Harry Redknapp has met me. Years ago my neighbour at the time organised a testimonial for one of the Charlton players against West Ham and my wife’s family are rabid Hammers, so there we were in the director’s box at the Valley. Before kick-off Peter waves to me and beckons me down to the front. I’m happy to thank him but he says, “Where are the rest of you? Come and meet Harry. Harry!” he shouts, “Someone I want you to meet.” Harry strolls over, is as pleasant as can be as we exchange a few words and the photo, once pride of place in my wife’s daughter’s living room, is now shoved behind a cupboard in their loft but I’m there, hanging back and forcing a smile.
Peter Varney and I used to work for Lewisham Council – he was something in building – and we got to know each other better during the 5 week strike over, well, I forget now but it was important. Lovely bloke and a good neighbour. He used to cut the thick hedge that divided our front gardens and it was only when he moved that I realised it was on my side of the line but he never mentioned it. A lifelong and long-suffering Charlton fan, he did a bit for the supporters club and for charity. We’d be chatting over the fence and his wife would call out, “Pete, phone. Again!!!”
“Coming. Who is it”.”
“Tell Kev to hang on a minute, I’m busy.”
Although he was too modest to speak about it, he must have been good because one day it was announced that Pete was the new CEO at Charlton. From humble beginnings on the picket line, he was in the boardroom and moved away. I, um, downsized.
I never took to Harry. I wanted to, for him to be the football man with a heart of gold who brought success to clubs in the right way. Fact is, my image of him has been tainted from the start as my wife’s family chronicled his dodgy wheeler-dealing that left him in pocket (allegedly) and successive clubs in a ruinous state financially. I refused to succumb to his assiduously cultivated persona of all-round good ol’ Uncle Harry. It was none of my business, until a couple of years ago anyway, but I don’t like being manipulated. Despite his generosity towards me, perhaps I was the first of those ungrateful Spurs fans he’s told to go elsewhere.
Never mind the man. My club comes first, last and always: there’s only one question, what has he done for Tottenham Hotspur? I’m genuinely and sincerely grateful for the progress we have made since Redknapp became manager. It’s not just about the league position, although I’m convinced those advertising boards that form the post-match interview backdrop flash subliminal messages saying “2 points after 8 games”, lest we forget. For me it’s also about the pleasure of watching wonderful footballers in (almost) white shirts playing scintillating flowing football. No trophies but everlasting memories. All Spurs fans are disappointed that we failed to qualify for next season’s competition but let’s just pause and say it out loud: “In 2011 Tottenham Hotspur reached the quarter finals of the Champions League.” Enjoy the sensation. One of the problems of the modern game is that we never stop to savour the feeling, it’s all about what happens next. Relish it, taste it, roll it round your tongue and chew it over, because these moments don’t come around that often. Then think back to February or March last year and tell me you believed that was possible. Be honest.
Yet our undoubted achievements this season have been tinged with regret. It’s realistic rather than greedy to say we could have done so much more. Our woeful lack of firepower up front has been the main problem – the strikers have been downright dreadful for much of the time. Coupled with regular disappearing acts from our defenders and keeper (where the hell did they go?), we failed to dispatch teams we should have beaten. Had just a few draws become wins then we would have overtaken Arsenal and secured 4th place.
Redknapp has to take some of the blame for this, yet he appears unwilling or unable to do so. Win and he basks in the glory. Lose and it’s down to the players. Harry has infamously been dismissive of the value of tactics in the past. He doesn’t really mean this of course, the very last thing he can be accused of is naivety, but he likes us to think he sends the players out to, well, just play. However, he has to take some greater responsibility for our performances, good and bad
The regular selection of Crouch encouraged the use of the long ball. Earlier in the season it went straight down the pitch, often too early, varied as time went on by the player pulling away to the far post, hence the long looping ball. When Pav played, we did the self-same thing. Whilst this brought some rewards, too often it negated the advantage gained from our skilful, clever midfield. Luka and Rafa don’t want to see the ball flying over their heads. Defenders have a fair idea of where the ball will go, therefore it’s easier to handle. Too frequently our strikers were ahead of the ball, stationary and waiting for the ball at the edge of the box. Problem is, the defenders are waiting too.
Also, and as a lover of attacking style it pains me grievously to say this, we were often too open to succeed in the Premier League. Although we developed greater resilience and an ability to hang on to possession, we lost it more easily than we should have on too many occasions and the midfield did not work hard enough to tuck in and protect a lead. It’s not about outright defence, rather, it’s about adapting to the conditions on the pitch. That’s the way it is in this league. This is tactics. This is the responsibility of the manager.
Redknapp’s great strength is that he is good with players. He takes their skills, fits them into position and asks them to do what they are good at. Find a group of players whose skills dovetail and you have a fine team. That’s why players always say they like playing for him, because he plays to their strengths. Nothing wrong with that and his loyalty to some men by giving them a run in the side has meant Bale, Dawson, Assou Ekotto and latterly Sandro have developed their full potential.
He’s more shaky when there’s a gap. He doesn’t adjust or enable the whole side to be as flexible and mobile as the best teams. For example, if Bale was out or he felt compelled to squeeze Van Der Vaart into the side we struggled because we did not have another man to step in to play the same role. Square pegs in round holes. Modric shifted to the left, unaccountably taking our finest player from his best position or Rafa wandering aimlessly from the right. Also, if he has it in for you, it’s less Uncle Harry and more evil stepfather. Bent was never played in the right way, back to goal too often when he likes it in front of him, then ridiculed and off elsewhere. What we could have done with half the goals he’s scored since he left.
Redknapp is immune from criticism and has taken umbrage recently against Spurs fans who have dared to go where the media refuse to and question his tactics, selection and status. I first commented on this a few weeks ago after the West Brom game. In an age where the media unstintingly dissect their subjects like a pathologist dragging out the innards of a corpse then examining the entrails under a microscope, his protection is a truly remarkable achievement. I can’t recall any sustained critique of his era at Tottenham from a professional pundit. Any suggestion of negativity is met with snorts of derision, not even considered but immediately and forcefully ruled out of bounds. No other manager is shielded in this way, not even Alex Ferguson. Nothing sticks.
Harry would do well to remember that we the fans were here when he came and will be here long after he’s dumped us for the England job. He can’t control us the way he looks after the media. He’s done a good job for us but should also look back to his appointment and be grateful because his record as a manager didn’t merit the role. I’m sure he’s as frustrated as we are at some of the problems, so why can’t he acknowledge that and share the pain and joy we’ve felt over the past 9 months.
Redknapp must carry on as manager. Consistency is key and the process of team building should continue. Above all, he must hang on to Modric, Van der Vaart, Sandro and Bale. Sell his grandmother and his precious Sandra if he has to, just the build the team around these gems that he did not unearth but has polished almost to perfection.
This man of the football world is still learning, even in his early sixties. He’s never been in this position before. He’s had little experience in Europe, let alone the Champions League, or at the top end of the table. Neither has he previously worked with players this good nor been in a position to buy the highest quality footballers. No more bargains or cheap but useful veterans for the short-term. Never mind the team, he has to step up in quality too, like managers with 15 or 20 years less experience in the game. I have the niggling feeling that he’s an old dog who can’t learn any new tricks and shed the underdog mid-table mentality. I desperately want him to prove me wrong.
Pouring over his individual comments has little value but over time you get a broad sense of what he’s up to. At the moment he’s gone on the defensive, talking down our ambitions and dropping hints to Levy that we need the money to buy quality this summer. It’s familiar territory, as is the rubbishing of the fans. Most of us do not have over-inflated expectations. Within our frustrations we realise both the potential of the club and the work still to be done. To fulfil that potential, Redknapp has to move out of his comfort zone in terms of the players we buy, the way we play and the manner in which he relates to the fans. He has to work hard this summer. I for one look forward to August.