Harry Redknapp is slowly transforming from manager and gobshite for hire to merely being the latter…
For a few years, whenever a job came up in the Premier League, a fun (ish) game to play was to head over to Oddschecker and take a look down the list of candidates. Somewhere, usually around 8th-10th favourite, somewhere between 10/1 and 40/1, would be Alan Curbishley, a reliable and in some ways comforting presence. For some jobs, Curbishley might get an interview, for some he would rule himself out of the running, for some he would just be there, included on the list almost out of politeness, like someone asked along to a school reunion that nobody really wants there, but it would be weird not to ask.
Crucially though, Curbishley would never get the job. He’s back in football now, as an advisor/assistant to Kit Symons at Fulham after a brief spell as ‘technical director’ there a couple of years back, but he was out of the game for more than five years between leaving West Ham and the spells at Fulham. He has never been a manager again.
This might partly have been his choice, but it’s also partly because he was away for so long. His managerial muscles became flabby, the stares into the middle-distance more bleak, his regular presence on Sky Sports News the only reminder that he still had any connection to football. When Football365 was owned by Sky we would be sent their running order each day, which for reasons not entirely clear would include how each guest was travelling to the studio. Curbishley always drove himself, which was oddly poignant.
Harry Redknapp has at least one foot on this path. The man who left QPR at the start of February after his knee fell off – and definitely not because he (understandably) couldn’t be arsed with another relegation scrap – is now in that football hinterland. ‘The Curbishley Zone’, if you will; the region in which it’s not entirely certain whether someone is a manager or not. Do you have to have a managerial job to be a manager? Is it enough to have a fairly substantial body of work without actually being in the game? Are they just more earthy versions of ‘resting’ actors, a cockney Withnail, only presumably without the heavy drinking and Uncle Monty?
Like Curbishley, Redknapp is doing his best to ensure people don’t forget about him completely. Whenever there is some sort of issue to be commented upon, you can be sure that Redknapp will be available to comment upon it, firmly on Talksport’s speed dial for a few words about the topic of the day. He’s a pundit for BT Sport, has an Evening Standard column and then of course there are his assorted social media accounts, which he recently admitted he has little or nothing to do with, but crucially do carry his name. He is, in short, all over the place.
The problem with this sort of ubiquity is that ‘hard-hitting opinions’ don’t really carry as much weight from someone who buys ink by the barrel, and they just blend into the background with the rest of the nonsense. Redknapp has rapidly become white noise, his thoughts a minimalist background sound for football, like inoffensive light jazz in a hotel lobby, or one of those ambient music albums some crusty would put on at 2am at university; something that you’re vaguely aware of, but don’t really pay attention to.
Sometimes he tries to spice things up a little by attempting to stir, the latest example being his thoughts on Liverpool. “I have heard from good sources that Carlo Ancelotti was offered the Liverpool job,” he told Talksport, of course. “I don’t think [he wanted it]. They spoke to him at some stage.”
But mostly it’s the same thing. You could probably write out Redknapp’s opinion on a matter down before you’ve even heard it. So why is he still around? Is he simply a man earning a living, getting some easy coin before walking his dogs, a lifestyle that sounds very appealing indeed? Is it some curious obsession with staying in the limelight, the concept of not being ‘relevant’ anymore too awful to comprehend? Or is he staying in the football consciousness so nobody forgets he’s around, the endgame being getting another job? The only real explanations for the Liverpool/Ancelotti remark are that he either wants to undermine Jurgen Klopp, and there’s little to suggest that’s true, or that he wants to make sure everyone knows he’s still in the game, finger on the pulse and ear to the ground.
It’s not the worst idea in the world. Because he’s always on a TV or radio show of some description, inevitably the presenter will ask, as a semi afterthought when discussing the latest vacancy, ‘would you be interested in the job Harry?’ Most recently it was Sunderland (which, like Curbs before him, he was on the bookies’ list for), to which he basically responded by saying ‘Are you f**king joking? They’re absolute trousers mate.’ Or something like that. Usually though, he’ll honk something along the lines of ‘Well, it’d have to be the right job…they’re a good club, but…I’ve met the chairman a few times, he’s a good football man…you never know…’ then make some quip about spending time on the golf course or the house he’s famously so attached to on the south coast.
There is a market with a bookmaker for his next gig. Bournemouth and Portsmouth are the current favourites, but unless it’s a director of football thing, a profession he has expressed some scorn for in the past, they seem unlikely for various reasons. ‘Any MLS club’ is next, but that would involve quite a commute from Sandbanks. Then it’s into a selection of Championship clubs, but given he balked at the prospect of another season in the second tier during the play-off final in 2014, that also appears unlikely.
His best chance would appear to be a Premier League club in a tailspin, desperate for an old head to steady things down, and Aston Villa seems likely on that score; after all, why keep employing Tim Sherwood, essentially an ersatz Redknapp, when you could just sack him and hire the real thing? It would be like binning George Lazenby in favour of Sean Connery. The problem there is whether any top flight chairman would take the gamble of employing a 68-year-old who failed in his last job, one he quit because he apparently couldn’t stand up?
In some ways it would be something of a shame if this is it for Harry. Much like Curbishley, who basically salvaged Charlton from a homeless mess and made them into an established Premier League club, Redknapp is/was/has been too good a manager to think of him only as a gobshite for hire, rather than manager and gobshite for hire. He was terrible at QPR, but took Tottenham to the quarter-finals of the Champions League and won the FA Cup with Portsmouth, even if the latter was not so much built on sand as blancmange. Unpalatable character as he is, he was very good at his job for a few years there.
But there’s every chance that he’s now done as a manager, and what we have is a professional character, someone who performs a passable impersonation of Harry Redknapp on the TV but doesn’t actually do anything, a perennial guest on something or other. Still, maybe he can share a lift in with Curbs.