Queens Park Rangers and Harry were a match made in heaven; two more perfect partners you couldn't have found. QPR ticked all the Redknapp boxes. Close enough to Bournemouth for him to commute daily; an under-performing, misfiring squad; and a rich owner in Tony Fernandes who had shown he was prepared to dig deep into his own pockets to ensure premiership survival. Typically, Redknapp kept his cards close to his chest, insisting in one radio interview that he had received eight job offers in the past week. At that rate, if he'd held on for another three months, he could have taken his pick of any of the 92 league clubs.
For seasoned Harryphiles, the clearest sign that he fancied the QPR job came when he started talking about how tempted he was to be manager of the Ukraine national side. 'It's a fantastic job,' he told reporters. 'I found out about it a couple of weeks ago when they got in touch with my advisors. I am serious about it. They are an up-and-coming football country with some very good young players, some great teams like Shakhtar and some great stadiums. I will talk to them and see if we can sort something out. I'm definitely interested, without a doubt.' The only person who could really see Harry going to Ukraine... was Harry. To everyone else, his Ukrainian courtship had all the hall marks of a gentle reminder to show Fernandes he didn't want to hang around indefinitely and that he wasn't going to come cheap.
Planned or not, that's the way it panned out as Redknapp was offered the QPR job in the last week of November. All was now revealed. He wasn't going to be anybody's new Fergie, Wenger, Mourinho or Villas-Boas. Nor even their temporary Di Matteo. He wasn't ever going to be the kind of manager to whom chairmen of the big clubs looked to lead them to Premiership and European glory. That had been a beautiful, golden chimera that briefly seemed possible for two years at Spurs. Harry's number had been called. He was a scrapper, a typically English manager whose gift was to squeeze the best out of his players when the chips were down. A man to whom you would turn to get you out of trouble. But not to take you forward once you were in the clear.
If Redknapp was disappointed in this judgement, he gave no sign of it. Within minutes of arriving at Loftus Road, he was like Groundhog Harry, saying how pleased he was to have the job and how all his family were now QPR fans. It was also like Groundhog Day in most other respects, as he prepared the ground for possible failure by deflecting all the blame for the club's predicament on to the players, while talking up the insane idea of bringing David Beckham to play in the Premiership along with his desire to sign Darren Bent in the January transfer window. Plus several members of his old Spurs squad. He could have been reading from one of his scripts.
This time, though, there was no immediate Redknapp bounce. QPR were held to draws in his first three games against fellow strugglers Sunderland, Aston Villa and Wigan. A home win against Fulham hinted at a revival, but the year ended with three straight defeats, including a 3-0 home surrender to Liverpool. Redknapp's immediate response was to criticise several members of his squad in the press for not being worth the money they were paid – in particular, Jose Bosingwa, whom he had fined two weeks'wages for refusing to sit on the substitutes bench for the game against West Bromwich Albion. His analysis was undoubtedly right; some of the QPR players were earning too much, though he could hardly blame them for taking the money that the club's owner and previous manager had offered. Nor did humiliating his squad in public seem the best way to raise morale, even if it did echo the feelings of many QPR supporters.
Remarkably, though, the new year began with another of those totally unexpected results that had so often been a feature of Harry's career and on which his reputation had been largely made. A 1-0 victory away at Stamford Bridge, thanks to some dogged defending against an under-strength Chelse team that thought it only had to turn up to claim the three points and a late winner on the break. In just 90 minutes, the Harry Houdini headlines were back on the sports pages.
Then came the game that somehow seemed more symbolic than most. The home fixture against Spurs. The old against the new. A victory against the club that had sacked him would be worth more than three points won and several more proven; it would be a sign that the revival had substance. The media came rushing to Redknapp's door for pre-match quotes and he didn't disappoint, suggesting that 'you'd have to be a dope' to mess up managing Chelsea – an implied dig at Spurs manager, Andre Villas-Boas, who had been sacked by the west London club after just eight months in charge the previous season. Redknapp's timing was a little off, though, as the day before the game Villas-Boas was named Premiership manager of the month, and Harry quickly mounted a rearguard action, claiming his words had been taken out of context.
Both managers shook hands before the game and embraced for the cameras after it. In between, not a lot happened. There were no chants of Harry love from the away fans, nor did Redknapp acknowledge them. It was almost as though there had never been a bond between them and that the events of the previous three seasons took place in a forgotten universe. On the field, Spurs were at their most anaemic, QPR again defended in depth and the game petered out in a goal-less stalemate. Both managers could leave with their pride intact, claiming it was a point earned rather than a couple dropped. Even though it wasn't. A home draw was of little value to either manager. Redknapp, in particular, as QPR ended the day still rooted to the bottom of the with just 14 points from 22 games, two points behind Reading in 19th place and six away from escaping the relegation zone. It was by no means all over for QPR and Redknapp but it was getting harder by the day and if the club were to stay up, it would need grit and guts rather than fun and flair. Redknapp's own demeanour suggested he thought it unlikely his squad would be up to the challenge.
So it proved. The final nail in the coffin came with a goalless draw against Reading but it was the 1-1 home draw against Wigan that sucked the last hint of fight out of QPR. Having played three-quarters of the game against with just 10 men and taken the lead with a Remy wonder-strike just three minutes before the end of normal time, they conceded a needless free-kick on the edge of their own area. Julio Cesar lined up the wall but Shaun Maloney found a way through.
There was a twist to Wigan's last gasp equaliser. Another sign of how often Redknapp is misread. He's often hailed as the great man-manager, the motivator supreme. To his favourites he is, but he can humiliate those he doesn't rate. At Spurs he had made no secret of not rating Adel Taarabt before selling him to QPR. What goes around comes around. In a relegation dogfight, a manager needs players who will put their bodies on the line. Which QPR player was it who was standing in the wall and ducked to allow the ball to head goalwards? Adel Taarabt. Coincidence? Possibly. Karma? Definitely.
After the game, Redknapp said he was heartbroken and described the result as 'the 'toughest to take of the season. No. Toughest to take of my football career.' It was the right thing to say to the press – the fans would have expected nothing less - but was it the toughest? Really? Redknapp has had a long old career, nearly 15 years as a player and more than 30 in management, and has had more than his fair share of disappointments along the way. Not least in May last year when Drogba's late, late equaliser for Chelsea in the Champions League Final against Bayern cost Tottenham Hotspur a place in this year's Champions League and Redknapp his job managing the club.
Sure Redknapp was disappointed. Who wouldn't be? But heart-broken? No. He'd been through relegation before at other clubs and survived. The Championship wasn't that bad and even if he was sacked, someone else would be calling before long. Besides, he was still on the best part of £3m per year at QPR. How hard could that be? Sure, he'd bought into bigger dreams and ambitions for a while. Who wouldn't have? But they'd always really been other people's dreams and ambitions. All he'd ever wanted was to make a living out of football and he'd done far better for himself than he'd ever dared imagine in a virtually uninterrupted 50 year career. Only fans and romantics thought that football was all about the glory. It wasn't. It was about survival. And Harry would go down in history as one of the greatest of all football's survivors.
Harry's Games: Inside the Mind of Harry Redknapp by John Crace is published by Constable & Robinson £18.99