Let me preface this by saying that this blog post is not knee-jerk, it is not based purely off the back of two heavy defeats to the best two teams the English Premier League has to offer. These concerns have lingered and grown across the course of the last year, and this blog post is born out of the frustration that the issues I will discuss are rarely reported or deliberated in mainstream media. While one North London manager is pilloried in the press, another – whose team sits bottom of the league – sees his managerial ability remain unquestioned. Arsene Wenger has been heavily criticised in the wake of Arsenal’s 8-2 loss to Manchester United, and there have been calls for the “humiliated” manager’s head. But Harry Redknapp, who has guided his side to an 8-1 aggregate loss against the Manchester clubs, has received no such treatment. And that is perhaps understandable, given that Redknapp is generally an affable, jovial soul, only too happy to regale anecdotes about Paolo Di Canio, provide the media with a year’s worth of sound bites from a single press conference and make humorous quips about Darren “Sandra” Bent, or Samassi “He don’t speak the English too good” Abou. So here begins my Redknapp roast, and where better to start than ‘Arry’s relationship with the media.
Got time for a quick chat ‘Arry?
Ah, Harry and the press. It’s perhaps this issue which has driven the greatest wedge between Redknapp and the fans. Redknapp, it is perceived, uses the media for two purposes: self-preservation and self-promotion. Since February, Spurs’ form has been nothing short of disastrous (more to come on that later), but with every loss against bottom half opposition or humbling home draw came an excuse from the manager: “Well, that’s football.” “It was just one of those days.” “It’s a funny old game.” But Spurs enjoyed “one of those days” with greater frequency than any other side with top four aspirations did last season, and there was a worrying lack of willingness from Redknapp to take responsibility for defeat or even accept that there was a problem (instead listing the sums of money spent by Spurs’ top four rivals). Every conceded goal or dropped point(s) was accompanied by a defence that deflected blame away from Redknapp, whether it be injuries, fixture congestion, a refereeing error, luck or a stroke of genius from the opposition. When questioned after Spurs’ 2-2 draw against West Brom at home (having conceded a late equaliser), Redknapp said, “Everyone has results like that [...] We had the game in the bag and then the kid hit a worldy [shot]. It was unreal. He could try that every day for the next six years and he would not be able to do that again.” Redknapp opted not to mention how open the game had obviously been before West Brom equalised (a problem he could have rectified with his one remaining substitution), and failed to note that this was not the first time a lower half, relegation fighting side had matched Spurs. A manager who cannot accept that there is a problem will never find a solution, and two weeks later Spurs were held to a draw at home to Blackpool.
Another bugbear is the ease with which Redknapp puts down the club and insults the fans. He’s launched tirades against the “idiots” who phone up radio shows and dare to question Spurs’ form. “If they don’t enjoy the football being played at the lane, they don’t know football,” snarled Redknapp. Yet only one side (Birmingham) in the Premier League played more long balls than Spurs last season, and the aesthetic Redknapp promotes is far from enjoyable as a result. Last season, in the league, Spurs fans would struggle to recall more than three halves of genuinely exhilarating football. But “this is the best they’ve ever had it” is the mantra that Redknapp uses to describe the 2010/2011 season, a remark that is highly derogatory to the club’s past (particularly the attractive and silverware-winning football played under Bill Nicholson, as well as the ‘push and run’ football created by Arthur Rowe), while also failing to recognise that Redknapp won nothing last year (even Juande Ramos managed a Carling Cup) and Spurs finished in the same league position as they did under Martin Jol in both 05/06 and 06/07 (despite Jol having a far inferior squad). In fact, Redknapp went as far as to say (in a pre-match interview on ITV4 ahead of Spurs’ Europa League clash with Hearts) that Spurs “won’t have a better season [than last year] for the next 20 years.” Comments such as this underline both Redknapp’s lack of ambition, and his frustrating tendency to lower the success that should be expected of Spurs in order to exaggerate the job he has done at the club. He constantly puts down the club (to whom he is employed) which elevates the relative success he has had: “The fans had nothing before I got here.” “I brought Champions League football to a club that had never had it.” “Two points from eight games.” Harry’s use of the media always has an element of self-interest. Whereas a manager such as Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson will use the media to assist their team (for example, putting extra emphasis on a particular dimension of the game – Wenger highlights the roughness of the opposition, “Fergie time” etc.), Redknapp uses media to make himself look better. While Redknapp is happy to pat himself on the back, a lone voice in the Tottenham squad offered a different appraisal of Spurs’ season (a view that mirrors that of many fans): “Even if people say ‘you had a great season’, I don’t think so,” says William Gallas. “To get to the quarter-finals of the Champions League at the first attempt was amazing for Tottenham but everyone is upset because we got nothing at the end. When we play against the small teams, maybe – I say maybe – we thought we had won before we played, so perhaps that’s the mistake we made.”
The Modric situation
Redknapp’s methods of deflection were plain to see in his post-match press conference after Spurs’ most recent defeat against Man City (Spurs’ biggest home defeat for eight years). Many people would concede that Spurs’ central midfield duo of Niko Kranjcar and Luka Modric were totally incapable of dealing with City’s attack, and offered no protection to an often exposed back four. Rather than address the obvious shortcomings of his team selection, Redknapp called upon his ace in the hole: Luka Modric. “Luka’s head wasn’t right again. He came to see me at 12pm and he told me he didn’t feel his head was right.” And with that, all post-match discussion was deflected onto Modric’s shoulders. Redknapp went on to explain how difficult pre-season had been, with the implication being that the Modric ordeal had unsettled Spurs’ preseason preparations. Redknapp’s stance throughout the ongoing Modric saga has been inconsistent to say the least. Daniel Levy, the Tottenham chairman, made it plainly and explicitly clear that Modric was not for sale, but it is not a sentiment that has been echoed by Redknapp: “When a player wants to be somewhere else, sometimes it’s better to sell them. Maybe you would get three or four players in to make you a better team. If Luka really had his mind made up and he wasn’t going to be happy and get on with it, then sometimes you’re better off letting him go, there’s no doubt about that.” Redknapp has fanned the flames regarding the Modric situation by not toeing the line set by the chairman and has sent mixed message to the diminutive Croatian. It could have been perceived that Redknapp’s friendly, sympathetic approach to Modric’s plight was designed to keep Modric on side and provide an empathetic figure within the club’s hierarchy. But now Redknapp has betrayed Modric’s trust and risked destabilising him further. It’s also worth noting that Redknapp has been highly critical of the dark forces that have turned Modric’s head, yet he has used the media to essentially tap up Scott Parker who is widely expected to sign for Tottenham within the next 24 hours. Many of the concerns up until now might be dismissed as largely superficial or overly sensitive, but Redknapp’s flaws extend beyond this use of the media.
Form from February 2011 onwards
Spurs’ league form since February has been terrible. Between February 22nd and the end of last season, Spurs have won just three times, drawing against Wolves, West Ham, Wigan, Arsenal, West Brom and Blackpool – four of those teams were involved in a relegation fight. In all competitions, from February 15th until now, Spurs have played 18 games, won four, drawn seven and lost seven. Is that really the best Spurs have ever had it, as Redknapp insists? Spurs picked up just four points from a possible 24 in eight games against Blackpool, Wigan, West Ham and West Brom, and only managed to keep as many clean sheets as Blackburn, who finished just four points above the drop. Juande Ramos was in charge of 54 games at Spurs in all competitions. He won 21, drew 16 and lost 17. In Redknapp’s last 54 games, he has won 22, drawn 17 and lost 15. That’s 83 points for Redknapp and 79 points for Ramos – a difference of just four points over 54 games. Ramos was ridiculed, Redknapp is applauded.
Ask Redknapp about tactics and he’s more likely to describe the green and orange mints. The low estimation with which Redknapp holds tactics is well known, but it’s worth reiterating. “You can argue about formations, tactics and systems forever, but to me football is fundamentally about the players,” says Redknapp. “Whether it is 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, the numbers game is not the beautiful game in my opinion. It’s 10 per cent about the formation and 90 per cent about the players. If you have the best ones and they do their job, then they can pretty much play any way you want them to.” Redknapp’s disregard of tactics is further backed up by Rafael van der Vaart, who described life at Tottenham as such, “It feels like I’m back on the street. There are no long and boring speeches about tactics, like I was used to at Real Madrid. There is a clipboard in our dressing room but Harry doesn’t write anything on it! It’s very relaxed. The gaffer gives us the line-up 20 minutes before we go out to do our warm-up. And the only words he speaks to me are ‘You play left or right, work hard, have fun and show the fans your best’.” Anders Svensson, who played under Redknapp at Southampton, has echoed van der Vaart’s comments, saying that Redknapp lacked any kind of tactical knowledge and the team did zero tactical training.
Jonathan Wilson has argued that it may be the case that “Redknapp is better at intuitively understanding a game and feeling what needs changing than he is at envisioning a match beforehand.” Spurs’ fabled slow starts last season – such as against Fulham (4-0 down inside the first 45 minutes), Inter Milan (4-0 down inside 35 minutes) and Young Boys (3-0 down inside 28 minutes) – would certainly indicate a pre-match failing with regard to how the team should initially be set up. But the substitute-fuelled comebacks that lend weight to Wilson’s theory have dried up in 2011, and Redknapp’s changes (or lack of) have begun to cost Spurs.
In the latter half of last season, Spurs found themselves unable to see out games (with Redknapp often reacting too slowly to try and close out a game). Against Birmingham away, Spurs spent 62 minutes in the lead and though the tide had visibly turned in Birmingham’s favour, Redknapp did not act. Birmingham equalised. Against Wolves away, Spurs were leading for 39 minutes. Redknapp made three attacking substitutions in that period of time, bringing on Kranjcar, Bale and Lennon. The game opened up and with minutes remaining, Wolves equalised. Against West Brom at home, Spurs were in the lead for 15 minutes. With the match far too open, the tempo far too quick and the midfield far too high, Redknapp again refused to make a defensive change. West Brom equalised. Just three times in the 10/11 season did Redknapp make a defensive change before the 80th minute. Redknapp appears reticent to making negative changes that have the potential to backfire on him. So with regard to Wilson’s earlier comment, Redknapp is specifically a manager who reacts instinctively when behind, when there’s nothing to lose, when he can afford to throw caution to the wind. However, this season has seen Redknapp’s attacking changes only ensure the capitulation of his side. Against Manchester United, Spurs had coped relatively well with Man Utd for 60 minutes. After conceding, Redknapp brought Huddlestone and Pavlyuchenko on in place of Livermore and Kranjcar. Pavlyuchenko and Defoe have never worked well together as a strike partnership, but Redknapp’s switch to a 4-4-2 with the barely fit Huddlestone and van der Vaart in central midfield eliminated any chance Spurs had of getting something from the match. The game opened up and Man Utd cut through Spurs with ease.
Along with Redknapp’s mistrust of “the numbers game” and his frequently awkward use of substitutions, there is a plethora of other tactical issues that Redknapp has failed to grasp (though I won’t bore you by dissecting each individual point): Spurs set-pieces offensively and defensively are poor (despite possessing gifted set-piece takers), Redknapp’s integration of youth last season was almost non-existent (on several occasions, Redknapp listed two goalkeepers on his substitutes bench rather than giving youth a chance), the overreliance on the long ball (three of the Premier League’s top five exponents of the long ball last season were Spurs players: Dawson, Assou-Ekotto and Huddlestone), inability to breakdown deep defences, mismanagement of strikers (Pavlyuchenko’s goals to games ratio was one goal every 159 minutes – that strike rate, over 38 games, would have produced 21.5 goals), Redknapp’s failure to effectively accommodate van der Vaart in 2011, the ineffective use of Bale on the right of midfield and many more.
Another criticism of Redknapp’s management that is worth extrapolation is the vast number of injuries we have endured under his leadership. According to Four Four Two, Spurs suffered more injuries than any other side last season – a massive 61 individual injuries. That resulted in an accumulative total of 1528 days lost through injury (the 4th highest in the Premier League), and no one Spurs player was available for every league game across the whole season. In the 2011/12 season already, Gallas, King, Huddlestone, van der Vaart, Pienaar, Modric, Palacios, Sandro and Jenas have all picked up injuries (some more serious than others, such as van der Vaart’s groin tear which will keep him out for several months). Though we’re not privy to the goings on behind-the-scenes, it is believed to be the case that each player follows a standardised, generic training regime, unlike at other clubs where each player is given a tailored, individual training plan to suit their particular needs. Fitness coach Raymond Verheije used Spurs’ preseason injury troubles to highlight the inefficiency of coaching: “As long as football coaches do the wrong football exercises at the wrong time or in the wrong sequence these injury crises keep happening [...] Clubs like Spurs have staff to avoid injuries but Modric, Pienaar, Jenas, Huddlestone, Sandro Gallas and King injured before start of season [...] But as long as people keep looking for excuses for these ridiculous injury crises the problem will never be solved. Players deserve better!”
The situation at Spurs is exacerbated by Redknapp’s reluctance to rotate his squad, and his insistence on playing players too soon (and for too long) after injury, and even fielding players unfit to play. Kyle Walker had picked up a bug prior to playing Man Utd last week, but Redknapp selected him regardless. Walker came off after 45 minutes having vomited at half-time, but not before being given the run around by Ashley Young. Similarly, Aaron Lennon was ill prior to Spurs’ trip to the Bernabeu. Despite his insistence that he could not play, Redknapp selected him in his starting XI. Lennon pulled out of the team at the last minute. Redknapp, typically, was quick to criticise Lennon, who in return wrote on Twitter: “Saying I fell ill be4 the game is bull***. I fell ill on Sunday morning where the med team put me on anti botics [sic], but only got worse b4 tues [...] Believe me this is 1 game I did no wnt to miss and still devo now!!!! But will not be made a scapegoat saying they only knew jus b4 KO.” Players are regularly thrust into first team action too quickly after a long lay-off – for example, after a few weeks on the sidelines, Jermaine Jenas started against Werder Bremen at home in the Champions League. He lasted just 19 minutes before limping off. Jonathan Woodgate, a player who made just four appearances in two years at Spurs, has already made four appearances for new club Stoke City in the space of a couple of weeks – with Spurs still seeking for a new centre-back, did Redknapp’s poor injury management result in Spurs losing a quality central defender who could have contributed this season?
Redknapp’s transfer record
Redknapp has been hit and miss with regard to player acquisitions to say the least. His initial signings in January 2009 were designed to stop the rot and propel Spurs out of the relegation zone, and in that respect they were successful. However, Redknapp now finds himself in the predicament of having to replace signings he had originally made. Spurs are open to offers for their entire (misfiring) strike force, which includes Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe (bought for a combined total of approximately £25m by Redknapp), while Robbie Keane (purchased for £12m) has left White Hart Lane for boyhood club LA Galaxy in a deal worth £3.5m – Redknapp has had three windows to rectify Spurs’ blunt strike force, though as yet his only signing is Emmanuel Adebayor on loan. In fact, much of the so-called “deadwood” in Redknapp’s bloated squad were signed by him, like Sebastien Bassong, Niko Kranjcar and Wilson Palacios, who is on the verge of signing for Stoke. Additionally, Redknapp has made several very odd signings that have made little to no contribution, such as Pascal Chimbonda and Jimmy Walker. Interestingly, Spurs’ best performers were at the club before Redknapp joined. Luka Modric, Michael Dawson, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon were bought in previous managerial reigns, while Redknapp ousted a number of players who went on to excel at other clubs. Last year Darren Bent scored 17 league goals – almost twice the number of league goals scored by Keane, Crouch and Defoe combined – while Adel Taarabt and Kevin-Prince Boateng have shone at QPR and AC Milan respectively. Redknapp would like to have you believe that he inherited a relegation scrapping side that he has overachieved with, when in fact the quality of the Spurs squad prior to Redknapp’s messianic arrival was extremely high. Spurs’ best signings during Redknapp’s years at the club have been Sandro and Rafael van der Vaart – the former was scouted and brought to the club by chief scout Ian Broomfield (and not given much game time until 2011 when injury necessitated his inclusion in the team), and the latter was a deadline day present from chairman Levy. Redknapp’s summer 2011 transfer targets have been worryingly short-sighted, targeting players well into their 30s, like Brad Friedel and Scott Parker. Redknapp’s most recent quotes on Joe Cole (“I like Joe, and I am not going to say I don’t want to sign him because I would be lying”), a player who has flattered to deceive for the past few years, hardly endear him to the Tottenham faithful. There is also a question mark over Redknapp’s ability to spot talent. He opted out of a move for Luis Suarez, unsure of his suitability to lead the line on his own (though after his impressive start to life in the Premier League with Liverpool, Redknapp – in typical Redknapp fashion – quickly pointed his finger at Spurs’ scouts, “people thought he couldn’t play up as a striker [...] They said he’s like Rafa [van der Vaart] and you can’t have him and Rafa”). It’s never ‘Arry’s fault.
I’m coming to the end of my Redknapp rant now (*breaths sigh of relief*), but there’s time for one last point regarding the stability argument put forward by defenders of Redknapp. One way or another, Redknapp will not be in charge of Tottenham Hotspur FC on the opening day of the 2012/13 season. Whether it be because of the soon-to-be-vacant England job, poor results this season or an imminent court date with HMRC, the last thing Redknapp offers now is long term stability. He won’t be around long enough to build a legacy. Every Spurs fan is grateful to Redknapp for the job he has done, but he’s no longer the right man to take Tottenham forward in the long term. Hiring Redknapp – who put an arm around the players’ shoulders, created a relaxed atmosphere and didn’t make the players work particularly hard in training – was the necessary antidote to the authoritarian rule of Juande Ramos – who worked the players incredibly hard (employing gruelling fitness schedules), had no relationship with the players and overemphasised and over taught tactics. Redknapp was so effective because his methods were the polar opposite of those that had left the players so disillusioned, unhappy and alienated under Ramos. But now it is evident that a once happy camp under Redknapp is fractured. Redknapp has proven to be tactically inept, fairly impotent in the transfer market and Spurs’ current form in 2011 threatens to undo the excellent work Redknapp had done in bringing Champions League football to White Hart Lane. If Redknapp does not recognise these flaws he can never correct them, and that will cost Spurs a very attainable spot in the top four this season.