LONDON ENGLAND - JANUARY 30: Harry Redknapp manager of Tottenham Hotspur looks thoughtful prior to the FA Cup sponsored by E.ON 4th Round match between Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur at Craven Cottage on January 30 2011 in London England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Harry Redknapp has found his ceiling with the club. The natural abilities in the squad have outgrown his single-minded approach to the game and are descending into a state of mismanagement. It's just time for change.
All these claims and many others in a similar vein have been endlessly reproduced by Spurs fans in the run in the end of the season that came to an abrupt climax last week. Amongst their vocal exponents, I myself was particularly active in my criticisms of Harry. Laying in to his inability to rotate the squad or respond tactically to the fixes that our injury list put us in, I echoed the call amongst the regulars on this site for a manager who would stop holding the squad back. When the chances of the FA moving in to prise Harry away from us were at their most favourable, I aligned myself firmly with the "thank you and goodbye" camp who couldn't wait to see what kind of flesh blood Daniel Levy could attract to take us to the next level.
My views in this respect held fairly constant until the start of this week. Then, transfer rumour business got underway in earnest, and almost immediately the press declared an open season on Spurs players. Modric reconsidering his future at the club for the second year running. Gareth Bale linked with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and anyone else with a big enough chequebook to fold him into and scoop him away in. In general, the usual speculation about which of our stars would be the first to start the inevitable exodus as they bemoaned Spurs' nearly-but-not-quite level of stature as being beneath their ambition and talents. As I sat cringing through every new serving of gossip and ITK, I started to cast my mind back a year, to when little Luka first started making noises about going to Chelsea. And I started to wonder- would a club without Redknapp have even had the potential to do what we did this past season left after all we went through last time round?
He seemed clueless. He feigned ignorance. He palmed all the responsibility for making the tough call onto Daniel Levy. But it's tough to deny that Harry Redknapp was instrumental in ensuring that Luka Modric remained a Spurs player from the off over this past season- not in the literal sense of remaining on our books, but more in the sense of having his heart and head out there on the pitch with the rest of the squad. When Daniel Levy turned down a £40m bid for Modric from Chelsea in the summer of 2011, many of us wondered at the time what a such a highly regarded and otherwise desired player who couldn't even get his ducks in a row enough to take to the field against Manchester United could possibly contribute to the club going forward. Goals, assists, and enough key balls and pass completion rates to keep his name comfortably repeatable in the same breath as those of Xavi and Scholes was the answer. Somehow, someway, Modric got his act together enough to have a second blinding season for Spurs in a row despite having one foot out of the door as late as the last day of the 2011 transfer window.
The key factor behind this apparent miracle doesn't take Benedict Cumberbatch to identify. The truth is that Harry Redknapp has a knack for making players feel at home. Nigh on every member of the squad has come out and said it- the Teflon Don favourably feel valued and confident in their own abilities. When Rafael van der Vaart spoke so highly of Redknapp's FRAAB tactics in the heady days of the first half of the season, he wasn't alluding merely to a tactical (non-) system favoured by the gaffer, but a sophisticated psychological technique for making the best feel like the best, like they could achieve everything they wanted to in a Spurs shirt.
And you'd have to be seriously sceptical of Redknapp to think that that style of dealing with players hasn't been a defining influence on the cream of the squad staying put to face the past season together this past season. But so what, you might ask me. Redknapp doesn't build on the foundations he has. Another manager wouldn't dither around signings and perform (quite literally) drive-by foot-shootings of his own club's transfer policy every time the press gathers round to hear what entertaining pearls of wisdom Uncle Harry has to say. Someone with a little more gumption and prestige attached to their name might be going out there and getting us in the mix for the future elite players rather than settling- on transfer deadline day, it would be the Diarra's, the original targets of our ambitions, rather than the Parker that ended up on our books.
Yet as the ITK storm billows up around us again, I can't help but feel a modicum of comfort knowing that we have a manager who, at the dearth, can genuinely deploy a dose of silver-tongued adhesive to keep the dressing room together. The truth is, for all the noises I've made about other managers, about the greener grass on the other side of the fence, neither I nor anyone else could guarantee that another manager could haul in bigger names for us. But the more I think hard about it, the more I realize that we might not even have a squad to build on in the first place without Harry.
So Redknapp, in the classical sense of the phrase, really is the devil we know. We're acutely aware of his shortcomings, but in fairness we also know what the squad looks like when he's with us. We know Modric, Bale and van der Vaart amongst others will always be more likely to be given pause before they start to make noises about leaving when he's there to impress.
My argument for feeling comfortable with Redknapp staying with us thus isn't necessarily premised on me being especially fond of him as a manager. More so, it's because I love this squad, regardless of any slip-ups they might have had over the past year. And I know that a new face in the dressing room can always be a destabilizing influence right at a time when Spurs need stability most. When we face the facts, Spurs are not yet an elite club. We haven't had enough consecutive years in the Champions League to start thinking we can do better, that we deserve more. So until we have a little more confident in our own stature, until we've had a sophomore run-out in the top competition, surely it's better to stay with the formula that's worked well enough to get us there rather than outgrowing our own skin too quickly?
In short, Harry Redknapp is the current squad we have now. He may not have assembled it, but he's marshalled it to incredible things in recent years off his own back. And until the club develops more of a natural pull, enough to keep the players where they are, he's the glue that holds it together. When bids start to come creeping in for our stars, I know I know exactly what quantity of misery or relief to expect with Harry. And over what could be a troubling few months, when we rock ourselves to sleep at night worrying about whether this squad will ever manage to pin down a key signing before it's too late, that surely should be some comfort.