Broaching the subject of Harry Redknapp in anything other than a positive light is often considered to be sacrilege by journalists. For this is Harry Houdini, the man that brought Portsmouth back from the brink and recaptured former glories at Tottenham Hotspur.
Redknapp is a media darling, there can be no doubting this, and with good reason. Few other bosses come across as jovial, approachable or friendly as he does. Yet the warm glow that the Queen’s Park Rangers manager inspires means that he is almost immune from criticism, when other managers would be pilloried.
Since taking over at QPR, Redknapp has made progress and at least appeared to inspire the players to perform closer to the level that would be expected of them.
Rangers were at the lowest ebb possible following the insipid, abysmal, catastrophic 3-1 defeat at home to Southampton in November. Taking charge amid such a morass, with a disjointed team full of disinterested and sometimes mutinous players, was an extremely courageous move.
It appeared to most, given the R’s had not won in 12 games at that point, that he was on a hiding to nothing, and the crisis was already insurmountable. However, the rot was stopped, and teams no longer turned up at Loftus Road expecting to claim all three points with minimal effort.
Although it now appears that the “renaissance” in January was in fact a myth, for despite an historic triumph at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea, Rangers did not improve at all.
When Mark Hughes finally gave up three months ago, QPR were five points away from safety and boasted a fatal shortcoming: the complete inability to win football matches.
Fast-forward to late February and the R’s are seven points off Wigan Athletic, and Premier League survival, meaning that Redknapp has made no real terms improvement as manager. This is not to say that the team has gone backwards, for this was hardly possible following the morass under Hughes, but the gaffer is beginning to be found out somewhat.
Under the 65-year-old there has been a fundamental shift in philosophy, which may have gone un-noticed by a number of supporters. For anyone wondering why Rangers were able to keep so many clean sheets, it is obvious, as Redknapp has swapped goals for an ultra-defensive, cautious formation that stopped the rot.
What has taken place is that QPR have traded a winless run for a barren spell in which the last home league goal came on Boxing Day and only three have been scored this year.
Perhaps the cynics were right in arguing that the R’s were doomed three months into the campaign, but for all his words, Redknapp has not made relegation any less certain. As cruel as it may sound, the ex-Spurs gaffer might as well have been walking his dog over the past few months for all the good his arrival has done.
Having promised not to pull owner Tony Fernandes’ pants down, indeed expressed disgust at the thought, the reality is that Redknapp has done just this with his January spending spree. There may have been no other option than to splash out £12.5 million on Christopher Samba and buy Loic Remy for £8 million, but signing Jermaine Jenas raises doubts over his sanity.
Like thousands of other QPR fans, I was clamouring for Hughes to go, for it very much appeared as though Rangers’ hopes of avoiding the drop were fading as each day went by. What I cannot stand, however, are the rousing statements from Redknapp promising a reprieve when all those in the stands know full well that the fat lady has belted out the first verse.
Impressive 0-0 draws against Spurs and Manchester City were achieved by sacrificing all attacking intent and putting two defensive midfielders in front of the back-four. Many sides would be fighting tooth and nail to get forward and break in numbers had they not netted for two months and were they three wins from overtaking their nearest rivals.
Not Rangers, it appears. The system Redknapp has adopted favours defence over attack, eliminates the possibility of goals and is dire to watch, uninspiring and wholly inappropriate. Under the grand plan, goalkeeper Julio Cesar sees more of the ball than the striker, and the R’s lone attacker will drift out wide to cross the ball to himself. It is completely farcical.
Saturday’s defeat to Manchester United was entirely expected, and thoroughly deserved, but what had not been anticipated was just how much of a damp squib the hosts would be. Taking off winger Andros Townsend, the only player worth watching for the turgid 90 minutes, was perhaps the worst moment, the limp-wristed, feeble performance aside.
Accountability must start now, and the first charge that ought to be levelled against Redknapp would be this: why was DJ Campbell, a proven Premier League goalscorer, sent out on loan ? Should it be so blindingly obvious, as it is in W12, that goals are at a premium, how on earth could a vital asset such as Campbell be let go in the middle of an injury crisis upfront ?
Despite the dismal showing against the runaway league leaders, Redknapp was unexpectedly buoyant in his post-match interview, even predicting a flurry of strikes from his crocked duo. He said: “This leaves us bottom today, but we won’t be bottom at the end of the season. I still feel we’ll get out of it.”
“You probably think I’m mad, but I don’t think I am. Everybody else has written us off, but I haven’t. I still feel we have a chance. I see two forwards now that can start scoring some goals for me. That’s the problem – we don’t score any goals.”
While the last statement is agonisingly true, it seemed that the players had given up at the weekend, particularly Adel Taarabt, who had one of his worst ever games for the club.
Redknapp may have come in promising all the answers, but in the end not even the magician himself could perform any trick capable of saving such a poor Premier League outfit. Championship football is beckoning next season, which may in fact be a blessing in disguise, but I would not expect Redknapp to be around to lead the club into this brave new world.
A glimmer of hope remains, for when Hughes took over, it was not until late March that the Superhoops began to pick up points and turn Loftus Road into a veritable fortress.
Sadly, QPR cannot afford to wait until nearly April this time around: there are 11 games remaining, and based on current form, the R’s would only win two of them at most. This is just not enough. Harry has tried, swapping a side famous for its attacking prowess for one barely able to cross the halfway line. Unfortunately, it may have been one job too far.