Working as I do in a career where teamwork is crucial, I’ve attended more than my fair share of team-building exercises. I’ve gathered in intense circles of earnest contemplation, gazed at my navel, had days out in the country and built models of bridges (oh the significance) from cardboard, paper and string. Catching so many toppling colleagues in trust exercises, I’ve become known as the Pat Jennings of my profession.
Mercifully I’ve so far been spared the ordeal of crossing the Thames in a raft made from wood and oil drums lashed together with rope by myself, the temp in accounts and the IT nerd. However, I have participated in more than one team sculpt. Unfortunately this does not involve getting messy with large dollops of clay. Rather, you choose to stand in a place that symbolises your relationship with your colleagues, close perhaps if you feel good, holding hands to represent a strong bond or the merest fingertip touch if you are hanging on for dear life. It feels like playing Twister at a funeral.
But after all these years of experience, my advice is that only one thing is truly effective – alcohol. A few beers round the table in a decent pub or a glass of wine in the park allows people to talk to each other in a relaxed way and loosen a few inhibitions. I’ve been on two highly expensive and professionally facilitated jaunts that people barely survived, then went off to the pub to get over it and returned to work the following Monday full of how they got to know their team mates over a pint and a couple of g and t’s.
British professional footballers don’t need much prompting to get the beers in but if the Spurs squad felt better after team-bonding in Dublin, then that can do nothing but good. Footballers are athletes, whether they see themselves that way or not, and so they have to watch carefully what they eat and drink as well as slogging out the miles on the training pitch. Provided that they do not overdo it every night of the week or, worse, succumb to the stress of life at the top by regular solitary drinking, the occasional night out is a valuable pressure-valve for young men in the public eye. Far worse are players who clearly aren’t fit because they are unwilling to work hard or who are overweight. They will have no sympathy from me.
Team spirit at Spurs seems good, despite the odd grumbles from men who are not regular starters. Dublin probably helped. The question is not about the moral outrage spouted in many of the papers over the past few days or the value for the squad. Rather, it is more plain – why didn’t Redknapp allow them to have a Christmas party in the first place?
He has been widely quoted as having a well-known dislike of Christmas parties for the players. But he knows they are part of our football culture, and Harry knows that culture better than most. At West Ham and Portsmouth it could not be said that he had a reputation as a martinet when it comes to team discipline. The unchaperoned golf trip was obviously a euphemism for something more lively, yet he appears to have given his blessing. If so, then why make a big thing about parties in the first place? Keep quiet, let the players organise something and let it run its course. As it stands, he risks having his authority publicly undermined by a captain prepared flagrantly to disregard his manager’s expressly stated command. At any club the manager must be in control.
It’s even harder to fathom why HR or the players thought they would not be found out. In the old days, this would have been a scoop uncovered by a crack journalist. Now it’s any old clubber with a mobile phone and hold the front page.
This whole business is avoidable. Maybe he made his comments in an unguarded moment – you know how he gets excited when a microphone is thrust in front of him – and thought more about sounding tough over indiscretions rather than thinking it through.
In other clubs this would have been portrayed as a crisis in confidence in the manager, i.e. the players have taken absolutely no notice of him, and that club discipline has fallen apart. Cue old photos of Crouch sticking his head out of the car sunroof and Led falling into and out of various nightclubs. Harry’s cosy relationship with the media has really helped, however. That’s not how they have chosen to portray Redknapp, so it’s good old Uncle Harry and boys will be boys.
A quiet word and a donation to charity is the best way of sorting this out, given where we are, and for the club’s sake this is the best outcome. The papers have fallen over themselves to trump the anticipated total, ranging from £2k each in the Indy, 5k (the Sun), £20k (Mirror) up to a total of £1m in the Star. If Redknapp thought for a single moment that his captain was working against him then Keane would be out on his backside in the blink of an eye. A wink from Harry, cough up lads and next time, don’t get caught. Thank goodness it’s over.