Harry Redknapp is playing a familiar tune to disown Birmingham’s blues

Birmingham’s owners brought the points deduction on themselves with some preposterous decisions. But why do these things keep happening to Harry?

Harry Redknapp used to tell a story, going back to his days as the manager of West Ham, that probably sums up why so many people within the industry, even those who are fond of his ways, usually take the policy that he can be pretty brazen sometimes when it comes to blurring the lines between the truth and, well, the other bits.

It goes back to the days when Slaven Bilic was a player at the club and had a buyout clause in his contract that allowed him to leave for £2.5m. Bilic had become disillusioned playing for a struggling team, where there was no money for elite signings, and went to see Redknapp one day to say he had been told Spurs wanted to pay the release fee.

It was true: Spurs did want him and had the money ready. Except that was the point Redknapp told his player to look again at the contract and, in particular, the small print. The clause had been worded carefully so the only way the transfer could happen was if West Ham agreed to it. They didn’t – and that made it entirely worthless. “Bilic is a fully qualified lawyer and must have thought his contract was watertight,” Redknapp would later recall in ’Arry, his 1999 autobiography. “But I went to the University of the Street in Stepney and I had done him up like a kipper.”

As you might expect of a man whose local in the 1960s was the Blind Beggar in Whitechapel, the pub where Ronnie Kray put a bullet in George Cornell’s head, that sweet old fella from the I’m a Celebrity … jungle is actually as streetwise as they come.

The time, for example, Jim Smith, then the manager of Derby, flew to Milan to sign Paulo Futre only to find out the player was meeting Redknapp in London. Smith actually rang Redknapp in a fluster to find out if the news was true. Except the deal had been done by that stage. “Who?” Redknapp asked, with just the right amount of surprise in his voice and a spot of thespianism, by his own admission, that Laurence Olivier would have been proud of.

Or how about the story – an old classic on the journalistic beat – when Redknapp was hosting a press conference at West Ham’s training ground on a day when Marco Negri was rumoured to be signing from Rangers? Redknapp seemed nonplussed. He was shaking his head. “Marco Negri?” he asked. “Don’t know him, don’t know what you are talking about.” At which point one of the football writers in his company gently pointed out that if he looked out of his window he would see Negri getting out of his car. “Oh!” Redknapp improvised. “That Marco Negri …”

Not that Redknapp is the only one in football who is notorious for going by his own version of the truth sometimes. It just creates a bit of an issue, that’s all, when it comes to knowing whether we can take everything he says at face value. In particular the now-familiar theme, when the rest of football is rubbernecking in the direction of his former clubs, that it is absolutely nothing to do with him.

What to make, therefore, of Redknapp’s protestations that he is utterly blameless when it comes to Birmingham’s current predicament, with confirmation on Friday of a nine-point deduction because of the club’s overspending when they were supposed to have signed up to financial fair play rules?

Anyone familiar with Redknapp’s managerial history could certainly feel a little overwhelmed by the sense of deja vu bearing in mind the financial chaos that brought Portsmouth to their knees after Redknapp had been and gone. Or the scatter‑gun approach at QPR where, again, the culture appears to have been to sign the cheque and think of the consequences later.

Redknapp proclaimed shortly after his appointment at Loftus Road that he wanted to introduce some common sense. It was his job, he said, to make sure the owners no longer had “their pants taken down” and he made it clear that a club of QPR’s size had to stop being such an easy touch. “You shouldn’t be paying massive wages when you’ve got a stadium that holds 18,000 people.”

All of which sounded very sensible, though rather undermined by the fact this new period of prudence included QPR breaking their transfer record twice in the space of two weeks, first for Loïc Rémy and then Christopher Samba, and paying them more than Gareth Bale earned at the time from Tottenham (in the case of Samba, a 28-year-old centre-half, a four-year contract worth £20m). You hoped, for the club’s sake, they knew what they were doing – yet they never gave the impression that they did.

For Redknapp, it is plainly a dreadfully unfortunate run of coincidence that he appears to be the common denominator in all these stories. Though when it comes to Birmingham, at least he is well practised now in arguing that it is entirely unfair for anyone to suspect he might be culpable in any way whatsoever.

Birmingham’s problem is largely that they brought in 14 players at a total cost of £23.75m in the buildup to the 2017-18 season and the dramatic rise in the club’s pay structure contributed to huge financial losses, specifically £48.8m, for the relevant period. Redknapp, however, argues that none of the 14 had anything to do with him. “There were three lads from Brentford that came in [Jota, Harlee Dean and Maxime Colin]. They were all good players but they weren’t on my shopping list. I’d never even see any of them play, they were brought in by other people above my head.

“We brought in Isaac Vassell for £1m [from Luton] and he will be worth massive money in my opinion. He was an absolute bargain but I can’t even take credit for that because he was nothing to do with me, to be truthful. I don’t think any of the signings were mine. I was taking [John] Ruddy on a free transfer from Norwich and instead they brought in David Stockdale from Brighton. The director of football [Jeff Vetere] wasn’t brought in by me either.”

Jota
‘Jota was a club-record signing and clearly paid well over the odds by Championship standards, reputedly £38,000 a week.’ Photograph: John Sibley/Action Images

So, that clears that up. Redknapp had his own list, whereas the club decided instead to bring in their own targets and therefore have to take the rap. Except a little bit of digging around reveals Redknapp did not seem quite so marginalised when he gave an interview to TalkSport on the morning Jota deal’s was being finalised. Redknapp always loved a transfer deadline day update, didn’t he? And rather awkwardly, knowing what we do now, he was quite happy to take credit for targeting Jota. “I’m hoping it will be done,” he told Alan Brazil’s show. “It’s not done yet. I just identify them, then it’s up to other people to get them in.” Jota, he said, was one of the best players in the Championship.

Jota, to recap, was a club-record signing and clearly paid well over the odds by Championship standards, reputedly £38,000 a week, bearing in mind Middlesbrough, one of the richest clubs in the division, also wanted him but could not match the salary on offer at St Andrew’s. The exact fee has never been confirmed, though Birmingham did confirm it was more than the £6m they had paid Valencia for Nikola Zigic in 2010. Redknapp was sacked eight league games into the new season, having lost six in a row, and his legacy lives on. The nine-point deduction leaves Birmingham four places and five points above the relegation zone.

For all that, Redknapp does actually have a reasonable point when he argues that, before anybody else, it should be the people in charge of the club’s finances at boardroom level who have to take the blame.

Birmingham are owned by Trillion Trophy Asia, a sports holding company based in Hong Kong, and the club’s daily operations are led by Xuandong Ren, the chief executive. “It’s surely down to the people who run the club, like the chief executive and the chairman, or whoever, to know if we’ve got any money to spend,” Redknapp said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph. “I didn’t know anything about financial fair play. I was never warned by anyone at the football club that there was going to be a problem with that.”

That does not mean a manager of his experience should have let this period of extravagance happen without apparently thinking it was too risky, or that it would eventually catch up with them, and Redknapp will have to understand if many Birmingham fans are wondering whether he was more concerned about his own short-term selfishness rather than worrying about what it might mean for the club later on, when he would probably have been gone anyway – and it would be somebody else’s problem.

Yet the bottom line is relatively simple here: just because, hypothetically, a manager might want to spend above a club’s means that does not mean the people at the top of that club should allow it to happen. Unless, perhaps, the club in question is blinded by incompetence. Or so puffed up with self-importance they just think everything will work out in the end.

In Birmingham’s case, it is certainly difficult to understand why, apart from a distinct lack of knowhow at the top of the club, the relevant people came up with a £22m transfer budget for Redknapp and, before that, £10m for the previous manager, Gianfranco Zola.

Even better, how can you even begin to explain the preposterousness of the club’s owners not imposing salary restrictions on the new signings? Birmingham told the independent commission that Redknapp had shown “no or no adequate regard to the rules or the club’s financial health generally.” Maybe, but who signed off all these deals?

They are probably all to blame, in their different ways, and Birmingham are fortunate that the current manager, Garry Monk, has done such an accomplished job the points deduction does not have to mean the chilly fingers of relegation closing round their neck. Redknapp, meanwhile, has his new life as a prime‑time TV personality and wants us to know that whatever has gone wrong is nothing that can be pinned on him. It never is, Harry, it never is.

Why no wolves at United’s door over Lingard’s no-show?

Funny how, over time, what was once a big deal within the England setup no longer seems to create the same kind of outcry.

I can still distinctly remember the uproar in 2002 when Manchester United announced Paul Scholes was injured, meaning he could not be called up for England, then the player appeared in a Premier League game against Middlesbrough the following day.

Jesse Lingard challenged by Rúben  Neves of Wolves
Jesse Lingard challenged by Rúben Neves of Wolves. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

For the media, it was a scandal and Sven-Göran Eriksson’s press conference before the relevant game against Portugal was a grilling about the apparent lack of respect shown to him by Sir Alex Ferguson and the way the elite clubs – United in particular – always seemed to call the shots. Eriksson and his employers also thought enough was enough. The Football Association was so irritated, indeed, the system was changed so that any player citing an injury had to report for duty anyway, to be checked over by England’s medical staff.

All these years on, it is strange, therefore, that there has been barely a peep about the same happening to Gareth Southgate over the last week.

I mean, can anyone explain the difference between the Scholes carve-up and Jesse Lingard’s current non-involvement – ruled out when England’s squad was announced two Wednesdays ago but then, three days later, selected by Ole Gunnar Solskjær to play for 86 minutes of United’s FA Cup tie at Wolves?

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