Behind the scenes, Harry always talks a good game

By Martin Samuel, January 29, 2009
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Daniel Levy may do the buying at Tottenham Hotspur, but we all know who does the talking. Harry Redknapp. This transfer window we cannot get away from him. Harry on the television, Harry on the radio, Harry on the back pages, most recently Harry on the defensive. Suddenly, everybody is wild about Harry. Other managers, other owners. The poor chap is mystified. He does not do the transfer deals, he says. All he does is identify a player and Levy, his chairman, does the rest. And there is the problem. As Frank Carson would not have said, it is the way he identifies them.

It was really no surprise when Tottenham came in for Craig Bellamy at West Ham United, because Redknapp had been talking about his fancy for the player since before January. Jermain Defoe, at his former club Portsmouth, too. Harry says that Levy does all the transfer business, but he is not that daft. He knows that a transfer begins, not with the first offer, but at the moment a player hears he is wanted by another team. From there, his thoughts are occupied, with ambition, or opportunity, or money, and so are the thoughts of his agent. So when Harry talks up Defoe, it does not matter that the nitty-gritty of the transaction is to be the work of his chairman; the first stage of the job is done.

Newspaper men are fond of Harry because he is a likable man, good company, a fine manager and he makes life easy. He talks in colour. One quip from him lifts a piece of writing and you don’t have to do your own jokes.

The Football Writers Association held a tribute night in his honour this month, and were it not for a crass piece of timing – Manchester United versus Chelsea at 4pm the same day – it would have been the hottest ticket in town. Even in the circumstances it was a quick sell-out and, by all reports, Harry was on top form and his speech was brilliant.

But here is the funny thing. Had it needed a sports writer to propose a toast to Harry, there would have been a queue a mile long, but the organisers wanted someone from football and, shall we say, they had to work harder on this than expected. There is a feeling that, behind the persuasive exterior, Harry sometimes oversteps the mark. Certainly, there would appear to be a residue of bad feeling sloshing around from this transfer window.

In mitigation, from what he had seen at Tottenham in his brief time there, Harry must have entered January in a state of desperation. The promised rise up the table had not materialised and he had one month to overhaul his squad. Even so, the aggressive way he went about it, particularly in his openness on the subject of transfer targets, has caused a lot of resentment.

Harry plays innocent, or perplexed, and on some days he does a very good outraged when the suggestion is put to him. But in private moments, surely he knows. There is no better football man to spend an evening with than Harry Redknapp; although if I was fighting for my life as manager of Sunderland, I might just say I was washing my hair, if asked.

Martin Samuel is the chief sports writer of the Daily Mail, where his column appears on Monday and Wednesday.

    Last updated: 10:58am, January 29 2009