Harry Redknapp shuffled out of what turned out to be his final press conference as Birmingham manager in a cloud of excuses and diversions. He had spent the previous 15 minutes offering various reasons for why his team had lost their previous six matches and were drifting towards the ugly end of the Championship. None of the reasons seemed to have much to do with him: injuries were a problem, players making mistakes were a problem, players he hadn’t been able to sign were a problem.
Everything was a problem except him, it seemed. “What can you do?” he shrugged. It’s been a theme of his career. Of course Redknapp’s sacking, announced about 50 minutes after he left the St Andrew’s press room, was objectively pretty unfair and illogical. Birmingham had allowed him to sign 14 players in the summer to improve a side that only just avoided relegation. The last group of those players had walked through the door two weeks before the 3-1 defeat to Preston that ultimately was his last game. He had three games with them, no time at all to fix things, and it’s true that some of those players had picked up injuries.
But watching Redknapp in that final media appearance, face contorted with frustration and swinging wildly with the old excuses, the question that continually occurred was ‘Why is he here? Why is he still doing this? What purpose is all of this serving?’ He offered his own explanation then: “I don’t come to work every day because I need the money. I come because it’s something I enjoy doing. I enjoy leaving home at 5.15 in the morning, coming here, being around young footballers, working on the training ground every day. It just hasn’t gone the way I was hoping it would go.”
Which is something of an understatement. Things haven’t been going the way Redknapp was hoping for quite a while now, and he increasingly looks like a man clinging onto something that was there before, but has long since gone.
This isn’t an age thing. Neil Warnock is about 18 months younger than Redknapp, but he’s a proven Championship success story who enjoys the muck and nettles of the division as few others do. Warnock feels at home with a club like Cardiff, where he’s doing very nicely. He knows the ground, he’s an expert at doing well in the second tier and looks more comfortable there than in the Premier League.
Redknapp doesn’t. His last spell in the Championship was with QPR, when he gritted his teeth and got through the season, they scraped through the playoffs and when it looked like they would lose that final to Derby, he was thinking about where he could go the following season. This is not a man who seems to enjoy life in the second tier. And why should he? He gained most of his reputation in the Premier League, doing pretty well with West Ham, establishing Portsmouth in the top flight (although at a hefty cost) and then taking Tottenham into the Champions League.
In theory, Redknapp’s latest wheeze looks like it would be just the thing for a 70-year-old with iffy knees. He’ll be giving advice to Darren Way, Yeovil manager, on a pro bono, part-time basis, keeping his hand in but not doing anything too strenuous.
“Up the road to me, Yeovil, the young manager there,” he said on BT Sport last weekend. “I don’t want any money for it, I’d go and do a couple of days with him. Something like that would suit me fine – I’m not going to travel. A couple of days a week, and to go and watch them on Saturdays, I’d enjoy that.”
But is that really where it will end? The next time a club are in trouble and send up the Harry Signal, will he really turn them down? This is more or less what he was doing before, brief spells helping out at Derby, Central Coast Mariners in Australia and the Jordan national team, but the siren song of management drew him back to the rocks.
His spell at Birmingham smacked of a man addicted to the whole thing, infected with football and unable to let it go, which isn’t surprising or unusual. When he says he enjoys working on the training ground with young players, what he possibly means is that he can’t picture his life without it, even if it’s not actually fun, or rewarding, or successful. Management is so all-consuming that one imagines there’s little time left for life, and it’s impossible not to think of Arsene Wenger’s famous quote about retirement and Alex Ferguson: “He has his horses. I don’t have horses.”
Redknapp now surely can’t do anything in management to enhance his reputation. Those who like him will always think he’s the England manager who got away, the man the suits were too scared of and will point to his successes with Portsmouth and Tottenham. Those who aren’t so keen have plenty to go on. There’s little chance of him doing anything to change either of those opinions.
Redknapp looks like one of those boxers who don’t know when to quit, lumbering on when they should have done the dignified thing a while ago. Hopefully he means it when he says the two days a week at Yeovil is all he wants now.