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Harry Redknapp's strength is to let his players express themselves
Paul Hayward - 4 years ago

Top football management is assumed to be an intricate weave of science, economics and psychology. Harry Redknapp thinks it is all much simpler than that. With a shrug the Tottenham Hotspur manager shared his ideology last week during an exchange about Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart: "I just love watching them play. For me sitting there, watching them pass the ball, watching them train – you want to be around good players."

What, is that it? No War and Peace of Prozone stats? No GPS tracking to measure footfall? No Vince Lombardi mind tricks? The modern audience demands mystique. It wants the boffins to be hard at work on pattern-of-play routines.

Redknapp is no back-of-a-fag-packet improviser, no mere putter-of-arms round players. Research told him Werder Bremen's right-back on Wednesday night was tasty. So after an exhaustive series of analytical seminars he responded to that challenge the way you would expect Harry Redknapp to. He sent Gareth Bale out to rip him apart.

Fleet Street has dispatched many an earnest reporting squad to expose the secret of Redknapp's success. Most come back muttering about "a good eye for a player" and a gift for reviving stalled careers. These are unsatisfying answers because they leave the mind still groping for a hidden ingredient and fail to explain the paradox of a man rooted in another era summoning the knowhow to beat Internazionale 3-1 and guide Spurs into the knockout stage of the Champions League at the first attempt with one game to spare.

The "other" era is the pre-Premier League age of greater free-spiritedness and spontaneity. His reference points tend to come in sepia. Describing how William Gallas steered Werder's Marko Marin up dead ends in the 3-0 win at White Hart Lane, Redknapp said: "I remember Bobby [Moore] doing that to Jairzinho in the World Cup."

These are not the touchstones of managers who think games should be won by deduction, by set pieces and tactical cunning. You would wait an age for Inter's Rafael Benítez, for example, to illustrate a point about the present with a misty reference to an heroic past. Redknapp will apply the more mundane ingredients when necessary but his primary instinct is to overwhelm the opposition with match-turning talent.

"We've got players here who could play in any team," Redknapp boasted as European success was filed away ahead of today's visit by Liverpool. "Gareth Bale could play anywhere. Luka Modric could get into almost any team." He is, above all, a curator of men who stand out from the mass of competent, job-doing pros who might get you halfway up the Premier League table but no higher.

Today's rare high-level clash of two English managers reminds us that Redknapp and Roy Hodgson are the two outstanding candidates to take over from Fabio Capello. In the past Redknapp seemed not to mind being cast as a cartoon cut-out of a cockney geezer who treated the transfer system like a Sunday morning market in Albert Square. But when a Sky reporter recently referred to him as a "wheeler-dealer" in a post-match interview, 'Arry stomped out, complaining: "I'm not a wheeler-dealer, I'm a football manager."

The revolving-door approach at Portsmouth and West Ham has evolved into high-end talent acquisition at a stable club who find themselves fielding a side of confident entertainers. "It's an open team. When we're open and play open we're most at risk, so you can't have it both ways," Redknapp says. This is his artistic manifesto and his gamble. "Two wide men stuck out wide leave you very open in midfield but it's a strength as well. Going forward it makes you pretty dangerous to anyone."

Among those two men "stuck out wide" is Bale, who is lucky the European Union has yet to get round to passing a law forbidding the torture of right-backs.

Football is swarming with scouts with "good eyes". The line between good and great managers is the ability some have to liberate and exploit potential. A list of those who have improved under Redknapp (Bale, Younes Kaboul, Michael Dawson, Tom Huddlestone, Jermain Defoe etc) would run to till-roll length. Those who have regressed (Wilson Palacios) or stagnated (Aaron Lennon, David Bentley) may just be incapable of transcending their own flaws.

Just how good is Harry Redknapp is a question that will be answered when his religion of positivity is tested by the great powers in the last 16 of the Champions League and by more seasoned rivals in the last 10 games of the Premier League campaign. Alerted by Tottenham's triumph over Inter, Europe's heavyweights will examine Redknapp's system in search of exploitable gaps. Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal will back themselves to be better at protecting leads and winning tight late-season matches.

But the sense radiating from White Hart Lane is of rebirth, of something special finding shape, under the gaze of a manager who can be grumpy and indignant, as well as cabaret cheery, and who thinks it his first duty to help talent work its charm on the game.

Bleak days for cricket technologyJarndyce and Jarndyce, the great Bleak House court saga, was simpler than cricket's referral system, which has so far served only to prove that human error will always play its part, even with Virtual Eye, Hot Spot, Hawk-Eye and Snickometer, which sound like modern cartoon heroes.

Those who have pointed out the insanity of multimillion-pound events being decided without technological help have spent the week on the ramparts defending innovation. In the Braga-Arsenal Champions League game the extra official behind the goalline failed to call a stone‑cold Arsenal penalty and in Australia Mike Hussey was saved by England running out of appeals.

As Mike Selvey wrote in the Guardian: "Management of the referrals, which by and large Australia have done better than England, is becoming an integral part of the game." This induces instant nostalgia for the age of when a man in a white coat would either raise his finger or shake his head to shape the fate of men.

But we must persevere. If in doubt, remember Frank Lampard's un-given "goal" for England against Germany in Bloemfontein.

This is comment. GNM does not necessarily support the views expressed.

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