Joy turned to despair for Tottenham fans as shortly after Harry Redknapp was cleared of tax evasion, the one man standing between him and the England job handed in his resignation. Redknapp has courted the position for a number of years, and with widespread media, fan and player backing, his appointment is surely all but a formality. Followers of Spurs were largely shrouded in gloom, fearing the worst and treating the developments with contempt. But, there is life after Redknapp, and his departure for England may well be in everyone’s best interests.
Why Redknapp suits England, and vice versa.
Fabio Capello’s outstanding win percentage of 67% wasn’t enough to stave off criticism of his media demeanour and stylistic approach. The Italian was pragmatic, and stressed the importance of patience and ball retention. He asked his team to play a more continental brand of football, to play with their heads, rather than their hearts.
Of course, that’s not very British. What England fans want is passion, pace, power, gusto, grit and an indomitable spirit. We want to see blood pouring out of Terry Butcher’s head, a roaring Stuart Pearce, performances that echo the greatest moments in our history, the Churchill spirit. More than anything, England fans want, nay demand, an English manager. The England national team under Capello, despite an impressive win ratio, lacked an identity that we could claim as “British”. Rather, we have a faceless, soulless team that has become increasingly hard to relate to and even harder to root for.
Redknapp is better placed than any current manager to change that. In front the cameras he’s largely an affable, jovial individual, like a grizzly Frank Spencer (“Ooh Sandra, Rosie’s done a whoopsie on my tax return”). He’s as British as Fish & Chips, roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, Pearly Kings, moaning, queuing, Bruce Forsyth ad infinitum. On the pitch, he promotes pulsating, exhilarating football, with an emphasis on performance rather than results. He looks to play an open, attacking style that often overflows into riotous, gung-ho, cavalier and immensely entertaining football, an edge of the seat brand of football that prompts perspiration and can sometimes require the application of adult diapers. His famed arm around the shoulder can motivate and galvanise a disillusioned and downbeat group of players like few managers can. Importantly, Redknapp possesses a rare commodity: he actually cares about the English national team.
The England job to a man of Redknapp’s generation is less a poisoned chalice and more the holy grail, and unlike many of his predecessors he can expect a friendlier media. The job itself would require less work and pay more, while he wouldn’t be required to commute from Sandbanks to Chigwell: the ultimate retirement package for someone keen to remain in the game. But don’t expect a long term plan or the revolutionising of English football from the grass roots up. Redknapp would conduct himself on a two-year cycle, only ever looking towards the next major international tournament. But then the FA has shown a similar disregard for long term rebuilding and reorganisation, and in this respect Redknapp would be an ideal bedfellow.
There is a life after Redknapp for Spurs.
To start off with, an apology (of sorts): I was absolutely, unequivocally wrong when I stated that Redknapp could not take Spurs forward. He can, and has. The fact that Spurs are competing for the title, rather than fourth place, is testament to the massive strides taken under Redknapp’s guidance. The once major (and still generally present) issues with Redknapp’s management have been relegated to minor bug-bears in light of this season’s good form.
Spurs were never really threatened by relegation prior to Redknapp’s arrival, even if the league table suggested otherwise. Redknapp inherited a squad deemed ‘the best of the rest’, and Spurs had been the side most likely to break into the then ‘Big Four’. Spurs’ league position was a false reflection of their quality, and the side was far from the relegation fodder Redknapp’s “two points from eight games” motto might suggest (and Redknapp has managed to achieve just five more points in a season than Martin Jol’s highest haul with a far inferior squad). But Redknapp made them believe in themselves again, and breathed new life into a side low on confidence and short of form. Certainly Redknapp would leave Spurs in a far better state than when he joined.
The club currently holds an excellent standing in world football. Not only are Spurs third in The Greatest League in the World™, but are also 11th in the ‘money league’ with the club’s profile and popularity having soared after wins over (then reigning champions) Inter Milan and AC Milan on route to a Champions League Quarter-Final. Even if Redknapp leaves, Spurs are still a club on the up under Daniel Levy (who is as responsible for Spurs’ current status as Redknapp, if not more) and can look forward to a new stadium that will maintain (strengthen even) Spurs’ standing in the long run.
The only point of concern is how a group of players used to a laid-back, hands off, tactics-light style of management would react to a more authoritative, professorial, meticulous and tactics-heavy approach offered by many of the possible heirs to Harry’s throne (of which there are many: Mourinho, Hiddink, Ancelotti, Benitez, Bielsa, Spalletti, Moyes, Deschamps, Klopp, van Gaal and even a certain Fabio Capello). To describe it as a culture shock would be putting it lightly.
It is this approach to football that has brought such exhilarating performances, but equally it is Redknapp’s rather laissez-faire outlook on tactical instruction which has left his Spurs side occasionally flat when sides have denied them the freedom of expression, or one or more members of Redknapp’s recognised first eleven are absent from the starting line-up. He’s shown little ability to adapt when one or more cogs are removed. When posed with the dilemma of playing without one or both of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon – two players critical to Spurs’ expansive play, who stretch opponents and create room for Spurs’ foreign craftsmen to work their magic in the middle of the pitch – Redknapp has struggled. He’s rejected like-for-like alterations (for example in the absence of Bale he has never opted to deploy Townsend or Rose as a direct replacement), instead disrupting the balance and rhythm of the side by, for example, instructing Luka Modric to play off the flank. There’s only so far the “go out and express yourself” mantra can take a team, and there’s a fairly obvious lack of a ‘Plan B’ – though undoubtedly the football it produces is at times breathtaking.
Redknapp’s single biggest flaw is his short-termism, and with FFP and a new stadium on the horizon, Spurs simply cannot afford to stand still. It is in this respect that Redknapp can most definitely be improved upon. Many of his signings to date – regardless of their largely positive contributions – have been little more than stop-gaps with little onus put upon a long term project. Redknapp’s transfer policy is almost completely unsustainable. Carlo Cudicini (then 35), Jimmy Walker (then 36), Eidur Gudjohnsen (then 31), William Gallas (then 32), Brad Friedel (40), Scott Parker (31), Luis Saha (33) and Ryan Nelsen (34) have an average age of 34-years old. It is short-termism to the absolute extreme, and a number of positions are still in need of long term strengthening (particularly goalkeeper and striker).
The current squad has largely been constructed by people other than Redknapp, with Frank Arnesen, Damien Comolli, Martin Jol, Juande Ramos and Levy himself all responsible for many acquisitions. With the exception of Parker, few of Redknapp’s signings have truly sparkled to the extent that Gareth Bale and Luka Modric have (who were at the club pre-Redknapp – though they have certainly flourished under his stewardship). Redknapp has signed and sold/released Pascal Chimbonda, Wilson Palacios, Robbie Keane, Jimmy Walker and Peter Crouch, while it would only take the fabled “right offer” for Jermain Defoe, Sebastian Bassong, Niko Kranjcar and Steven Pienaar to leave permanently. Redknapp is responsible for much of the deadwood that must be sold before Spurs can bring in fresh faces.
Redknapp has been very reluctant to rotate his team outside of a core nucleus of roughly fourteen players. That reticence towards rotation (coupled with a busier than usual calendar courtesy of the Champions League) was the primary cause of a run that resulted in 15 points from 14 Premier League games between February 22nd and August 28th 2011. That was mightily close to relegation form, and Steve Bruce was sacked from Sunderland for achieving just three points less in his last 14 games. In the process of underutilising his squad, Redknapp has alienated more players than he’s got purring. A once deep and varied squad is now looking feeble, with a number of players disillusioned by the lack of pitch time afforded to them and having left the club to find first team football elsewhere. Spurs could once boast of one of the best back-up XIs in the league, now the subs bench is propped up by academy players. Lack of rotation also breeds fatigue, and fatigue causes injury.
Redknapp is a good manager, but not a great one…and he’s certainly not the irreplaceable, Messianic figure he’s been painted as. His CV boasts just one notable achievement. He was brought in to save the club from relegation, and since fulfilling that remit has gone on to exceed all expectations. But there are many managers with greater pedigree than Redknapp that Spurs can look to, and the future for Spurs, with or without Redknapp, is still very bright indeed.