Harry Redknapp's success at Portsmouh will always be tainted by the club's subsequent struggles, writes Colin Farmery
February 2012 was a more eventful month than most for fans of Portsmouth. While their club was lurching towards a second administration in two years, Harry Redknapp and Milan Mandaric, the former manager and chairman, were on trial for tax evasion charges relating to their time at the club.
The juxtaposition of the events cemented in the minds of the casual observer the seedy, boom-and-bust nature of the club’s business over the past decade. So, it was with some relief that Redknapp and Mandaric were found not guilty on all counts. It was also revealed that Mandaric and former chief executive Peter Storrie had been acquitted in October on a separate tax matter relating to their time at the club.
The verdicts were bittersweet for many fans. While Mandaric remains almost universally popular, Storrie is the pantomime villain of the Sacha Gaydamak era, who took from the poor old fans to enrich himself, countless players and agents. And then there is Harry.
By any measure, Redknapp is the club’s most successful manager in the past 50 years – perhaps ever. Periodically he would throw in the fact that the Portsmouth fans had "never had it so good", as we became the only club outside of the Premier League elite to win the FA Cup since the mid-1990s. Those with a historical perspective would suggest that Bob Jackson’s consecutive League titles in 1949 and 1950 might just eclipse Redknapp’s achievement. If only a valid comparison could be made between Woodbines and nicotine patches.
For all of Redknapp’s success at Fratton Park, he continues to divide Portsmouth fans, largely between those who cannot stand him full stop, and those who cannot stand him but grudgingly concede he was a decent manager. Redknapp was in many ways the perfect Pompey boss. His wide-boy, gift-of-the-gab persona fits the profile of many of the club’s supporters. He was "one of us". He could ad-lib post-match press conferences as scruffy little "Portsmuff" beat the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United.
The trouble was, he was not "one of us" at all. Harry first shredded his reputation in the autumn of 2004. He left the club after a spat with Mandaric over getting rid of assistant manager Jim Smith. As he walked out of Fratton Park, fans pleaded with him not to go "down the road" to struggling Southampton. "What? Me? Never," he replied. Five months later Redknapp was back to face the music, as his new Saints side were thrashed 4-1 at Fratton Park.
Southampton went down in the end, Redknapp having already burned his bridges with their fans with his post-match wry smile and thumbs up to Mandaric. Fast forward to December 2005 and Redknapp returned to his not-so-spiritual home. Mandaric had run out of money but was about to sell to Franco-Israeli multi-millionaire Gaydamak. With access to the bank of Gaydamak’s millions, aided and abetted by Storrie, the manager went on a prolonged shopping spree. Perceptions of Redknapp as a wheeler-dealer are unfair – and they certainly grate with the man himself – but he is no stranger to a deal. For every Lassana Diarra, there was at least one overpaid Lauren to show he was more than capable of misjudging players.
Redkanpp traded Pompey onwards and upwards. By 2008, the addition of David James, Glen Johnson, Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe meant the club had more players in the England side than Manchester United and Arsenal put together. Of course it all went horribly wrong as the Gaydamak empire crumbled and Redknapp walked out on Pompey again – or the club asked him to leave so they could collect £5m compensation from Tottenham, his new club.
Any Spurs fans nurturing residual hope their manager will stay loyal should the FA approach Daniel Levy can forget it. Redknapp is loyal to one person only. Here at Portsmouth, we are keen to see how he gets on in the top job. His strength was always in man-management, in getting good players to play at their best on the day.
As a tournament manager, he could bring some long-lost brio to the England squad. More interesting still could be his reaction if things go badly. "We’re down to the bare bones" and talk of "little" England will not cover a 1-0 defeat to the Ukraine. And England, as we all know, have certainly seen better times, like Pompey, around half a century ago.
Looking back on the Redknapp era, it is too simplistic to point the finger at him for Portsmouth’s current plight. It is not a tale of boom and bust, but a far more subtle plot about chancers and charlatans being let into the casino by incompetents, who did not make them prove they could pay for their chips. Redknapp may not be to everyone’s taste. But his strengths are manifest, his failings largely human and, as the court has proved, honest.
From WSC 302 April 2012