by Andrew Harding
“Familiarity breeds contempt”.
This has been the case for many years when it comes to me and Harry Redknapp, a man whose middle name really should be Ubiquity. Giving an opinion on a given matter is fine but to give an opinion on any subject on every possible occasion is plainly annoying. You could ask him about the flight formations of starlings and he’ll have something to say especially if you’ve got any obvious recording equipment on your person. Good Ol’ Harry: the media character created by his ubiquity, revelling in the media spotlight as the “cockney wheeler-dealer”. He may actually dislike it (as Sky Sports’ Rob Palmer discovered) but let’s face it, he hasn’t done much to counter such a moniker.
There is a general unspoken rule between managers that you don’t openly talk about players on other teams. While admiration is ok to convey, an absolute declaration of interest in acquiring a player is seen as unprofessional. To say Redknapp flouts such an ethical code is an understatement. Every single transfer window, Harry Redknapp will speak of interest in at least 5 players and will look to get himself mentioned as much as possible on Transfer Deadline Day coverage. He also was at the centre of easily the most annoying transfer/ non-transfer saga of the past few years, the non-acquisition of David Beckham. The football news was thin on the ground at Sky Sports at the time, only for Good Ol’ Harry to save the day as he has done so on so many occasions.
Perhaps the best — or most complete — display of the character which irks me so was his reaction to the news that England had failed in their World Cup hosting bid. Anything involving his country and Harry is there at the ready, with criticisms of Johnny Foreigner, seemingly wining and dining those with lingering empirical ideals of the “motherland of football”. To typify the attitude of such willingness to talk: (on subject of England’s failed World Cup bid) “Who are these people who make these decisions? Who are they? What are their motives? I don’t know”. Exactly Mr. Redknapp, you don’t know.
But. Through gritted teeth (yes, I’ve got the title in there, go me), I have applauded Redknapp’s achievements with Tottenham Hotspur this season in the UEFA Champions League. Despite sticking to the stereotypical English mentality of being immediately suspicious of anything overly tactical, Harry has displayed some cunning, with an increased willingness to change systems mid-game as well as the style of play; look, for example, at the contrast of performances against Inter and AC Milan.
The first leg of the qualifying round against Young Boys was a key moment in their campaign and served to highlight such a system change. While it was covered up by in large by his reaction to having played on a plastic pitch (“I don’t agree with Astroturf and I don’t think Astroturf should be used in a competition like this”), his introduction of Tom Huddlestone in place of Benoit Assou-Ekotto was inspired and the reshuffle led to Tottenham reducing the deficit from 3-0 down to 3-2.
It’s been done to death, but it really gave the over-hyped and predictable Champions League something different. It’s a minor irritant that it’s turned out to be him of all people at the helm of a team going against the grain of Europe’s premier club competition, but perhaps his quintessential Englishness has helped this happen. Generally, when a team debuts in the Champions League they adopt a different style and system, in contrast to what served them so well in qualifying for the event. This style adoption is generally of a defensive nature as teams feel that expansive play — while pretty to an audience — would only lead to mistakes that would be leapt upon in the cruelest manner at the highest level. So the naivety Tottenham have displayed has caused them to be thought of in such high regard throughout Europe, and their success is perhaps because of teams expecting Tottenham to have changed style, like many have before. And for that I say, indeed through gritted teeth (look I’ve done it again): thank you, Mr. Redknapp.
Of course, the summer transfer window is on the horizon. Cue another ethical relapse from good ol’ Harry. Some things will never change, especially a 64-year-old man from Poplar.