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In praise of Harry Redknapp

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The build-up to games against Stoke City always involves an appraisal of Harry Redknapp’s reign in N17. The farcical 2-1 defeat that newly-promoted Stoke inflicted on Spurs in October 2008 was the final nail in Juande Ramos’s managerial coffin. He was soon replaced by Redknapp. The new manager faced a genuine relegation battle, with Spurs having acquired a paltry ‘two points from eight games’. Since that harrowing autumn afternoon in the Potteries, the upward trajectory of the club has been highly impressive. Spurs are no longer a side with fanciful aspirations of a top 4 berth, but one that has gatecrashed the cosy cartel at the Premier League’s summit and is threatening to do so again. Much of this is down to Redknapp, and the ethos he has brought to the club.

 

Tactics – Simplicity and clarity

Much has been made of Redknapp’s aversion to the tactical intricacies of the game. Rafa van der Vaart famously told us that his management style did not involve ‘long and boring speeches about tactics’. Redknapp is certainly no Sacchi or Mourinho, nor does he carry the gravitas of Ferguson or the intellectualism of Wenger. However, the sides he sends out are defensively compact and dangerous in attack. There is no mystery to the success of a team that has pace on the flanks, guile in central midfield and is anchored by a strong pivot in defensive midfield and at centre-back. The contrast with the Jol and Ramos days is stark. Jol’s teams were overly defensive in away games and defensively vulnerable in home games. Juande Ramos’ tactics were as baffling to his players as they were to the watching public. Neither manager had the basic organisational structure or personnel in place to achieve their tactical goals.

 

Round pegs, round holes

Under Jol and Ramos there was a tendency to deploy players out of position. A prime example of this occurred during the aforementioned game at Stoke, during which Vedran Corluka was played at centre-back. He was very uncomfortable with this, and it showed during that awful game. Jol and particularly Ramos often tried to shoehorn players into formations they were clearly unsuited to playing. Redknapp has constructed suitable formations for the players he has at his disposal. If only he’d stop the occasional tendency to play Bale on the right!    

 

Problem-solver

Redknapp has demonstrated a far greater problem-solving ability than his predecessors. His substitutions frequently allow Spurs to maintain a high-tempo game. Jol in particular would often make negative substitutions away from home. This negative ‘what we have, we hold’ mentality often saw Spurs increasingly camped in their own half with no out-ball.

This problem-solving ability extends to the transfer market. While prepared to give underperforming players chances, Redknapp strongly identifies flaws in the side’s make-up, and seeks to address them. The acquisition of Friedel, Parker and Adebayor are good examples of this. By the end of 2010-11, it was clear that Spurs had weaknesses in the goalkeeping department in central midfield. They were also not scoring enough goals. Redknapp identified these weaknesses, before acting decisively in the transfer market. In contrast, Spurs spent ineffectively and wasteful in the summers of 2007 and 2008. Inexperienced players were purchased for vast sums of money, often to fill positions in which the squad was already proficient. Darren Bent was purchased in 2007 for £18m while Keane and Berbatov were still at the club, while in 2008 £16.5m was spent on Bentley when the club already had a right-winger: Aaron Lennon.

 

The man in charge

Of course, it could be argued that Jol and Ramos were not in control of the clubs transfer policy during their reigns. However, it is testament to Redknapp’s strength of character that he insisted that the complex European management structure be abandoned before he committed himself to the club. From the very beginning of his tenure it has been clear that Redknapp is far more in command than his forerunners. He has fostered a team ethic and organisation that is unparalleled for a Tottenham side in the modern era. He uses the media effectively to praise and criticise his players, and despite his media links is not afraid to stand up to the press. This is a clear departure from the rudderless austerity of the Ramos era and the jovial naivety of Jol’s tenure.

 

Conclusion

Redknapp has undeniably made mistakes during his time in charge at the Lane. He sometimes makes tactical errors which can be disastrous for the team, such as the weak midfield he selected for the 5-1 home defeat to Man City. However, his willingness to learn from past errors and decisive leadership sets him apart from other modern Spurs managers. He has instilled a dynamism and pragmatism in Tottenham that means the club are a more robust unit when travelling away from home to venues like the Britannia Stadium.

 

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