Chris Dunlavy looks at the colourful career of QPR boss Harry Redknapp
BUT for his old mate Jimmy Gabriel, Harry Redknapp wouldn’t be dispensing Cockney wisdom and genial anecdotes for the TV cameras. He’d be doing it from the front seat of a minicab.
“I really was going to be a taxi driver,” said the QPR boss. “I had an injury at Bournemouth that finished my career and it all got pretty desperate. I was negotiating to buy a Bournemouth taxicab for £14,000 and I was going to borrow the money off the bank because we were skint.”
But then Gabriel, a team-mate at Bournemouth, got a job managing Seattle Sounders in the NASL and invited Redknapp to be his player-coach. There, on the far western coast of the USA, began one of the most distinguished careers in modern football.
In the subsequent 30 years, Redknapp – who spent two days in a coma following a car crash in 1990 – has managed Bournemouth, West Ham, Portsmouth, Southampton and Spurs, in the process becoming one of English football’s most recognisable and well-loved characters.
Born in London’s East End, Redknapp was scouted by Spurs but moved to West Ham aged 15, making his debut in 1965 and playing in the legendary – but underachieving – side that featured Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst.
“If you threw someone a live hand grenade and asked them to run with it, that’s what Harry played like,” recalls his old mate Rodney Marsh.“He was very fast, but it was all so quick and scatterbrainish. It was all scurry, scurry.”
Though he played 24 times for the Sounders – including against Pele – Redknapp’s career was effectively over at 29, when injury ended a four-year stint at Bournemouth.
But his association with the south coast club would continue when, in 1983, he was named manager, famously overseeing a 2-0 win over Manchester United in his first season in charge.
Before the match, he had walked into the dressing room and told his players a story – entirely untrue – of how the United players were so confident of victory they had spent the afternoon watching horse racing.
“That was Harry’s first team talk to us that day,” said Milton Graham, one of the scorers in that game. “He said they are all in there, laying their bets, believing this is going to be a run out and they think they will beat us comfortably.
“Looking back, I don’t know if he believed we could beat them but he made us think we could and that was his great skill.”
So began Redknapp’s reputation as an ace motivator, a man who could win the heart and mind of any player.
Some, like ex-Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe, have sug- gested that Redknapp’s cheeky, genial demeanour is a “façade” to curry favour with the media.
But the majority of his former players attest to Redknapp’s ability to wring top-class performances from average players.
Kanu, who played for Redknapp at Pompey, said: “Some coaches know what you can do and believe in you, but they don’t tell you. He knows what you can do and he gives you freedom. If the gaffer believes in you and you are happy then you produce.”
And Ian Thomspon, another exCherry, disagrees with Lowe. “What you see when Harry comes out on TV is the real person. Wherever he’s gone, whenever he speaks, he speaks the truth. It’s a genuiness of character that’s embedded in his roots as an East End boy made good. I can’t speak highly enough of Harry – he’s a terrific guy.”
Though he hates the description, Redknapp is also renowned as a wheelerdealer, his in-car interview a feature of any transfer deadline day.
Particular triumphs include Paolo Di Canio at West Ham – picked up for £1.5m after being discarded by Sheffield Wednesday and described by Redknapp as “a genius, the most talented player I ever worked with” – and Pedro Mendes, a cut price acquisition from Spurs whose goals effectively kept Portsmouth in the Premier League.
“Harry built teams that were a whole lot better than it should have been when you looked at it on paper,” said Shaka Hislop. “He brought in players who were surplus to requirements elsewhere – me, for instance, and Paolo Di Canio – and got the best out of them.” Now 66, Redknapp has taken Spurs to the Champions League quarter-finals and won promotions with three different. In January 2012, he was odds-on with the bookies for the England job, only for the FA to go for Roy Hodgson.
It was rare stroke of misfortune for a man named “Golden Bollocks” by his old pal Jim Smith, but having started at the bottom, Redknapp is grateful for his lot.
“In those early days at Bournemouth we got 12 balls for a season and trained in the local park,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with good hard work and I wouldn’t be the manager I am without those experiences.”
GLORY DAY: Harry Redknapp celebrates with the FA Cup while Portsmouth manager