Two summers ago, when Daniel Levy felt the time was right to terminate the contract of Harry Redknapp, the change of emphasis Tottenham desired was obvious. Out went old school English: Redknapp was in his 60s and part of the Premier League furniture. In came André Villas-Boas, 34 years old, intending to be a mover and shaker, and one of the new breed of “project” managers. Tottenham craved a new, progressive way of doing things. They ended up with another quick exit.
The long list of managers who have had a whirl at White Hart Lane reveals a lot about the impatient ways of contemporary football. Two decades ago Ossie Ardiles started the season with a team spearheaded by Jürgen Klinsmann and Teddy Sheringham (but he did not finish it). Since then there have been 18 changes, including seven caretaker stints, to bring the club to this point, where Mauricio Pochettino takes control of his first Premier League match in the home dugout.
Redknapp, perhaps the last survivor from the mould of traditional English management, looking relaxed in his QPR shorts and T-shirt, ponders how profoundly his profession has changed. He is almost misty eyed as he recounts how his boyhood club kept their managers for aeons.
“West Ham had something like five managers in about 60 years or something ridiculous,” he says. “Those days have gone. I don’t think we are going to see too many managers staying that long in the future. It has become a few-year job now. You won’t see the Wengers and Fergusons any more.
“Abroad, managers don’t stay long. Antonio Conte wins the league with Juventus and he’s gone. Someone else wins the league in Spain, they go. It is getting that way here a little bit.” That saddens him.
“It’s a great job when it’s going well but it’s a changing job now,” he says. “Chairmen are changing, clubs getting sold, the days of players being quite easy to manage are gone. They have all got agents now. The agents know everything there is to know about football. They haven’t actually seen a game but they do know all about it.”
For all the increasing complications that make football management more precarious than ever, Redknapp remains in its thrall. At the age of 67, the connector to football keeps him charged. He leaves home at 5.30am for the training ground. “I look forward to coming in and working with the players each day. It keeps me going, really,” he says.
Life at QPR has been an eventful experience since he walked in to a club in a Premier League muddle a few months after leaving Tottenham. He found a bloated, unhappy squad used to losing. Relegation was followed by an immediate promotion, through the play-offs, and having made numerous changes to the playing staff he feels like he has his own squad now – one which he feels, this time, is ready for the Premier League.
“It’s a much nicer feeling, a much nicer place,” he says. “There’s no bad apples here at all. We’ve got a good chance – I think we are going to be OK this year.”
It took QPR 17 attempts last time to register their first Premier League win. This time, having endured a frustrating opening day defeat to Hull City (despite playing, in Redknapp’s opinion, the best football since he arrived), he wants some quicker rewards. That alone fills his thoughts before the journey to N17, not any need for revenge or point-proving.
That said, he still vividly remembers the nasty surprise when he was told the Tottenham chapter was over. “I didn’t have an inkling of it. Three months earlier there was talk of a new three-to-four year contract so it was a big surprise,” he recalls.
“It just came out of the blue. One minute I had two jobs – I’ve got the England job and the Tottenham job – two months later I haven’t got a job. Quite amazing, wasn’t it?
“I know the reason but I don’t want to repeat it. Was it Daniel? Whoever. They made the decision. I didn’t go home and lay in bed and turn the lights off. I went to play golf the next day. I had a great time at Tottenham, life goes on.
“They obviously took Villas-Boas when I left and thought that was going to be the answer for a few years. They didn’t give him an awful lot of time really, it didn’t work out great. They brought in Tim [Sherwood] and the lad now. I like what I saw of him at Southampton. I think he could do very well. I am hoping the club does well. I have no enemies at Tottenham. I get on well with Daniel Levy.”
Two years after that parting of the ways, it is up to Pochettino to try to make an even more lasting impression at White Hart Lane.