Two grey areas that Harry still needs to overcome

This is perhaps an odd time to write such an article on the relative merits of Harry Redknapp. The man has just masterminded Tottenham’s first victory over North London rivals Arsenal for the first time in over ten years, plus the defeat of Chelsea, and fans are understandably euphoric. Furthermore, Tottenham have not maintained such a vigorous assault on a Champions League place since Martin Jol led the club to within one win of qualification in 2005/06. However, just as Jol found out, the Tottenham board can be an unforgiving bunch. If Redknapp does not deliver Champions League football this season, will Redknapp’s position become subject to speculation? Or, whatever the outcome of the next four games, will, or should Tottenham trust Redknapp to take the club on to the next level?

The league doesn’t lie, and thus far, Redknapp has arguably been a revelation at Tottenham. I believe Tottenham had just two points from eight games when Redknapp took over, although it has been a while since Harry dug that old favourite out in a post match interview. Harry took Spurs from a team staring relegation straight in the face, to within touching distance of Europa League qualification last season. This term, that steady progress has continued. Tottenham have spent the majority of the season in the top four, look like pushing big spending Manchester City all the way. Further, after 87 matches in charge, Redknapp is the club’s fourth best performing manager of all time, with 45 wins (a win percentage of 51.72). IT is thus difficult to argue with the basic facts and statistics of Redknapp’s reign.

The two facets of Redknapp’s tenure that require closer scrutiny however, are his dealings in the transfer market, and his ability to think on his feet and change games with substitutions. These two areas are still arguably still grey areas for Redknapp, and might just be factors that play on the minds of the trigger happy Spurs board.

This summer will perhaps represent a huge moment in Harry Redknapp’s Spurs career. If Tottenham finish in a Champions League position, the expectations of fans-apropos the quality of signings-will understandably rise. Thus far, Redknapp has bought fairly well, with Sebastian Bassong (£8m), Wilson Palacios (£12m), Niko Kranjcar (£2.5m) and Jermain Defoe (£16m) in particular all decent signings. Tottenham may have parted with £38m for these four, but they have been instrumental to Tottenham since joining. Robbie Keane (£15m) and Pascal Chimbonda (£3m) arguably represent less shrewd business, whilst the jury is still out over Peter Crouch (£9.5m) and Younes Kaboul (£5m). The trend however, and this goes for the loan signing of Eidur Gudjohnsen and the free transfer of Carlo Cudicini, is that Redknapp has shunned sophisticated scouting networks, and opted to sign what he knows best ; Premier League talent. In short, does Harry’s expertise go beyond the Premier League and former players? Signing experienced Premier League players has helped Tottenham get where they are today, but there are only so many quality Premiership players available before the well dries up. Does Harry have the nous to sign the next Dimitar Berbatov for example? Harry may well have to leave the confines of the Premier League in order to augment the Tottenham squad this summer, and the pressure to buy, and buy well, will be huge on the former West Ham chief.

As the aforementioned Martin Jol found out, Tottenham have high expectations, and even though Jol lost King through injury, and Michael Carrick – the spine of his team- after the 2005/06 season, Jol was soon deemed as tactically naive and unable to compete with the immense brain power of Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger, Alex Ferguson and Rafael Benitez. Despite leading Spurs to consecutive fifth place finishes, Jol was seen as inferior to these managers, and so Ramos was brought in and labelled a tactical messiah after results aganst Arsenal and Chelsea in the Carling Cup. Conversely, Jol was blamed for throwing away a 3-1 lead in the FA Cup at Stamford Bridge in 2006/07 with a string of baffling substitutions. Redknapp has a better record against the ‘big four’ than Jol did, with league wins against Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal already in the bank. However, there are grumblings at times regarding Redknapp’s substitutions.

Against Portsmouth in the FA Cup, Spurs struggled to break Pompey down. Redknapp’s decision to substitute like for like-Kranjcar for Bentley and Pavlyuchenko for Defoe- was met with little enthusiasm from the Tottenham support. Many were calling for a more tactical change, with Gudjohnsen playing in an attacking midfield role, replacing the deep sitting, and ineffective Huddlestone. With Palacios in the side, did Tottenham need two deep lying midfielders against a team defending with ten men? Tottenham suffered similar such instances against Hull City, Wolves and Stoke City at home, and it has at times left tiny question marks over Redknapp’s tenure.

Despite a good record at Spurs overall, Redknapp does at times appear to struggle to change games. Perhaps it is owing to a lack of quality personnel on the bench or injuries, but when Tottenham have gone a goal down, they’ve struggled to come back and win. For example, in the Premier League this season, Tottenham have only recovered to win after falling behind once, after Defoe and Lennon cancelled out a Carlton Cole effort at Upton Park early on this season. However, Chelsea and Arsenal have overcome a negative score four times, whilst Manchester United have done so three times this season. Arguably, this separates the best from the also-rans.

Redknapp is doing a grand job at White Hart Lane, and on a macro scale, criticism is merely pedantic. However, on a micro scale, has Redknapp shown enough adventure in the transfer market? Does Redknapp do enough to shift a game in Tottenham’s favour? Redknapp has bought himself more than enough time to answer all these questions, and this season could still see Redknapp realise Tottenham’s Champions League dream. However, if Redknapp doesn’t make the right moves this summer, and doesn’t move Tottenham on to the ‘next level’ – Champions League football, we all know easily the Tottenham board can pull the trigger…

You can find me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mark0turner

 


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