The clamour to anoint Harry Redknapp as the saviour of English football once more demonstrates the national game’s curious ability to engage primarily with itself. This time large parts of the media are complicit in the charade and so unfailingly, unquestioning we are led to a solution we know to be obvious. Simply, the Tottenham manager is the only man who can save us from a grim future of disappointment and mediocrity. How, though, did this deception arise? What are the origins of the Redknapp myth and what actually are his credentials to deserve such unseemly fervour?
Redknapp’s first coaching role came in the unlikely setting of Seattle way back in the late Seventies but since taking over as manager of then Third Division Bournemouth in 1983 he has rarely been out of work. This is impressive longevity in a notoriously fickle industry and demonstrates a certain adaptability and willingness to change with the times. After all, there were no multi-millionaire prima donnas in the humble surroundings of Dean Court. His people skills are often cited among his key attributes. Players love to play for ‘Arry. His clubbable ‘one of the lads’ persona also stands him in good order with the media. Always ready to oblige with his easy charm and cliché ridden banter, he knows how to work the scribes and, in the modern age, the TV cameras. His son Jamie continues to plumb new depths of banality on Sky Sports each week. It certainly pays to have friends in the media and Redknapp’s acolytes clearly seem willing to do his bidding.
Where, though, are the trophies, those badges of honour which make the best stand out from the crowd? If we set aside the old Associate Members Cup triumph with Bournemouth, and the dubious accolade of the now defunct Inter Toto Cup when at West Ham, we are left with the now largely discredited FA Cup success with Portsmouth in 2008. A source of much pride at the time, we now realise this to have been a sham, a piece of silverware purloined on the back of a spending spree which seemed too good to be true and was. Witness the current shell of a club now uncertain of its very existence. When the walls came crashing down, however, like McCavity, ‘Arry wasn’t there. Promotions with Bournemouth and Portsmouth are balanced by relegations with the first named and also Southampton in that odd little interlude at St. Mary’s. Yes, since falling on his feet at Tottenham, he has overseen a Carling Cup final appearance and a run to the last eight of the Champions League, qualification for which now seems to transcend anything else in terms of importance. He failed though to secure a second appearance in the competition and the subsequent half-hearted Europa League campaign ended prematurely as Spurs were unable to negotiate their way out of a group which included such footballing luminaries as Shamrock Rovers. In terrace parlance this is surely a case of ‘England manager- you’re having a laugh.’
Much of Redknapp’s supposed managerial prowess surrounds his inspired use of the transfer market and encyclopaedic knowledge of players. While the latter can hardly be derided, the wheeling and dealing and constant throughput of new faces which has characterised his career hardly counts as a positive in terms of the national job. The FA may be sufficiently loaded to reward their bosses with the most lavish salaries imaginable but even untold riches wouldn’t allow ‘Arry to go out and buy Lionel Messi for England. He would have to work with what he has, showing an ability to develop young players and outwit opponents with clever and flexible tactics and strategies. Now there may be a shortage of candidates, but are these really the skills most commonly associated with Harry Redknapp? Then there are the contradictions. The talking up of Jermain Defoe as England’s most potent centre forward, for instance. Good soundbite but that would of course be the same Jermain Defoe who often struggles to get a game for Redknapp’s own club side. Of recent England managers I would imagine a Redknapp future to be not unlike the Kevin Keegan era, and we all know how that ended.
All of this is to say nothing of the slightly murkier side of ‘Arry’s past. He spent the day of Fabio Capello’s departure from the England job at Southwark Crown Court being acquitted of two counts of cheating the public revenue. Previously there was the arrest on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud and false accounting, though the charges were later dropped. The Stevens inquiry into football corruption drew attention to the racehorse Double Fantasy, who Redknapp may or may not have been given by the agent Willie McKay. And there was the refusal for a time to speak to the BBC over the Panorama documentary on ‘tapping up’ in which Redknapp appeared to condone illegal approaches to players. None of this seems to have resulted in any lasting damage to his reputation but the climate of suspicion hangs uneasily over his head, as evidenced by the potentially libellous insinuations of opposing fans. Terry Venables’ chaotic business dealings contributed to his departure as England boss, while the far more tactically astute Glenn Hoddle was dumped over frankly bizarre comments which had little to do with football. So the FA has previous on this one. Perceptions do matter. It would be odd if the same due diligence was not applied to ‘Arry.
The national team is in a mess. Despite the obscene amounts of hard cash swirling around the behemoth that is the Premiership, Team England remains firmly anchored in the Dark Ages. Expectations are low as we head towards Euro 2012. The problems run deep and may take a generation and a major attitudinal change to resolve. If genial old ‘Arry and his breezy demeanour was all we truly needed to turn the situation around, then give him the job tomorrow. So stop for a moment before we saunter over another cliff edge on a whim. ‘Arry for England. It sounds to me a bit like trying to cure a terminal illness with a sticking plaster.