Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to retire brings to an end a monumental period of football history. One by-product of the Scotsman's announcement is that it leaves Queens Park Rangers boss Harry Redknapp as one of the last of the game’s old guard still in management.
Rather than preparing to enjoy a newfound status as the top-flight’s most senior manager, QPR’s relegation means Redknapp is facing (at least) a year back scrapping with The Championship’s myriad dreamers.
It is the next engaging, potentially engrossing, step in a long and eventful coaching career—one that began over 30 years ago.
Redknapp’s adventures still retain the interest of a great many football fans and observers. Still, it is slightly jarring to compare his current situation to that which he was in a year ago.
Roy Hodgson’s appointment ahead of Redknapp as England manager saw the latter unexpectedly bumped as the nation’s focus of attention. For a couple of months leading up to late April, Redknapp had been most people’s choice as manager in waiting following Fabio Capello’s resignation.
That unofficial campaign had followed on from his quite public court case for tax evasion, and ran alongside his Tottenham Hotspur team’s hunt for a top-four finish. When Spurs’ previously strong form spluttered during the height of the England rumors, the costly consequences led to their chairman Daniel Levy sacking Redknapp.
Being linked with England saw Redknapp’s profile at its highest. The superficial notion of this charming, old-school throwback of a manger had captured the general public’s imagination.
How interested Redknapp was in England we might never truly know. It might have hurt his ego to miss out on his country’s biggest job, when it seemed a sure-thing.
The bigger comedown though, with pertinence to his current situation with QPR, was being dismissed by Spurs.
With all due respect to Bournemouth, West Ham United, Portsmouth and Southampton, Tottenham was the first ‘big’ job of Redknapp’s career. Though he had flirted with success at West Ham, and won an FA Cup with Pompey, Spurs allowed him to aim higher. That he would did in three-and-a-half eventful years that encompassed trips to Wembley and Europe, as well as so many memorable games.
In the living memory of many, Spurs had been champions of England and won several other major honors. The hope that new eras to match the great reigns of Bill Nicholson and Keith Burkinshaw could again be created would continue to cast a shadow over those tasked with building them.
Such a restoration of glory was not expected of Redknapp (nor his more recent predecessors), rather it was hoped of him. Such a feeling is just as powerful, for when you near fulfilling it and just miss out, it can hurt even more.
That hope (or was it now desire?) characterized his time at Tottenham—especially once he proved capable of fashioning a side to compete with the Premier League’s top clubs. When, subsequently, it was deemed he was not the man to fulfill Spurs’ increasingly lofty ambitions, it led to his downfall.
Redknapp will not (nor should he) ask for pity at—not even a full year after his time in North London ended—now facing matches versus Barnsley and Ipswich Town, rather than Arsenal and AC Milan. He would not have become QPR manager without a certain level of humility. That he did so, instead of taking the less demanding (and probably more financially rewarding) Ukraine job, said a lot about his priorities.
Hoops owner Tony Fernandes gave him a chance to do a job he enjoys in an environment he knows. He is working alongside friends and trusted lieutenants Kevin Bond and Joe Jordan, and he is not far from his home or family.
The challenge of reshaping a bloated and fractured squad, capable of achieving a return to the top division, is not quite nights in the Champions League, or European Championship campaigns. That reality might occasionally cause Redknapp to wonder what might have been.
Given what he has achieved in management though, it would be foolish to completely rule out the 66-year-old finding his way back among the company he and his teams were keeping these last few years.
By Thomas Cooper