They say that a week is a long time in politics. In football, a month must seem like a lifetime. It only took a week for Barcelona’s season to fall apart, and their manager to abdicate. For Tottenham Hotspur, a month has seen the whole buoyancy of the previous six months evaporate, and the reputation of their manager seriously damaged.
The day Harry Redknapp walked triumphantly out of court a free man, as elsewhere Fabio Capello agreed a deal to escape his English nightmare, it seemed that Redknapp becoming the next England manager was as certain as night follows day. There seemed no other possible outcome. And many weeks later, he is still the favourite to permanently replace Capello. But you wouldn’t bet your mortgage on it any more. And what’s more, the slump of form of his club side that has accompanied the speculation ever since his court case ended has left many a Tottenham fan hoping he does take the national team job, a situation that would have been unthinkable only a couple of months ago.
All this begs the question: having faced a huge dilemma over whether to quit a manager of a club on the up, on the cusp of breaking into the top four, in order to take his dream job, could he now be faced with the possibility of ending the summer with no job at all?
Well that’s unlikely. Should the England job not be his, Daniel Levy is hardly going to dismiss his manager because of a two month slump. Fan power is huge of course, but they are on the whole grumbling rather than calling for wholesale change. Having said that, from scouring the internet over the past couple of years (and the internet is never wrong), there has always been a small minority of Spurs fans who have never taken to Redknapp.
I can’t believe however that their slump in form has been down to speculation over the England job. The early speculation may have been unsettling to the players. After all, they too surely believed he was on his way, though the majority presumed it would be after the end of the season anyway. We saw with Alex Ferguson’s rescinded retirement announcement many years ago that the knowledge that a serving manager will soon be on his way can affect a team’s form. Pep Guardiola announced his own resignation this week, safe in the knowledge that the major prizes had already been lost. But with Redknapp, the speculation soon died down. It was soon clear that he wasn’t going to jump ship mid-season, and what’s more, with a fight for a Champions League place, the players should have been focused enough – they can offer no valid excuses.
A bigger factor in the slump may just be down to simple fatigue. Redknapp does rotate players, but only some of the squad. The spine of the team have played relentlessly when fit, and look spent. Tactically Redknapp hasn’t helped the cause either by playing the likes of Bale out of position. His January dealings have hardly helped either, as the squad was not strengthened at a vital time. But hey, who could have seen an injury to Louis Saha coming eh?
Regarding the England job, I would suggest that perhaps the FA have been left in limbo too. They may have gambled on Spurs’ form progressing through February and beyond. If it had, they could have already secured third place, their season effectively over, and the FA could have swooped for their man safe in the knowledge that it wouldn’t undermine the club’s achievements this season, and with the backing of the vast majority of the British public (me not included). This would have given the manager time to look at the England squad and start preparing for Poland and Ukraine right now. Now though, Spurs have to fight until the last day, and the FA cannot make an approach. What’s more, the recent poor form has opened the eyes of a few fans to the fact that Harry isn’t the messiah, and a very limited manager at times. You’d still expect him to secure the job however. If he does, or if any manager is installed in place of the caretaker Stuart Pearce, then they will have precious little time to prepare, insufficient contact with the squad to implement his ideas and tactics fully. The whole process has been a mess.
As I write, Spurs are three points off 4th place, with four games to play. Failure to secure Champions League football will impact on the players as much as Redknapp – not only will his options be more limited in the summer transfer market, but will struggle to hold on to the likes of Gareth Bale and Luka Modric. Fourth might not be enough anyway, if Chelsea win the Champions League – but at least they have a game in hand on Arsenal, so third place is still achievable. However, the manager and team have to forget the possibilities after the season end and concentrate on winning their last four games. Speculation about the England job hasn’t caused Spurs’ slump, but the constant speculation does no one any favours.