I can’t say I’m surprised by the departure of Harry Redknapp. Since I started supporting Queens Park Rangers in 2008 we’ve gone through seven managers — 13 if you count the caretakers. Indeed, it’s a miracle he’s lasted this long. The club was relegated during his first term in charge and we only returned to the Premier League thanks to a last-minute goal by Bobby Zamora in the play-off final against Derby at the end of last season. I was at that match and Derby were easily the better side.
If Harry had been sensible, he would have announced his retirement after that game and gone out on a high. But what Enoch Powell said of politicians is also true of football managers: their careers always end in failure. QPR have been dismal this season, in spite of the £36.5 million Harry spent on new players over the summer. We’ve lost our last 12 away games, a Premier League record, and are languishing second from bottom. Avoiding relegation will take a miracle.
Harry has a reputation for being a wizard in the transfer market — part of his second-hand car salesman persona — but his wheeling and dealing has done little for QPR. His big-name signing over the summer was Rio Ferdinand, the former Manchester United player who was supposed to be the linchpin of a new 3-5-2 system that Harry put great faith in. That system was abandoned within two weeks and Ferdinand was dropped to the bench.
I’m trying to control my feelings about Harry, but the timing of his departure makes it difficult. His official reason for leaving is because he needs a knee operation, but why did that only become apparent the day after the transfer window closed? If he was going to go, it would have been better to leave at the beginning of January, thereby giving his successor an opportunity to bring in some new players. Few decent managers will want to come in now, with no chance of strengthening the squad before the end of the season.
Among traditionalists, he’s praised for being a throwback to a more romantic era — a manager from the old school who relies on gut instinct rather than data and analysis. In this respect he reminds me of the baseball scouts at Oakland Athletics who greeted the arrival of Billy Beane, and his nerdy interest in numbers, with such scepticism. That conflict is recorded in Moneyball, Michael Lewis’s great book about Beane.
Within five years of his becoming general manager, the Athletics became the first team in the history of American league baseball to win 20 games in succession. In football, as in baseball, it’s all about the numbers these days.
During his tenure at QPR, Harry never looked more exposed than when going head to head with one of the new breed of European managers, with their mastery of the technical side of the game. A case in point was our match against Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham earlier this season. We got spanked 4-0.
Harry may be a lovable rogue, but he’s a tactical imbecile. Imagine Arthur Daley taking on Garry Kasparov at chess and you’ll have some idea of what it’s been like watching QPR this season.
To be fair, Harry does seem to have a way with the players. QPR’s lack of results this season isn’t for want of effort. Midway through most games, when they’ve invariably gone 1-0 down, the players have abandoned anything resembling a system and started tearing around after the ball like a bunch of kids in a playground. Just occasionally, this harum-scarum approach has overwhelmed the opposition, particularly when the home crowd has turned up the volume. I suppose Harry deserves some credit for that.
He’s expressed a desire to return to management when he’s fixed his medical problems, but that seems unlikely. The owners of football clubs will hesitate before hiring a manager whose most notable triumph was steering Portsmouth to victory in the 2008 FA Cup. Harry left shortly afterwards and a year later the club went into administration.
In a few months’ time I’ll probably feel more sanguine about Harry. I may even miss his post-match interviews, which were great opportunities for playing cliché bingo: ‘Great little player… put in a shift… no easy games… hard place to come… I never complain about referees, but… etc.’ But right now I just feel angry.
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Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.
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