Hurry up Harry!
Harry Redknapp has always understood the benefits of having a few well-positioned media contacts, going all the way back to his playing days at Bournemouth when a reporter for the Sunday People by the name of Sam Bartram, previously of Charlton Athletic, had him on his payroll. Redknapp had the inside information every red-top wanted – "titbits, team news, transfers and the like" – and Bartram would make it worthwhile. "The odd tenner for my trouble," as Redknapp recalls.
The industry has changed a lot since then but Redknapp is still as media-savvy as they come. He is pretty good at it. Journalists, as a whole, tend to appreciate people who stop and, as we all know, that camera crew waiting outside Redknapp's gates in the freezing cold can be pretty sure he will slip on the handbrake and unwind his window. He is quotable, a good raconteur, full of opinion, with an appreciation for the one-liner. His press conferences are anything but the joyless, deliberately bland events a lot of other managers put on.
The problem is that the perception grows that it is all too cosy, that Redknapp's achievements are over-egged, that he gets an easy ride because he hands out his number and makes good copy. Every journalist who expressed any form of surprise when Roy Hodgson was made England manager was accused of being "one of Harry's pals". Even the mildest criticism of England's performances, particularly in Euro 2012, elicited the same response.
Perhaps, then, it is time to set the record straight. You see, the problem when people do not fully understand the mechanics, politics, relationships and intricacies of an industry is that they tend to blur their own suspicions with what is actually the truth.
Redknapp does have his Fleet Street pals. He has a paid-for column with The Sun and maybe half a dozen other journalists whom he can count on for pretty favourable coverage. For everybody else – the vast majority – Redknapp as England manager would have been a journalistic nightmare in many ways, what with never knowing where he was going to pop up next, what information was being fed to his inner circle, what should be taken at face value and what could be considered as, well, Harry being Harry.
The newspapers did not push him forward because he was good for a quote. Joe Kinnear's good for a quote. They were favourable because he was the obvious candidate bearing in mind England were in a fair old mess after Fabio Capello walked out. The European Championships were approaching and the position required someone with the restorative powers and force of personality to enforce sharp improvement.
It also needed someone to sort out the John Terry and Rio Ferdinand mess. The bookmakers suspended betting on Redknapp at one point. He had my vote, too. Yet there was also a part of me dreading what he would be like to deal with. The same, I am sure, could be said of the Football Association's media department.
Redknapp, to clarify, is not someone I break bread with. His number is not on my phone and there are times, undoubtedly, when it is easy to understand why there has been a backlash to the idea that he was as overwhelmingly the "people's choice" as had been made out.
Redknapp can certainly polarise opinion. This is a man who once stormed out of an interview when the man from Sky innocently mentioned he was known as a wheeler and dealer. "I'm not a wheeler and dealer . . . fuck off!" Yet flick 10 pages through the first chapter of his 1999 autobiography and you will find him describing himself in precisely that way. "Wheeling and dealing was what I was good at," he writes in 'Arry.
He can be compelling, open, entertaining. At the same time his interviews can be wrapped in fibs, contradictions and hypocrisies. He will look you in the eye and tell you something you strongly suspect is untrue. Words such as "lovable rogue" and "cheeky" and "rascal" are applied. It actually means he is a slippery so-and-so.
He can be brazen about it, too. Redknapp tells one story, going back to when he was managing West Ham, about Slaven Bilic having a clause in his contract that allowed him to leave for £2.5m. Bilic came to see Redknapp one day to say he was fed up playing for a struggling team, at a club that had no money for new players, and that he had heard that Spurs wanted to pay the release fee. His information was correct and it was then Redknapp told him to check the small print. The clause had been carefully worded so it was only applicable if West Ham agreed to it. In other words, it was worthless if West Ham did not want to sell. "Bilic is a fully qualified lawyer and must have thought his contract was watertight," Redknapp recalls. "But I went to the University of the Street in Stepney and I had done him up like a kipper."
A man whose local in the 1960s was the Blind Beggar in Whitechapel, the pub where Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell, tends to be fairly streetwise. Barry Fry, in his Maidstone days, was so aggrieved about coming off second-best in one deal he threatened to send "two geezers" round to blow off his kneecaps, according to Redknapp. Jim Smith, then at Derby, was not too pleased either when he flew to Milan to sign Paulo Futre and then found out the player was meeting Redknapp in London. Smith actually rang Redknapp to find out if it was true. "Who?" Redknapp asked.
Yet Redknapp is far from the only person in football to pull the occasional stunt and surely the point here is that a manager should be judged primarily on his ability to set up a decent team, improve players and win matches rather than all the side issues and personality traits.
When Steve McClaren was England's manager he had his fair share of friends in the media too. McClaren wanted more. He was naked about it, texting Christmas and New Year messages to the more influential football writers. He would thank them for asking questions in press conferences and give the general impression you might find him passing round humbugs to everyone on the way out. Yet it did not do him much good. England managers generally get favourable press by winning matches rather than buttering up reporters.
To recap, Redknapp had taken over Spurs when they were at the foot of the table and transformed them into a Champions League side, described by Sir Alex Ferguson as the best team to watch in England. His managerial record is not flawless, as Southampton's supporters reminded him a few weeks ago, but there is considerably more good than bad and just about every leading manager in the Premier League, from Ferguson down, had nominated him as the standout choice to replace Capello.
Hodgson has admitted that he was sure Redknapp would get it and, though it will not appeal to everyone, the suspicion here is still that the FA missed a trick. A debate for another day, perhaps. Yet Redknapp, one imagines, would have managed more in England's six World Cup qualifiers than two wins against San Marino and one against Moldova.
It is hypothetical now, of course. Instead Redknapp went to QPR when they had four points from their first 13 games. His 17 matches have brought 19 points. The equivalent would have put them 14th by the 17-game mark in mid-December. Over the full season the same points-to-matches ratio would have kept them up with something to spare.
What he has not been able to do is close the gap: eight points off safety now, compared with seven when he took over from Mark Hughes in November. His team have a fairly obliging run-in, starting at Fulham on Monday, but the defeat at Aston Villa before the international break was a grievous setback. From here it looks very unlikely there will be a feat of escapology. Redknapp, nonetheless, has brought considerable improvement. If nothing else, he has shown the club's owners were fully justified in making the change of manager. If it is beyond QPR to clamber to safety, it would be unjust for too much blame to be apportioned in his direction.
Gascoigne's grotesque publicity programme defies comprehension
The video of Paul Gascoigne that found its way to The Sun and brought home how desperately ill he was made difficult viewing in many ways but after the initial shock of seeing him in such a dreadful state the burning question for me was this: what on earth was he doing on that stage?
What good – apart from possibly paying for the next alcohol-fuelled bender – was it possibly doing for a man who could barely make sense, who was shaking so uncontrollably he could hardly hold his microphone and looked absolutely awful, to be put in front of 500 guests at a £100-a-pop bash in Northampton?
His agent, Terry Baker, can be seen helping Gascoigne to his seat, though it actually needs three people to make sure he doesn't fall. Baker then starts an excruciating question-and-answer session, trying to get some sense out of his client, when surely he should be apologising to the audience but explaining that Gascoigne is so unwell there is no way he could put him on stage. Gascoigne starts sobbing. He says he has been on "a whisky diet", then he gets abusive. That was seven weeks ago. The following weekend the reports were so grim, after Gascoigne suffered a reaction to his detox programme and was taken into intensive care, newspapers prepared obituaries.
Baker's account on Twitter is named after his company. I won't give it a free advert here but it specialises in selling authorised autographs and currently has 69 different Gazza items on its website. He announced on Monday he had taken Gascoigne for an interview to ITV's Daybreak and seemed genuinely surprised that so many people, many of them quite upset, wanted to know whether it was really such a good idea to be putting him in front of the television cameras. His defence was that, for Gascoigne, "keeping himself busy is his main concern". You just hope Gascoigne is getting the right advice. At this rate there will be another tour before we get to the summer.
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