While you shouldn’t rely on Alan Pardew this weekend to at least make life interesting for the subscription-paying neutrals (won’t someone please think of the subscription-paying neutrals!) one thing you can bank on, is when it comes to penning a good book, John Crace won’t let you down. Following his quite excellent Vertigo: One Football Fan’s Fear of Success comes his latest offering Harry’s Game: Inside the Mind of Harry Redknapp.
I’ve got a copy to give away to one of you lucky folk but first, a quick word with the author:
WFRF: Hello, John. It’s fair to say Harold Redknapp is a fairly divisive character. Does this make him an ideal subject for a book? In your own words he’s either the ‘the greatest manager never to have managed England since Brian Clough’ or, a less encouraging ‘bullet dodged’:
JC: Harry is the most absorbing character currently working in British football. Bar none. Fergie was much more successful but he was also much more straightforward. Given a choice of a night out with Harry and a night out with Fergie, you instinctively know with which one you would have more fun. Harry polarises opinion like few others. People either love him or hate him: often without very much good reason. Harry is a man who it’s very easy to misread: a man whom you think you know and understand when you don’t. People have made all sorts of claims for him, both about his managerial style and his character without really thinking about who he is and what he has done. In Harry’s Games I wanted to make sense of him and explain why it was possible for so many people to assume he was going to be the next England manager when there was still a chance he might go to prison. To do this I had to go back over his life and career to get beyond the standard Harryisms in which football pundits traditionally have traded to think about where his loyalties really lie, how greedy he is and how ambitious?
WFRF: As a Tottenham fan I warmed to Redknapp in the first two seasons- obviously all the winning and playing Real Madrid helped- but became exhausted by his knack of deflecting any kind of blame away from himself, whenever things went a bit awry. Instead of the loveable rogue, salt-of-the earth type, he became someone I imagined might point his own grandmother out in a police line-up if it meant he wouldn’t go to jail. Am I fickle? Do all managers do this to some degree?
JC: We’re all fickle. And all managers do this to some degree. But Harry is a past master at deflection. Nothing is ever his fault. He’s either got the wrong players or luck was against him. He’s been like this at every club he’s managed. I think the fans take it so personally and turn against him, because he encourages the view that he’s ‘one of them’ and so they feel the let-down more acutely. But it’s also true that he’s a manager whose strengths and weaknesses are so clearly mirrored in each other. He does have a good eye for a player and his teams often play wonderful football. But he doesn’t have a Plan B for when things aren’t working and neither does he have a Team B. So he seldom rotates the squad and when his favoured players get tired and injured things tend to fall apart because he is forced to bring in players who he doesn’t rate. And, as importantly, players who know they aren’t rated by him. Was it any coincidence that the player who ducked for the injury time freekick that cost QPR all three points against Wigan and effectively condemned the team to relegation was Adel Taarabt, whom Harry had rubbished at Spurs? I think not. The most frustrating part of watching Harry’s teams was that their form often fell apart in the latter half of the season.
WFRF:What’s your view of Harry’s famous blind spot for tactics? I think most people thought this was some kind of ruse, or at least a point overstated. There’re plenty of examples of him successfully re-jigging formations during the course of a game, but do you think he’s been left behind in that regard? His line about ‘bullsh*t baffling brains’ was, if nothing else, an odd comment.
JC: Harry is not big on tactics, but he’s no mug either. The 1-0 away win against AC Milan in the San Siro in the first leg of the Champions League tie was an object lesson in how to play the perfect away European tie. And he did it with a severely weakened team. But on the whole Harry is not quick on his feet to change things. At Spurs, many of his substitutions came at least 10 minutes after everyone in the crowd had seen what needed to be changed. Harry is at his best playing 4-4-2… and for this reason I think he could actually have been a really good choice of manager for the England side. There would have been no getting side-tracked in transfer speculation, he could have played his strongest squad as often as he liked because there’s no need to rotate, his powers of short-term motivation – he’s not good at lifting a team throughout a season – would have come into their own as competitions last five weeks at most and tactics are not nearly so critical to success at international level as they are in top club competitions
WFRF: After all your research and writing the book, has your view of Harry changed dramatically one way or the other. Is there anything about the man that surprised or affected you?
JC: Absolutely. He turned out to be a lot more complex than I expected. Harry has great personal charm and is brilliant at dealing with journalists and fans. By and large he tells people what they want to hear. I came to realise he wasn’t so much an arch-manipulator – though he can be that too – as an insecure people-pleaser. Harry never set out to be a football manager. He just wanted to make a living out of football. Survival, rather than glory, has always been all he has ever really wanted. Enough money and a job that allows him to commute from his home in Sandbanks. Management was something he fell into. Likewise, he is very hard to categorise. Sometimes he has shown exceptional loyalty to people, at other time he has ruthlessly stabbed them in the back. Sometimes he has been incredibly generous, at others a greedy bastard. To make sense of him, I had to go through the details forensically to work out why he could seem so capricious.
WFRF: And finally, are Newcastle going to do us any favours on Sunday? I’m guessing not.
JC:Wouldn’t that be nice… I can’t really see it. Newcastle have effectively been on holiday since last weekend. Pardew admitted as much when he said he wouldn’t mind if Arsenal beat them 4-0. Sunderland will also be demob happy after Wigan got relegated. So I see both Arsenal and Spurs winning relatively comfortably. Which leaves us precisely where we don’t want to be but could have predicted we would be on the first day of the season! Still if the Welsh Boy Wonder stays for another year then AVB will have done a decent job. I don’t Bale would have stayed – or played so well – under Harry.
**Rightio, if you want to win a copy of ‘Harry’s Games’ then follow @wfrfthetruth on Twitter and post #Harry. If you’re not on the old Twitterbox then simply post below the line. I’ll pick a winner at random in the next day or so. Good luck! **
Ahoy there, web-slingers!
Barely have we had a minute to disentangle our underpants from the neighbour’s satellite dish after a quite astonishing come-from-behind victory against the former Champions, the radar bleeps and twinkles again with the incoming of Roberto Martinez and Atletico Wigan. Who, as required to do so in their perilous situation, are fighting for their Premiership Lives.
Now, the usual protocol for Spurs following a hard-fought and unlikely triumph is to make an utter pig’s tit of the next, apparently weaker opponents. For every glorious evening under the lights beating Inter Milan you can bet your grandmother’s heating allowance that the next game at The Reebok or some such will be a miserable disappointment.
But these, as they say, are mysterious times and this, sir, is a different beast altogether.
If there’s one thing to admire about Andre Villas-Boas and his brief occupancy at Tottenham, it’s that he doesn’t appear to embrace the oh-mother-of-mercy-why-us brand fatalism that it’s easy to adopt every now and again as a fan. Early days, of course, but rather than play the victim card or feel hard-done by the inexplicable force of the footballing cosmos, the young Portuguese buck deals rather in the business of identifying problems and, get this, fixing them.
Conceding late goals? Use the training ground to work on specific defensive routines. Losing at half-time? Re-shuffle, tinker, make one or two cunning substitutions. Rubbish at penalties… well, early days, as we’ve said. To the chalkboard!
By the time the single-term Champions arrive at The Lane tomorrow it’ll have been a whole ten days since our semi-tragic parp-parp-whoops exit from the Europa League. In that period, Arsenal and Everton will have played thrice and Chelsea and City on two occasions. These things rarely boil down to the machinations of a diary, of course, but with just five points betwixt 6th and 3rd even the smallest scheduling advantage could be crucial for the teams involved. It’s all about the little things, as I’m often told by the good lady- with no regard for my self-esteem whatsoever.
As well as giving a rest to the world-weary lambs who were put through the extra-time ringer in Switzerland last week, the enforced sabbatical has allowed a sizable hunk of downtime for the recuperating trio of Defoe, Lennon and multi-award nominee, Gareth Bale. While risking all three from the start would be a dick move in the extreme, the noise from the camps is that all are in contention. Here’s some of that noise now, in the form of words:
“All of them are in with a chance of making selection.”
“Gazza has been training for the last two days with the team and on his own since the beginning of the week.”
“He has made good progress from the beginning of the week to training with the team, so definitely will be up for selection.”
“We recognise the impact he has had for us. With the run that he is on it can have that factor.
“It is good having key players around and players who have been decisive, especially in this last part of the season is always inspirational for everyone. It’s good to have him back”
Phew! Well this team picks itself:
Oo-er. This looks decidedly not ideal. While resident harefoots Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon are grounded in London with unrelated but not terminal ankle and knee prangs respectively, Spurs contemplate how they might best progress from an even (but not really) tie in which Swiss side Basel hold most if not all the aces. The most reasonable answer would be to score more goals than them but as we saw last week, that won’t be as simple a task as some perhaps imagined. Tidy, aggressive and stylish were Murat Yakin’s brigade at The Lane last week, and, rather troublingly, in their domestic League they’ve not been beaten at home all season having only conceded six and scored a walloping twenty-eight. Yikes.
Still, the general consensus appears to be that, with a fair chunk of time before our next league game (Sunday 24th against City) the chaps are pretty much free to turn the dial up to full volume and worry about the consequences and stiff joints in the morning. The thought being that if Spurs could get the maximum out of Holtby, Adebayor, Dembele and the like, we ought to have enough tinned goods in the pantry to see us through. Here’s how they might line up, Champs 01/02 stylee:
Brad out, Hugo in. Just how necessary it is at any stage to rest an exuberant young goalkeeper isn’t really the concern here- Friedel’s done something of a job in the previous rounds and it’s nice to give his legs a bit of a stretch from time to time- but now that our status in the competition hangs in the balance, Lloris’ inclusion is crucial. We’re simply better with him in goal. Elsewhere it’s Tom Carroll for Dempsey for the sake of ball retention and to avoid the potential meltdown on Twitter should the Texan have an awry one. It’s for your own good, Clint. COYS!
Having been knocked around like a woozy sot in a very one-sided bar fight- stumbling over chairs and smashing into the wall-mounted jukebox- Spurs have somehow made it into a Europa League quarter-final with FC Basel. How about that? The saloon doors are still swinging; trousers still bloodied and torn at the knee- and Tottenham are just about there.
It’s a shame to think of the waste we made of this competition under the old regime. Of course ‘Arry took us to the Big Show in his time but for a manager who’d won a single major honour in thirty years, it’s odd to suppose that he treated an imminently winnable trophy with such disdain. Not having a pop, although someone clearly was. The teams he rolled out for the Group Stages last season were a joke and if we’d have snuck into the knock-outs as a consequence, UEFA might as well have unplugged the life-support and called time on the whole damn charade.
By contrast, this campaign has been ludicrously enjoyable for Spurs. From Lazio to Lyon we’ve been spelling fun with a capital F.U.N. The whole tie with Internazionale was mental. Once the blood-pressure had dipped to an acceptable level, you’d struggle to remember a two-legged tie which was so polarised. As good as Tottenham were at White Hart Lane- and they were excellent- it was a steaming pile of holy bobbins at the San Siro. If Inter’s ineptitude flattered us last week, then boy, boy did we make their task easier this.
But, at the end of the night, when you count your chips and you’re in the business end of a European competition and you’ve a major hoodang along the way, you wonder why we didn’t think of it earlier.
Bring on the Swiss, I say. And how about some partybingo.com while you’re at it? Like them movie stars do in Hollywoodland. Arf.
Oh bottoms. The Beast previously known as Sandro has had the most delicate parts of his knee diddled with by the planet’s finest professional knee-diddlers and it would be easy to conclude that it’s a total disaster.
Such is the Brazilian’s importance to this new look Spurs side, the thought of losing him to the frosty advances of a treatment table for just one game, leaves me wondering whether I shouldn’t just seal my head in a carrier bag and just call the whole thing off.
My surgery went well, he told us on Twitter yesterday, which at least implies he’s still alive.
But where does that leave us? Don’t you understand? WE’RE DOOMED!
Oh look there’s Scotty Parker. He’s good.
Jeez, you guys are being way too panicky about this.
All eyes on self-anointed fackin’ football manager, Henry James Redknapp this weekend, as his oft abysmal QPR side are tasked with the responsibility of avenging their boss’s summer dismissal against the club who did a good deal of the dismissing. Well, all of the dismissing if we’re being honest.
There’s almost certainly some people who’d like to see karmic justice dished out in this meeting of minds- dirty great platters of the stuff if preferable. Those who believed Redknapp was just innocent collateral damage in a mad chairman’s scheme to run a football club into the ground. Why else would Levy fire the People’s Choice other than if he was a wibbling nutcase hell-bent of carnage?
True enough, the sun shone brightly on Tottenham during ‘Arry’s four-and-a-half year reign. Rock-bottom to Champions League quarter finals in one-and-a-half seasons is quite an achievement to put it mildly. There was heart-stopping stuff along the way, too. Redknapp’s now legendary vague tactical approach clearly lent itself well to a free-flowing laissez-faire brand of attacking football and it was one heck of a ride at times. But it was perhaps the England Manager-elect’s vision of the future where the troubles lay. In that, he didn’t seem to have one.
The old cliché that he’d taken Spurs as far as they could go is a tired one, but you can’t look beyond the fact that his last five major signings of his tenure at White Hart Lane were Adebayor (loan) Scott Parker (fairly injury-prone 31-year old) Friedel (mad old) Nelsen (?) and Louis Saha (busted up). Not exactly the foundations of a New World Order.
Now we’ve got ourselves one them contemporary football managers we’ve heard so much about, with everything geared towards safeguarding far beyond merely the next trading window. A young, dynamic coach to go with our sparkly new training ground and defined transfer policy. It’s Captain Buck Rogers in 25th Century. It’s the way forward.
In practically every way, Villas-Boas is Redknapp’s direct antithesis; his antipode; his polar opposite. Where one might tell a player to circumnavigate themselves along the apex of the centre-circle at a rate of 13.4km an hour, straight-talking ‘Arry would tell ‘em to round around a bit and stop asking so many questions. One’s the darling of the media, old china plates with the boys in the studio, always good for a quote; the other appears as an impassable smokescreen of Venn diagrams and convoluted business-talk. One is all about tactics and preparation, the other is, according to Rafael van der Vaart, er, not so much.
In the quest to tie together some neat narrative strands, the tabloids might be hoping for a QPR win tomorrow. They’ll use the headline Rope-a-Dope with the word ‘Dope’ in big red letters and everyone will nod their heads knowingly. Even if this is the case, and we do stumble against the League’s worst, I’m still mighty confident that we made the right choice and that our future is in secure hands. Indeed, even Mr. Redknapp himself is impressed with his predecessor’s work so far:
“He’s doing a fantastic job there and long may that continue for him. He got a job but it wasn’t my job. When he got the job I was out of work. I’ve got no problem with him. He seems like a nice guy.”
‘I don’t spend my nights worrying about what he’s doing. I will shake his hand and invite him for a drink whatever the result.”
Nice touch, Harold.
Quotes from the Daily Mail.
A weekend which sees progress into the 4th round of the Cup, a legitimate German Wünderkid join for next to zip and- much to the fnar-fnar-quacking of Spurs fans- a public dressing down by Alex Ferguson which can be summarised as The Nasty Chairman Stole My Pudding- I’d wager was a rather good one. Not bad at all, in fact.
And the piping hot German talent in question is one Lewis Holtby. A classic number 10 (9 ½ 8 ¾) swamped with absurd amounts of technical ability and potential. He’s been one of Shalke’s star performers this year and it’s widely viewed that the 22-year old single-handedly dragged Germany to the U21 Euros. So far, so groovy.
But now there’s more.
Being an impatient sort, it did seem a bit of a shame that we’d have to wait until July to see the kid in home colours and later still to the time he actually put his welly through the old latex bag. Now it appears the day could come much sooner. Here’s what noise Schalke’s managing director, Horst Heldt, made with his mouth hole:
“If Tottenham ask for Holtby in the January window, we will talk to them about it. Nothing has happened yet, but, from our point of view, we are prepared to speak to them.”
“It would have to be done quickly, because we would have to find a replacement for him.”
The snag in that particular plan, of course, is the idea that Daniel Levy could hammer out a deal quickly. Somehow I doubt Mr. Heldt’s idea of haste is twelve seconds before the window closes. But we’ll see.
We’re having a few technical issues in the WFRF bunker at the moment and it appears to be a little more complicated than the usual someone’s-spilled-Merlot-on-the-router type scenario that your average work-a-day blogger is confronted with from time to time. Terms such as severely compromised and no, seriously you’ve broken it keep appearing with rather more regularity than I’d hope for.
Still, enough about my problems- we’ll muddle through.
Tottenham Hotspur, now there’s the horse to back. A festive period of immense dimensions. And points, too. Ten of them from twelve, if you want details. Seven wins from the last nine and third spot preserved until at least after the F.A Cup weekend following Harry Redknapp’s improbable triumph over Chelsea at The Bridge on Wednesday. It’s nice to know he still cares, eh? Add to that the return of Scott Parker- with his reliable haircut and unusually exotic red footwear- and we start the year in none too bad a shape. Andre Villas-Bonus.
As the year gets into full swing, then, so does our old demented friend, The January Transfer Window. With only a month to saturate the airwaves with as much gossip, rumour and downright non-truths as possible, the going can often get weird in the condensed Winter market. The hokum comes thick and fast. Sneijder, Villa and Ken Barlow have already been linked with Spurs, all with their own challenges. Wages, age, not being a real person etc..
We have seen some furtive movement in the waters, of course. Zeki Fryers was announced as very much on-board yesterday afternoon. You’d be pardoned for encountering a boding sense of déjà-vu about this one but I can assure you he isn’t Frazier Campbell. Despite the United connections and dubious ‘Z’ in his handle. He can play at left-back and centre-back it says here. Also his full name is an anagram of Refreeze Silky and you can’t say fairer than that.
Merry everyone! I trust the festive period has handled you well? Upon hearing the rumours on Christmas Day that contract rebel Wesley Sneijder was about to join Spurs, the thought occurred to me that someone may have spiked the bread sauce with anti-freeze. Then the sobering but inevitable quotes from Camp Wesley immerged yesterday and the dream cough, spluttered and finally met its maker. There is nothing, absolutely nothing true about that, said one of his representatives, with what sounded like genuine contempt for the very idea. Ho-hum.
It was with flawless timing, then, that Gareth Bale and chums made us forget about Rivaldo/Kaka/Moutinho MK2/3/4 and be thankful for that which we already have- as is customary this time of year. A walloping fine win on Boxing Day was both the ticket and just what the doctor ordered.
The first half at Villa Park was an exercise in sterile domination; gluttonous amounts of possession and corners- lots and lots of corners- but very little in the way of actual chances fashioned. The set-pieces and minutes racked up and still Brad Guzan looked reasonably comfortable with what we were hurling at him. Defoe had a decent one-on-one scuppered, Bale pop-shotted on occasion but the breakthrough didnae come and every man, woman and child could see where this might be headed. As long as it remains 0-0, the dangerous watchwords of the hopeless.
And the Midlanders were hopeless for the most part. A spirited flurry just after the break was the best it got for them before JD and Gareth began sending out invites to the goal banquet. Naughton’s lip-smacking assist started things off; when Spurs were yelling out for a bit of final-ball smarts from the midfield, it was from a rather unexpected source that the lock was finally jimmied. It’s a bloody Christmas miracle!
Then it was all about Bale. His second hat-trick for Tottenham, first in the League. Pace, power, composure and precise finishing. The boy is no more a one-trick winger than I am an astronaut. So numerous are the components to his game that it would be no surprise to learn that he can do a nine dart check-out on demand and has a formidable badminton serve. Multi-talented, multi-layered and genuinely world class. Let’s not take him for granted, shall we?
Sunderland up next.