Watching Tottenham take on Inter Milan two weeks ago, it struck me that the team must make a fantastic viewing experience for the neutral. As a Spurs fan, this left me proud (prozzie-fond mercenaries they might be, but I was like a glowing parent watching that ebullient XI take apart the European champs) and also a little annoyed. I’d like to watch this side stress-free, too. Unfortunately, setting up with two jet-heeled wingers, a midfield pair anchored by a 5’8” playmaker and a maverick Dutchman permitted to trot wherever he likes ensures the odd nervy moment.
Which makes Harry Redknapp’s assumed coronation as next England manager an interesting one. Is his cavalier attitude and tabloid-savvy personality just the tonic for a public jaded and suspicious of our national team? Or would his tactical simplicity see us lag further behind the tactically adroit Spaniards?
Don’t get me wrong, us Spurs fans love ‘Arry. We may have booed the exhausted team’s lacklustre 1-1 home draw with Sunderland, but this just highlights how far we’ve come under Redknapp. We can occasionally be entitled little so-and-so’s at White Hart Lane, but for the most part, we’re incredibly grateful. Even during Wilson Palacios’ darker moments, I force myself into recalling a bleak recent past highlighted by Steffen Freund’s risible panto villain routine. Redknapp’s chiefly responsible for galvanising the best-looking Tottenham squad in over a decade.
Tactically, Redknapp certainly isn’t a Mourinho, or even necessarily a Stuart Pearce. But at international level, I would argue the skill isn’t in confusing players already frazzled by club tactics, set pieces and marking systems with added intricate instructions. It’s in playing the players in their best positions, maximising their strengths and motivating them. Redknapp keeps things simple and the players respond.
He might be dodgy, he may not remember many players’ names and he certainly doesn’t know how to play it safe, but since he turned up, we’ve supported a totally rejuvenated football club.
He instructs the incredibly quick Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon to take on their full backs. Rafael van der Vaart is given license to do as he pleases because he’s the team’s most creative player. He tells Jermain Defoe he’s the best finisher in the country and instructed to shoot on sight. All flourish under Redknapp. You think how Liverpool's Steven Gerrard has spent a decade showcasing a muted version of his talents in an England shirt. Redknapp’s England would see our very best players unshackled, their qualities the chief focus, not simply getting them all onto the pitch regardless of position.
Naturally, there are downsides to life under Harry. Otherwise we wouldn’t lose 4-2 away at Bolton four days after dismantling the Champions League holders. Redknapp’s Plan B usually involves chucking on an extra forward. Yes, it’s a fan-friendly approach, but Tottenham have rarely overcome an opponent through a savvy change of style or mode of attack. It’s probably why he’s so fond of Crouchy. Bunging the big man on forces an automatic tactical about-turn and dismisses any need for coaching subtleties.
His much-vaunted relationship with the players isn’t universal, as a certain Sunderland striker would testify. Refreshing honesty’s one thing, but Sandra Gate left a humiliated and bitter Darren Bent’s Tottenham career untenable. You wonder if the jacked-up egos dominating England could stomach some of ‘Arry’s home truths, particularly those used to Wenger and Fergie’s cosseting ways.
The FA might also baulk at getting into bed with another Terry Venables. The result of his pending court case will be eyed with interest within the halls of White Hart Lane and Wembley and should any mud stick, expect the door to remain permanently shut. Which us Spurs fans wouldn’t mind one bit. He might be dodgy, he may not remember many players’ names and he certainly doesn’t know how to play it safe, but since he turned up, we’ve supported a totally rejuvenated football club. Redknapp’s arrival felt reassuring – suddenly were in safe hands and we could expect an open dialogue between Redknapp and the fans. From Fabio’s stuffy, closed-off reign, England might be wise to embrace a fun-filled, Redknapp-run England.
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