Perhaps it received less attention than it deserved. His exit had been widely trailed and came in the bloated, flatulent aftermath of transfer deadline day, when Wilfried Bony, Darren Fletcher and Juan Cuadrado were still passing like proteins through our news-digestive tract.
But the departure of Harry Redknapp from QPR feels like a milestone moment in English soccer. Now there are no managers left in the English Premier League who look like they could have walked straight off the set of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Alan Pardew’s the only Londoner in charge of a Premier League team, and although the Crystal Palace man can get angry, in general appearance and tone he’s more like the ambitious sales manager of a medium-sized suburban office supplies company.
Redknapp’s vanishing seems like the end of an era. He knows that the most useful managerial tool isn’t Opta, or ProZone, or miCoach – it’s his voice, often speaking into a phone. Redknapp is reputed to do little actual coaching – he surrounds himself with talented, hands-on assistants, and is content to give free roles to his most talented players. He’s going to pick the side based on form and confidence, not whatever a couple of university graduates hunched around a computer are telling him about Leroy Fer’s VO2 max.
For Redknapp, management’s about gut instincts, networking and motivation. At a time when coaching’s turned into a branch of science and technology, where everything can be defined, quantified and complicated, he still treats it as a fundamentally simple art. When in charge at Tottenham, Redknapp brought the forward Roman Pavlyuchenko off the bench against Liverpool with a straightforward brief: “just fucking run around”.
It may all sound regressive, but most of his teams have played attractive soccer, and he habitually signed entertainers. His greatest triumphs were at Portsmouth – taking them into the Premier League in 2003 after the inspired signing of the then-34-year-old ex-Arsenal playmaker, Paul Merson, and winning the FA Cup during his second spell in charge in 2008.
(Redknapp then left for White Hart Lane, and turbulent ownership and overspending on players prompted a financial collapse that today finds the club in the fourth tier. But no English manager has won a major trophy since.)
So, Redknapp is old school – but then he is actually old. He turns 68 next month and his coaching career started back in 1976 with Seattle Sounders. With dodgy knees, he insists he walked out of Loftus Road because he can’t walk.
Still, the timing was interesting. A manager who has always relied on new signings rather than cunning tactics to give his teams an adrenalin shot quit QPR a few hours after the transfer window closed, with the club second-bottom in the standings and having just missed out on signing Emmanuel Adebayor from Tottenham, leaving the inept loan striker Mauro Zarate their solitary January “in”.
Only three years ago he was the Death Valley of hot favorites to take the England manager’s job, having been cleared of tax evasion on the same day that Fabio Capello resigned. But the Football Association made a more conservative choice and picked Roy Hodgson. As the Telegraph wrote at the time, Redknapp’s defense was basically that he was too dumb and atavistic to have been guilty, because he was barely literate and was more likely to dispatch a message via carrier pigeon than email – probably not the sort of admissions that would have made the FA believe Redknapp was the man to lead the England team into a bold new future. He’d previously been arrested in 2007 in a police inquiry into alleged corruption but was ultimately not charged.
Despite emerging unscathed from his legal troubles, Redknapp in recent years became distinctly unhappy when reporters would make the outrageous suggestion to him that, as a soccer manager, he might be intimately involved in transfers.
In popular stereotype he’s never lost the tinct of the opportunist; in British slang, the “chancer.” He’s a cockney who can switch in an instant from gregarious and grinning, to angry and intimidating – perfect Guy Ritchie material, and indicative of complexities behind the caricatures. From working-class East London, he’s a multimillionaire who lives on the beach in Sandbanks, one of the world’s most expensive locations. Rather than move back to the capital, he made a six-hour round-trip daily commute when he was at Tottenham.
He’s the nearest thing subsequent English soccer gaffers had to the iconic Brian Clough – a man who managed attractive, limited-budget teams by force of personality, whose quote-ability kept the media enthralled and who also was denied the chance to coach his country.
Let’s hope he comes back one day – health, energy and opportunity permitting. But even a decade ago, as foreign, modernizing coaches flooded the top levels of the English game, Redknapp already seemed like a museum piece.