Tottenham Hotspur That Was The Season That Was. The Manager

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”.”

“Kevin Keegan”

“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.

21 thoughts on “Tottenham Hotspur That Was The Season That Was. The Manager

  1. Great piece. I agree in the main, but I think he’s peaked. Wouldn’t be at all upset if he left right now. This season was our chance to cement a place in the top 4 and he (and Levy?) blew it. Good fun in the CL mind.

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  2. We did very well we could have and should always think we can do better. What’s so contentious about that Harry?

    Though I agree Alan that there is a need and value in taking stock and just enjoying the acchievements of the moment. I have been guilty of not doing recently.

    It’s perhaps too much of a needless risk to think of Harry going now, look what happened when the club (and some supporters) felt Jol had gone as far as he could and we managed to get one of if not the hottest coaching property In Europe to take his place. The Carling Cup lovely as it was to win and beat Chelsea was a poor return perhaps given the anticipation and spending.

    Nonetheless, if he is to take the England job in 2012, there is a mid-to-long term issue. It doesn’t look like any of the current set up will stand up, so we will replace from outside with all the inherent risks that runs. I’ll hammer my colours to the mast, I think Harry has reached the ceiling and built a nice attic room so he can see but not touch the stars in terms of what he’ll achieve at Spurs and I wouldn’t mourn his going tbh. Mind he’s proved me wrong since he’s arrrived and here’s to that continuing.

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  3. A very good article, and almost spot on. I particularly share your bewilderment around Harry’s easy ride from the press. In 40 years of watching football I have never known this. Just think, the 4 managers that finished above Harry in the league are all multiple trophy winners yet, at various stages of the season they have all been subjected to press criticism. Yet, Harry who’s greatest achievement in 40 years of management is an FA cup is touted as a ‘shoe in’ for the England job and if you believe the publicity that surrounds what is clearly a betting scam, is also virtually guaranteed the Chelsea Job.

    Yes Harry has undoubtedly moved Spurs forward, but when scrutinized his CV does not back up the lofty position in which he and his press place him. The only slight variance I have with you, is that Harry has not demonstrated the kind of loyalty to our great club that our fans deserve and if he is taking the England job next year then I say he should go now – THIS WEEK.

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    • Harry for England is one question that I’ve not covered. It seems an open secret but no one has the decency or foresight to plan for it. Anyway, if he gets done for the tax dodging he will be persona non grata at the FA.

      The FA could be the biggest obstacle to progress.

      Regards,

      Al

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  4. Harry out? No way people. We need to solidify our position and strengthen the team to push on. Why change manager when we have been doing better than we ever have? Why unsettle the squad when we have some real gems in there as previously stated? Would Mourinho come to spurs? Who would keep Modric, Bale, VDV and Sandro at the lane if Harry left? Sorry, but for me i couldn’t handle the risk of mid table mediocrity again. Stick with what we have , with 2-3 extra players and we will have a very real chance of consistantly beating the big teams and who knows what we could do in the champions league if we get there again.

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  5. Lovely, enjoyed reading this, wonderful balance to it, unlike our midfield at times!..
    Spot on in identifying ‘the four gems’.
    Keep Pav and JD, both just need a run of games,. sell crouch).. then get our heads down for a really big domestic push.

    COYS

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    • I also agree that that quartet is the foundation on which to build. A lot of Spurs fans would have added Huddlestone and maybe Lennon; do you not rate them that highly, Alan? Just wondering. For me Huddlestone will always be to dozy and Lennon too inconsistent.

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      • I rate them but those four are the highest class in my view. Wouldn’t swap Modric, Bale and Sandro for anyone.

        Hud can be a fine playmaker but as I’ve said before, that ‘first yard in the head’ isn’t in his head, I’m afraid. Lennon’s great – my problem is whether in the Premier League an out and out winger is a luxury. Take someone like Valencia – great half a season but he works back. Couldn’t see Lennon slotting in at full-back as he has on several occasions.

        Regards,

        Al

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  6. I think ross v’s point about unsettling the squad, esp Modric, VDV, Bale, Sandro if Harry goes is a good one, and perhaps one that sometimes gets overlookedin the Harry in or out debates.

    However, I wish people (and there are a lot of people who do) would stop saying this:

    “Why change manager when we have been doing better than we ever have?”

    It’s not true!!!

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    • Well it is true, that’s undeniable. The question that’s not been fully addressed is how?. Like many I gasped in abject horror when Harry was appointed. I imagined Peter Storey following him and our club following Portsmouth and Southampton down the leagues. So he took over when we had 2 from 6, so what! Wouldn’t any half decent manager have got a tune out of that squad?, probably but the fact remains is they didn’t.
      Personally I feel that speaking English to English/British players is fundamental when giving simple instructions to players, and that’s all Harry needed to do and did. Of course we should’ve finished higher than 5th, it was there for taking, wasn’t it? But now we have to consolidate and the vultures are circling holding huge wads of wonga in their talons. Now we’ll find out more about the man, as I feel if Chelsea wave a note or two in his direction, we’ll be looking in the sits vac column soon!

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  7. Enjoy the fame; take the blame Harry.
    The fact that he doesn’t is irritating but not that important.
    The vitalt thing is have we improved under Harry?
    And only the most churlish would argue that we haven’t
    although he didn’t save us from oblivion.
    Ramos was the blip.

    If he left tomorrow a lot of fans would be relieved in away
    unless Sam Allardyce come in, but I don’t want him sacked.

    ‘As good as it gets’, I think not.
    But Harry’s faults have meant that we have not achieved
    what we might have done.

    If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, yes.
    But if it’s not perfect it could be improved.

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  8. By premier league standards we’ve not had it so good. Though I still think Jol’s 5th on 05/06 was as worthy an achievement, given the squad and relative strengths of the sky 4, as last season’s 4th, perhaps better Even the mediocre side (plus Gazza and Lineker) under Venables came third one season. Just to stay in the last 2 decades. The CL run was very fine and good fun of course.

    I still think we’ve had it better though that is only my opinion of course, and it is one that is not shared by Harry and many others I accept. The CL (for one season) and 4th in the prem (which seems akin to winning a major trophy for many) have skewed things perhaps. If we’d reached the CL again this season perhaps I’d agree, as Bill Nick’s European Cup semi finalists didn’t qualify again. But we didn’t.

    I think this from JimmyG is worth worth flagging up.

    “The vital thing is have we improved under Harry? And only the most churlish would argue that we haven’t
    although he didn’t save us from oblivion. Ramos was the blip”

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  9. Alan- I have been reading your blog all season, and although I have often thought about adding a comment or two, never have. However I really do feel I should make the effort now. So…what I would like to say is this: I thoroughly enjoy your work, always fair, always balanced, always passionate, and probably the most beautifully written prose on any blog on the internet. It’s always a genuine pleasure to read your articles: a big thankyou from me.

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  10. This is a somewhat sour article to end the season on – talk about damning with faint praise! I feel you are being too unkind on the manager who took us to another level this season; showing the rest of the world that we are one of the eight best teams in Europe (in theory) doesn’t deserve your churlish end of term report. It must have been quite a struggle trying to squeeze in those little bits about wins in Europe, plus Arsenal, etc. etc. while propping up your notion that he’s not exactly Tottenham material either in character or philosophy. I didn’t exactly hear you complaining in the first half of the season when VdV was getting onto the end of Crouch’s knockdowns every week, seemingly. And the tactics part of it often falls apart simply through the inability of players to do their job consistently. Sure the second half of the season was a disappointment, but it wasn’t tactics that lost us points at Blackpool, Wolves, etc. It was players failing to deliver when most needed. Gomes and Defoe are the obvious culprits here but several more are guilty of disappearing in action. I’m not sure there were too many games where we pointed the finger at Harry for cocking up tactics, or selection or whatever. Your article doesn’t identify any single tactical screw up. So why you judge so harshly in retrospect is puzzling. And our win in Milan (possibly our single finest performance in the past 20 years or so, considering the occasion) wasn’t due to the Italians playing so badly – it was down to tactics and every player carrying out his game plan. (Scorer – Crouch). God Knows that Harry isn’t perfect, and I agree with you that his alleged extra curricular activities may do for him in the England job, but I’m not sure I’d have anyone else in the job from among the current contenders. Give him a break – we’ve not been in this good a shape for a long time and I think we have a core of players that can give it a good try next season, bolstered by a couple of additions.

    Al, great website. You’ve been almost as consistent as Sandro!

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    • Ta as always for your comments.

      The piece represents what I think, and the reality is, Redknapp has done some good things for the club but has also failed to release some of the potential. I’ve been consistent this season in my criticism of tactics up front – even if we play Crouch, we didn’t get people alongside him to get hold of the knockdowns – and as time went on, a rueful acknowledgement that the open approach I love has to be moderated if we are to be right up there.

      Up there with Sandro – never my friend, never those heights!

      regards, Al

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