January 21, 2012
Spurs' Redknapp battles City, then taxman
By JAMES LAWTON, Special to QMI Agency
LONDON — When you live in professional sport you better understand that the glory and the pain exist very closely in the same rumpled bed. However, if anyone doubts this they might check with Harry Redknapp, the 64-year-old soccer manager whose team Tottenham Hotspur Sunday is being given a more than decent chance of beating Manchester City, the world’s richest club.
If Redknapp does pull it off, and moves within two points of Premier League-leading City at their own ground, he will have very little time to reflect on the highpoint of a season which started disastrously — a postponed first game because of the London riots and then defeats by City and Manchester United and a goals tally of one for and eight against — but has now left Spurs the talk of English football.
This is not just for the quality of their play, most illuminated by the superb trio of Gareth Bale, Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric — but also the heady suggestion that it might be possible to create ultimate success without the help of an oil-rich sheikh or a Russian oligarch.
Victory today would thus call for some days of celebration. Unfortunately, Redknapp is due in court Monday to answer a charge of tax evasion. A conviction would seriously damage, if not obliterate, a groundswell of opinion that Redknapp is the natural successor to Fabio Capello as England coach. Either way, the mostly genial man from East London is experiencing the most tumultuous days of an extremely eventful life.
Up to now his most memorable day as a manager came at Wembley in 2008 when he led the famous but financially imploding club Portsmouth to FA Cup final victory. Two years later, after guiding Spurs from the relegation zone to entry into the European Champions League, he was voted the Premier League’s manager of the season.
He has a story of resilience in the face of disappointment — as a youth player he rubbed shoulders with the great stars of Tottenham’s last title triumph in 1961 but then had to move, as a journeyman player, to West Ham, where he operated in the shadow of the great Bobby Moore, England’s winning World Cup captain in 1966.
However, Redknapp does carry a valuable perspective into both the Etihad Stadium today and the courtroom tomorrow. It was put in place by a life-threatening car crash in Italy in 1990, which claimed the life of a companion and left him in such serious condition that a paramedic presumed that he was dead and placed a blanket over his head.
He has certainly been full of life and combativeness on the way to Sunday’s moment of truth. Normally reluctant to inflame rival football men, Redknapp has been suggesting that the encounter is as much a morality tale as a sporting contest. This has provoked City manager Roberto Mancini to the point where, in answer to Redknapp’s charge that anyone could win a title with City’s wealth, he said, “Maybe I could lend him some money.”
In fact Mancini has an impressive track record on the touchline, not least with a run of three Serie A titles with Internazionale of Milan. Still, it is also true that the Italian has a squad which is almost twice as expensive as Tottenham’s, $461 million to $240 million. Redknapp says, “Whatever Spurs have achieved it has not been because someone has walked into my office and slapped a large amount of cash on my desk. With the resources of City, I would be very disappointed with myself if I couldn’t win the title. City may still be the favourites but I believe we have a chance, we have built a good team and I don’t say why but why not?”
For many, the key chapter in the Tottenham story came when midfielder Modric, the creative heart of the team who cost Spurs $25 million, was told by club chairman Daniel Levy that he could not break his contract and join Chelsea at vastly inflated wages. Redknapp worried that the consequence might have been a deeply disaffected player. Instead, Modric, along with van der Vaart and Bale, who is high on the shopping list of every moneyed club in Europe, has provided some brilliant impetus.
It makes Sunday’s game, with City luminaries like Argentine star, and Maradona’s son-in-law, Diego Arguero and Spaniard David Silva front-running candidates for player of the year, potentially the most absorbing of the season. For Redknapp it could just bring the reassurance that as a football man at least he has no case to answer.
(James Lawton writes for The Independent newspaper in the UK)