The view from England

Redknapp: For club or country?

February 16, 2012
By Norman Hubbard
(Archive)

It may prove the most popular coronation of all time. Players, public and press have united in anointing Harry Redknapp the next England manager. The chances are that the FA will take the less than subtle hints and, as is their habit in coaching choices, go from one opposite to another; from the distant, authoritarian Fabio Capello to the gregarious, wisecracking Redknapp. After the overpaid Italian, many find something reassuringly English about Harry Hotspur.

Harry Redknapp
GettyImagesHarry Redknapp has to decide which path to take.

The expectation, too, is that the 64-year-old will accept. His is an old-fashioned patriotism and, as a former West Ham team-mate of three of the most influential World Cup winners in 1966, he has first-hand experience of the difference any success the national team enjoys can make to the footballing landscape. Like the late Brian Clough, the people's champion the FA overlooked, he may regard managing England as the pinnacle of his career. It is not a view many of his Premier League counterparts might share, not least because so few are English.

It is a job that could permit the veteran wheeler-dealer one last chance to pluck players off a carousel, even without the artificial drama of transfer deadline day. Redknapp has long seemed to possess a mental wish list of footballers he would like to sign and one explanation for his perennial willingness to recruit them in their autumn of their careers - Ryan Nelsen and Louis Saha are the latest additions to a distinguished group including Nwankwo Kanu, Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham, Paul Merson, Nigel Winterburn and Stuart Pearce - is that it was both the first and last chance he had to sign them.

England, then, would permit him to work with players such as Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and even Paul Scholes, who were always out of his reach. Selection would be complicated by the fact Redknapp has managed many contenders, attempted to buy others and rarely deems age an obstacle when naming his side. But those are the sort of problems he has long created for himself and relished.

For one with a famously close family, there are personal reasons to swap White Hart Lane for Wembley. There are only so many journeys from his Poole home to Tottenham's Chigwell training ground - minimum two hours, potential to be rather more - that a man approaching pensionable age should take. It is a masochistic commute and, assuming Redknapp does not adopt his friend Sir Alex Ferguson's peculiar logic that he is too old to stop working, England could prove a lucrative journey into retirement.

Yet amid the assumptions he will opt for country over club, it has been overlooked that there are sound reasons to stick, not twist. It is not merely because England, with its attendant expectations, unique politics and off-field problems, has long been deemed the impossible job. It is, simply, because Tottenham are a better team.

Redknapp has definitely constructed the outstanding outfit seen at White Hart Lane in a quarter of a century and possibly the best for 25 years before then. Their 5-0 demolition of Newcastle was a magisterial exhibition of progressive football, featuring pace, creativity and teamwork, rendered all the more impressive because Rafael van der Vaart was missing. Only two England performances in Capello's reign - the home and away wins against Croatia - even merit comparison. The national team may not have produced a better attacking display against quality opponents since Sven-Goran Eriksson's side won 5-1 in Germany 11 years ago.

It is one of many signs that the standard in the club game is higher than in its international counterpart. This is where managers, whether in the transfer market or on the training ground, can exert a greater influence. England may be fifth in the FIFA rankings, but where would they rank among club sides? Fifteenth? Twenty-fifth? Thirty-fifth? Play as they did in the World Cup, of course, and they would be rather lower still.

They are a team who look better on paper than on the pitch. Whereas England tend to be far less than the sum of their parts, the same cannot be said for Spurs. Moreover, while there are questions about the futures of Emmanuel Adebayor and Luka Modric, the Londoners may be about to get stronger. If, as seems likely, Eden Hazard joins, if Champions League revenue is used to bring in a world-class striker on a permanent deal, they could be an awesome proposition.

Bill Nicholson was the architect of so much success
PA PhotosBill Nicholson was the architect of so much success

And managing his country at the 2014 World Cup, which few would predict England winning, could deny Redknapp a career-defining achievement. Tottenham are third favourites to win the Premier League this season, but they may stand a greater chance in the next couple of seasons. That, rather than succeeding Capello, would give Redknapp a lasting place in football history. The chances of anyone proving another Alf Ramsey are remote, but he could be the second Bill Nicholson.

And while Tottenham's Double winners of 1961 contained imports who would have bolstered the England team - Scotland's Dave Mackay, Northern Ireland's Danny Blanchflower and Wales' Cliff Jones - the same is true of their modern-day equivalents. As Redknapp may soon discover, there is no English Modric, still less an English Gareth Bale.

So if there is a tug-of-war for his services, perhaps the fairest way, albeit an unlikely answer, would be for the two teams he could manage to conduct a 90-minute battle for his services. Indeed, if Scott Parker wore the white of Tottenham rather than of the Three Lions, Spurs would surely prove to be the superior side and Redknapp's future at the Lane would be cemented.