘Spurs to go one way now… down’ accused the club of being “pompously disrespectful” to Liverpool, Chelsea and Newcastle. The reason? Sacking a manager whose club had finished above them. In The Sun, Steve Howard was even more outraged, claiming Redknapp’s ousting was “one of the biggest managerial blunders ever” in article that seemed to discount even the possibility that Spurs had achieved anything before Redknapp arrived. Martin Samuel in the Mail, one of my favourite football writers, was slightly more considered but still seemed to have lost all perspective in a piece which claimed – incorrectly – that Redknapp’s “transformation of Spurs is airbrushed out of history”. I’ve not always been Daniel Levy’s biggest fan but to imply, as Samuel does, that Levy is seeking to claim all the credit for the team’s success himself is unfair and inaccurate. And I wonder if Howard would have had the same view of Tottenham’s future prospects had his mate left to manage England – as most of the well-informed sports press confidently predicted he would be.
Samuel also performs contortions in constructing a barb for Roberto Martinez, one of the names being mentioned as Redknapp’s successor. Samuel reminds us that Redknapp’s Spurs put nine goals past Martinez’s Wigan, adding that “No team should get beaten by nine. No manager should be unable to stem that flood.” It could also be said that no manager should lose a 13 point lead late in the season, but Samuel swats this argument with the dismissive observation “as if no other club have ever surrendered a position of advantage”. It could also be observed that a manager who is so good and who has a team playing such good football should not concede five goals in a single match three times in one season. There are also points to be made over pisspoor performances in two semi-finals and a final at Wembley. It seems that both Redknapp’s critics and friends can arrange whatever facts they choose to suit their agenda. Such is life.
Not all the press comment has been of this ilk. Matt Scott in The Telegraph and Gary Jacob in The Times (paywall) both provide more balanced appraisels, while Iain Macintosh on MSN echoed much of what I thought. All three look at the bigger picture, rather than seize on some of the dafter anti-Redknapp faction comments to make sweeping generalisations about Spurs fans and big up their mate. Proper journalism, in fact.
I think in the end Redknapp was unwise to attempt to negotiate through the press. The impression was very much of someone attempting to back Levy into a corner in public, and I think Levy has made it pretty obvious this doesn’t work. Harry overplayed his hand when, had he not done so, he might have been able to finish the job he says he would’ve loved to finish. Although he also said he would’ve walked away for the England job if it had been offered – perhaps not the wisest thing to say when you’re looking for a new contract, but probably just another example of the fantastic propensity for contradiction that marks out the man’s public statements. I blame myself for even registering what he says.
There will no doubt be more Spurs-bashing as Harry is wheeled out in all media outlets over the next few months, and I’m sure any time anything goes wrong he’ll be quick to comment and some cheerleader or other will remind everyone how ungrateful and stupid anyone connected with Spurs is. But, as all fans know, no one is bigger than the club. I’ll always remember the football we played under Harry fondly, and as far as I’m concerned he’ll always be welcome back at The Lane. But now is the time to look to the future.
I’ll admit I’m a little nervous about Levy and the board choosing a new manager, as they’ve never got it right before. The only two successes have been Jol, forced on them after the Santini appointment failed, and Redknapp, who was really the only candidate obtainable after the disaster of Ramos. On the positive side though, at least Paul Kelmsley’s not going to be taking potential candidates to dinner this time. The other worry is that the Director of Football system is rumoured to be making a comeback.
I’m going to hedge my bets and not call for or oppose any names – although I’m on record as saying I wouldn’t like Mourinho (not that that is remotely possible). I disagree with the assumption that because a manager has been successful at one place he can automatically be as or more successful elsewhere. Take Jürgen Klopp at Dortmund, for instance, whose success is down to a combination of factors running through the club. The same can be said of Pep Guardiola. In the end, we have to trust and accept the fact that those making the appointment know a little more about the detail than we do – although I know there’s a comeback to that point which will almost inevitably be made in the comments! We need someone the players respect, who can convince our best to stay and attract the new faces we need, and preferably someone who believes in playing exciting, attacking football on the floor. Whoever we appoint, we’ll get behind our man.