Nothing to Lose

In a blow to the press, a 24/7 sports news channel, website aggragators and talk radio, Harry Redknapp said at the weekend he will no longer talk about the England job until there are any further substantial developments. Redknapp is a good speaker, whether telling an anecdote from his rich history in the game or just expressing a range of thoughts out loud. It can be hard at times for supporters of his club, as well as his employers, when he is sometimes too open – unwisely publically critical of his own players, defensive (and sometimes offensive) about his own club’s fans, and just giving out sound bites to hacks at feeding time – but he is usually entertaining to listen to, with constant analysis of a number aspects of football in a conversational and thoughtful style, more captivating than his regular quips.

He speaks with authority from years of experience in the game, and coming from a generation where respect was more pervasive in day-to-day life, often touches on the wider aspects of the game. You get the feeling if a rain came and washed the scum from our streets, he wouldn’t be sorry, as decency is an important value to him. Not academic, and by the reports for the overwhelming evidence in his recent court case, far from commercially astute, he is a master of the art of football, which is why it is always interesting when he talks about the game, even if it would be foolish to fully assume his intentions from his words. And since Capello left the FA, Redknapp has been quoted on a daily basis, with different thoughts on the job, from prospective players to the managerial focus required in the still vacant position.

Yesterday at Stevenage, Redknapp picked a formation that started with three at the back, which led to a few people speculating on Twitter (perhaps in the absence of any fresh quotes from him regarding England), that he was even making changes to the Tottenham team with a view to showing his tactical versatility ahead of the England job; but those opinions were ill-informed, as this season in particular, Redknapp has picked a number of different formations to suit his players.

At the moment the Tottenham squad is light on full-backs, with no real cover for Kyle Walker or Benoit Assou-Ekotto, while containing five centre-backs, all of whom have had injury problems to some extent in the last few months, but all of whom are experienced in the top flight. Assou-Ekotto’s nominal cover is the converted midfielder Danny Rose, who yesterday played at left-wing-back, allowing Ekotto to have a rest, while Redknapp gave a run out to three of the centre backs with a view to combating an aerial bombardment from the lower league home-side, and also allowing the attacking minded Walker to play higher up the pitch.

Redknapp has played the system before in his time in charge at Tottenham, using Alan Hutton and Gareth Bale as wing-backs at Everton in 2009, with a back three of Michael Dawson, Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate, and earlier this season produced an excellent second-half display at Stoke, with a half-time change that used Bale and Walker down the flanks, and allowed two strikers to play in front of a roaming Rafa Van Der Vaart.

Tottenham’s poor showing yesterday was not down to the formation, but down to players not having the confidence to play their natural passing game on a poor pitch, and with a fear of losing possession, a reluctance to move off the ball. Redknapp also deployed three at the back at Portsmouth, again when he felt he had the players to do it, but more relevantly at Tottenham this season, he has also employed a diamond (in wins away at Watford and in the second-half of a League game at Everton),  a 4-3-3, with a very fluid front three (notably away to Norwich), a 4-4-2 (with the most success at home to Newcastle this month), as well as 4-2-3-1 and the most common 4-5-1.

Not only has Redknapp got tactical knowledge he receives little recognition for, he has the courage to make changes, and most importantly of all, is pragmatic in his decision making. And it is that last trait, rather than any of his quotes to the press, which may give a clue to his future.

Known for studying form, not just with a copy of the Racing Post in his office with Jim Smith, but also when talking about football, he makes decisions in his sporting life based on a combination of intelligence and instinct. His instinct can sometimes merge into superstition when he wears a lucky suit, but when he picks players he sometimes doesn’t fancy because he knows they have a good scoring record against that day’s opponent he often makes the right call.

Because Redknapp speaks so openly on most subjects related to the game, we have all known for years he has wanted to be England Manger. And we all knew that job was going to be available in the summer when Capello’s contract was due to run out. Redknapp was no doubt hoping for the call, which on the balance of his work at Tottenham would be well deserved.

The bizarre and amazingly coincidental timing of Capello’s resignation, hours after Redknapp was acquitted of the tax fraud, which was the only obstacle for the FA considering him, may well lead the man who likes a lucky suit, to believe it is his fate to take on the job he always wanted.

And his more analytical side will surely also realise his luck has really come in, because the hard work as already been done. There are no tricky qualifiers on small hostile away grounds, or banana skins of tricky defensive but technical sides that come to Wembley Stadium to frustrate. Instead, qualification has been achieved, Redknapp can take the job for the summer, with expectation low, and have nothing to lose.

He has always wanted the prestige of managing his country, and he looks like he will surely be given the opportunity. He can pick some of the more experienced players he wants to, and go for glory, while most importantly having had the fulfilment of reaching what he perceives to be the highest office in the English Managerial game.

And as a pragmatist, he may agree to do it as a one-off, and then come back to his club.

The role wouldn’t be a poisoned chalice for a one-month tournament, where he would fancy his chance of taking England through to the knockout stages at least, and then with a fresh Wayne Rooney unleashed, perhaps to only their third major semi-final since 1966, and maybe beyond. It could be a tenure that is all honeymoon period rather than a welcome that is overstayed.

And looking at the bigger picture, Redknapp may consider that realistically only the England Goalkeeper and Rooney up-front would get into Tottenham’s current best XI, with Ashley Cole’s best days behind him. And, if, as looks likely, Tottenham were to qualify for next season’s Champions League, they will be in a position to seriously strengthen in the summer, a luxury he will not have as national Manager.

For the a one-off tournament in the summer, the job can be part-time, as long as it is agreed in advance that the FA will hire a different successor after the tournament, and Tottenham know they will get their Manager back. Redknapp would have in all likelihood been in the Ukraine and Russia in the summer, working for the BBC, as he did in South Africa in 2010. He could come back to the club when International players return to their sides, with his trusted coaching stuff taking charge in the meantime.

Pundits have already spoken about the World Cup in Brazil as being a stepping stone. But that is time Redknapp doesn’t realistically have. His best chance of glory with England is this summer. The biggest factor he may want to weigh up is how far he can take the national side after the Euro’s compared to what he can do with a constantly improving Tottenham team, who may have more chance of winning the Champions League at Wembley next May then England have in Brazil in 2014.


The Substantive Football Columnist Mel Gomes’ new e-book ‘Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley’ is now available to buy for a Kindle from Amazon for £4.27 inc VAT, and for a number of other formats including as a PDF, an online download and for Apple, Palm and Sony hand-held devices from Smashwords. With recollections of matches including Clasicos, Milan Derbies and Diego Maradona’s one appearance at White Hart Lane, it covers a journey over land and sea in the 2010-11 Champions League. New, independent writing on popular culture, it is being backed by The Substantive.