Saturday 25th October 2008 – Tottenham Hotspur were bottom of the Premier League with two points after eight games. Having broken consecutive records with their worst start since 1955 and 1912, the year the Titanic sank, following defeats to Portsmouth and Hull City respectively, a loss to Stoke City broke new ground; their worst start to a season in the history of the club.
Under the stewardship of Juande Ramos, Spurs had defeated Chelsea at Wembley and secured Carling Cup glory eight months previously, courtesy of goals from Dimitar Berbatov and Jonathan Woodgate. A 2-1 win over the Blues saw the North London giants lift their first piece of silverware in nine years and with it, the optimism of the fans shot up, heralding in a new era under the former Sevilla coach.
The following summer further heightened expectations, despite the departures of Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane. Luka Modric, David Bentley and Heurelho Gomes all arrived for substantial fees and a pre-season 5-1 win over AS Roma more than moistened the underwear of a fair few Spurs fans. By October, all hope had turned to gloom and the clouds over White Hart Lane were darker than ever before.
However, with every cloud comes the silver lining. Harry Redknapp, with his previous managerial record, was drafted in alongside Joe Jordan and Kevin Bond as Ramos, Gus Poyet and Marco Alvarez were politely shown the exit door at White Hart Lane. His first game in charge saw Spurs secure a vital 2-0 win over Bolton Wanderers and once again the hope was restored at N17.
That same season, Spurs finished 8th, whilst the next three years, under Redknapp, saw the club must 4th, 5th and 4th, the first time in 47 years that the North London side had mustered three successive top six finishes. Yet, chairman Daniel Levy felt it was right to rid the veteran tactician from Spurs in a move that, in the view of many, was the right one. And I have to admit, I agree with them.
The initial appointment
At the time, Redknapp was the perfect man for Spurs. The players were low on confidence after their poor run at the start of the 2008/09 season and despite many proclaiming they were too good to go down, it was a distinct possibility. Redknapp, fabled for his exceptional man management skills, was drafted to change the fortunes, something he did exceptionally well.
Yet, it was painfully evident to see that a deal was drawn up hastily in order to save the club’s season. Levy was desperate – having gone behind the back of Martin Jol to appoint Ramos, to ensure the club didn’t drop into the Championship. But, the veteran tactician was never brought in to bring long-term success to White Hart Lane, rather stable the ship to provide a platform for the next manager.
Yes, Redknapp excelled in doing so and breaking into the Champions League, shattering the ‘Sky Four’ in the process, was a triumph in the eyes of many. However, he was never going to be the long-term solution to a club that is pining for glory, similar to that of the 60’s from Sir Bill Nicholson.
Redknapp’s man management, especially in times of crisis, is unparalleled by even the greatest of managers. Upon his arrival, he insisted the club were too good to be in the position they were, insisting the players were excelling in training, just not on the pitch. He gave them the belief that anything they replicate the performances they showed away from grounds against Premier League sides.
However, what let Harry down was the lack of tactical nous on his shoulders. Regularly, he claimed that the players need to go out and ‘enjoy themselves’ rather than devise tactics ahead of each game, something Rafael van der Vaart pointed out upon his arrival. He claimed, following his switch from Real Madrid that ‘there are no long boring speeches about tactics’ and that ‘there is a clipboard in our dressing room, but Harry doesn’t write anything on it’.
As far as many are concerned, Redknapp’s ‘Plan A’ was to allow the players the freedom on the pitch to do what they do best and with the quality available to him, this worked wonders. From the off, the squad adjusted as they knew their roles anyway, however, when the going got tough, his inability to make the right changes to alter a performance of the team began to show through.
Redknapp lacked a ‘Plan B’, not to attack teams from a losing position, but rather to hold on to leads both home and away. The 5-2 defeat to Arsenal is a testament to this and proof that his choice in personal and formation is outdated and easy to overcome. That led to a poor run of form that ultimately cost Spurs a top three finish and, unfortunately, a place in the Champions League.
The Champions League
In his first full season in charge, Redknapp secured Champions League football and for that, I admire and thank him for it. However, the failure to build on this was is what, eventually, proved to be his downfall. The increase in finances would surely have seen the club build on the success. But, since the summer of 2010, the club have spent around £22.5m on new players, whilst accumulating a far higher figure from the sales of Peter Crouch, Wilson Palacios and Roman Pavlyuchenko alone.
The lack of transfer activity seriously hindered the following campaign and whilst van der Vaart was an astute signing, one that Redknapp has admitted was a ‘gift’ from Levy, the key areas weren’t properly strengthened and as a result, Spurs struggled to compete in the latter half of the season.
A similar scenario occurred this year, with the club opting to sell Pavlyuchenko and loan out the likes of Vedran Corluka and Steven Pienaar whilst bringing in both Ryan Nelsen and Louis Saha, both of which were free transfers and have since been released. This not only cost the club a serious financial windfall (clubs in the Europa League only make a profit on the competition should they reach the final) but further hindered the progress of the club.
Understandably, this also saw Redknapp fired from his position at the club. Levy accepted one season out of the competition, but a second will have major implications on the club, both financially and in terms of the playing staff. A major factor that played into this was his lack of rotation when the games were coming thick and fast towards the end of the season.
This led an increase of injuries in both the starting XI and those required to come in to replace those that had picked up problems in the duration of the ‘business end’ of the campaign and it was no surprise to have seen the club’s win percentage drop from 72% in 2011 to 40% in 2012. A number of culminating factors played into this, with one in particular having a pivotal role.
The England job
Between the period of the England saga, from the time Fabio Capello resigned to the time it was announced Roy Hodgson was the favourite to succeed the Italian, that win ratio fell to a miniscule 20% (from the Newcastle United 5-0 win in February to the 1-0 defeat to QPR in April). The sort of form displayed is that of a team looking to stave off relegation, not one that was labelled title contenders for much of the season.
Redknapp claimed the speculation linking him with the position didn’t affect him nor the players, but the figures have proved this is false. Dubbed the people’s favourite by many clearly got to the head of the 65-year-old, who in the past has conceded it is the ultimate job. His lack of concentration on Spurs at the saw the club loosen their stranglehold on third place and, in the end, cost them a place in the Champions League.
His body language altered, he refused to divert from the rumours and he continued to dither over the prospect of leading his country at Euro 2012. No shock, once again, that upon Hodgson’s appointment, Spurs regained their early season form, winning three of the last four Premier League games, dropping points to Aston Villa.
Many wouldn’t have begrudged him the opportunity to manage his country, but his conduct throughout the saga clearly had a negative effect on the team. If he had come out and said ‘I want the England job, but my focus is Spurs until the end of the season’ then it may not have been a problem. But, he neither confirmed nor denied that the interest was concrete and, as a result, allowed the speculation to continue to run its course up until the appointment was made.
Towards the end of the season, and after the England talk had blown over following the appointment of Hodgson, talk of a new contract with Spurs saw Redknapp turn his head back towards White Hart Lane. With the FA opting against going for the 65-year-old, and with the team winning the three of their last four games of the season, Redknapp must have felt a new contract was all but guaranteed.
With just 12 months remaining on his current deal, and without the prospect of the national job to focus on, a new deal had been mooted. However, the way he went about making his statements to the media, even announcing that talks had been on hold because Levy’s mother had passed just days beforehand, was in very bad taste.
Whether this was the final straw with Levy is anyone’s guess. The fact is – Redknapp’s conduct during the apparent ‘negotiation’ process, despite Spurs insisting no deal had ever been offered, beggars belief. Openly discuss a new deal is never a wise move to make, but to do so when one wasn’t to be offered? A very poor hand to play, made all the more obvious after Levy called his bluff.
‘This is the best they’ve ever had it’ were the word of Redknapp following a fifth placed finish last summer. Just 12 months after Spurs secured their highest ever Premier League finish, and a top four one at that, the manager went on record as to claim finishing fifth was ‘as good as its gonna get’ and labelling fans ‘idiots’ for criticising this.
These remarks insinuate that Redknapp lacks the ambition to take the club forward. Let’s face it – Levy wants to take the club to the top. He felt Ramos could have done it, but failed, held his hands up and admitted he was wrong. His cry out for Harry wasn’t a bellowing call, more an SOS in the sand with a plane flying over.
However, Redknapp has won just one piece of silverware in his managerial career – the FA Cup in 2008 with Portsmouth. Even then, the South Coast clubs’ run to the final wasn’t the most difficult, Manchester United aside, and it was no surprise, with the quality of players at his disposal, that they ‘swept’ Cardiff City to one side.
During his time at Spurs, the club have reached two FA Cup semi-finals in three years, losing in 2010 to Portsmouth and again last season to Chelsea. The capitulation shown by both teams at the same ground at the same stage of the competition is, quite frankly, unforgiveable, especially against Chelsea in April, irregardless of Juan Mata’s disputable goal. The manner in which the game was sacrificed showed how his focus was primarily on the Premier League rather than looking to secure the club’s first FA Cup since 1991.
However, it was his initial comments 12 months prior to his sacking that got the gripe of many Spurs fans and instantly highlighted his lack of ambition to take the club forward. Furthermore, after securing fourth place this season, he accepted it was a good season, irregardless of the detrimental drop in form, rather than push the players to have finished higher. You can guarantee that if another team had fallen away in such a similar fashion, no manager would have accepted it in the way Redknapp did.
If the chairman doesn’t want you….
As any Chelsea fan can testify, if the chairman doesn’t want you at the club, he doesn’t really doesn’t want you at the club. Redknapp made the paranoid statement on Friday that he knew some of the higher ups at the club disliked him, irrespective of his achievements both at Spurs and during his double stint with Portsmouth.
But, you can’t deny that, no matter what club a manager is at, if you aren’t in the chairman’s good books, you’re likely to find yourself out of a position sooner rather than later. It is no secret that Levy and Redknapp never enjoyed a perfect working relationship, with the signings and lack of money spent testament to this.
For example, the signing of Scott Parker was only made because Redknapp pushed the board to spend the necessary funds to bring him to White Hart Lane. However, he isn’t a Levy player (young with sell-on value) and, as a result, was apprehensive about bidding for him in the first place. Understandably, his initial concerns were dismissed with the England midfielder enjoying a highly successful debut campaign with the club.
Nevertheless, with the targets of Redknapp, Levy was uneasy about his transfer movements both in the summers past and in January. Rather than building for the future, the former Spurs boss opts for stop-gaps to keep the team chugging along, which has led me to believe that a new manager was lined up before the movements for Jan Vertonghen took place, because, let’s face it, the Belgian isn’t a ‘Redknapp player’.
Redknapp may have secured a top four finish, but his position at the club was slowly becoming untenable. The speculation with the England position must have forced Levy’s arm in to acting appropriately whilst Redknapp’s talk of a new contract would most certainly have left the Spurs chairman bewildered by the astonishing claims.
If Redknapp was to be sacked, this summer was as better time than any to do the deed. The squad at hand is good enough to go beyond a top four finish next season and in terms of long-term sustainability, he was never the man to really bring this to White Hart Lane. A young manager must be high on the agenda for Levy, with Andre Villas-Boas, Roberto Martinez and Laurent Blanc all linked with the role.
In conclusion, thank you for the memories Redknapp. You achieved the fifth highest win ratio of any manager the club’s illustrious history, but you had, in no disrespecting terms, overstayed your welcome.