Friday, 26 February 2010

Brent Man-Management: Why no title-challenging club would ever appoint Harry Redknapp

In yet another uncomfortable interview this week, Redknapp again praised Roman Pavlyuchenko's re-emergence as a striker of commodious talent. But not without criticising him: this time it was the 'language barrier'. Why, then, having studied the warm-ups at nearly every home game this season, do I always see the Russian trading banter, or deep in conversation, with his teammates? Why, when his work-rate on the pitch and his rapport with fans and teammates alike is so admirable, does Redknapp continue to try and mark a blemish on Pavlyuchenko's public image? Some might say the manager's recent remarks are tactful, that they have worked in getting the best out of Pavlyuchenko; what he is getting is not the reactionary best of a man, but rather the inevitable benefits of playing a top-draw forward who converts his chances, works hard off the ball and has an awareness on the football pitch to match either Arshavin or Zhirkov - his two international team mates who have featured more regularly for Tottenham's two biggest rivals in the Premiership. Here is perhaps the most outrageously ignorant quotation, from the week, by Redknapp; a statement bordering on xenophobia, if we accept its implausibility:

"Russian players have generally struggled in this country".

Sorry Harry, but only seven Russian footballers have played in the top flight in the last twenty years - Arshavin, Zhirkov, Pavlyuchenko, Dmitri Kharine (1992-99), Alexander Smertin (2003-08),
Andrei Kanchelskis and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov - none of whom are remembered for, or are now, struggling. Harry Redknapp may have lived through the Cold War but somebody needs to tell him it's been over for a while, and fast.

Like Redknapp, Robbie Keane is another Premiership PR self-servant. In December, Keane organised an overseas Christmas booze-up against the manager's will, and these days the quirky Irishman seems to move to a new 'boyhood club' every season. But Keane, strangely reappointed as club captain on his return from Liverpool a year ago, has never been repeatedly criticised for either his lack of professionalism or his consistently poor form over the past eighteen months. Contrast this with Darren Bent who was blamed and humiliated by Redknapp in several post-match interviews last season; a decision that seemed to negate common sense, for Bent is a player who will not stop running and trying in any fixture, a benign machine whose product depends entirely on confidence. Keane's only prolonged spell of poor form in his Tottenham career has occurred under the club's current manager. And since Darren Bent has moved to Sunderland, Steve Bruce has clearly got far more out of the predator than a finger-pointing Redknapp ever could. Martin Jol got the best out of Robbie Keane because, although he would like to think he's George Best, Keane isn't, and Jol would rotate his abundantly talented strikeforce at the first sign of complacency. Now it is as if the fickleness in football is as contagious amongst its professionals as it is amongst its fans and its media.

Paradoxically deprived of either first team opportunities or a move away from the club, it is natural and hardly unprofessional for the Russian to have voiced his discontent to his country's media in recent weeks. If it were Jermain Defoe or Gabby Agbonlahor being snubbed by CSKA Moscow, we would expect nothing else. Bouncebackability is one of those silly footballing terms that never consistently applies to any one club's statistics. In the case of Pavlyuchenko's disciplined hold-up play and eloquent finishing in the last seven days, it is not a resurgence we are seeing: he has nothing to bounce back from. His record for Spurs this season stands at six goals in ten appearances (eight of these as a substitute), and in 2008-09, he was as prolific as Drogba or Berbatov in their debut seasons in England. Ironically, on the day Redknapp arrived at the club, it was Pavlyuchenko who scored against Bolton igniting the transformation of Tottenham's season, and who would later score goals against Liverpool and Manchester United, as well as the match-clincher against Burnley to avoid an embarrassing defeat, and to send Tottenham through to their second consecutive Carling Cup Final.

Harry Redknapp is a guru in the transfer market, a tactically assured manager, and I shan't write a righteous commentary on Redknapp's Wii commercials, his taunting of opposition supporters, his disregard for clubs' finances, or his own fishy doings. Needless to say, I only wish there were more managers of Jol and Roy Hodgson's ilk; lovable, not for timely humour, but for their honesty and dignity. If Spurs do miss out on the top four, this of all seasons, questions must be asked as to why Pavlyuchenko was repeatedly snubbed when his comrades were stumbling in front of goal. But they won't be, as Redknapp's wide-boy charisma - his 'Arry appeal - will trivialise another jovial press conference, this before he exits for Monaco, nodding and flapping his jowls to 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin'.

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