Saturday, January 12, 2013
Redknapp concentrates on task in hand
It's Thursday morning in Harlington and Harry Redknapp is attempting to show his QPR team how to stop Tottenham's twin wing threat of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon.
He's telling them to get as tight as possible, to try and prevent Bale "popping off the line and into those little inside positions".
Of course, the 65-year-old's extensive knowledge of the duo comes from the fact that, had it been a Thursday morning in another time, it could have still been Redknapp in charge of Spurs and attempting to show them, rather than QPR, how to best make use of their own talents.
Naturally, it's the narrative that absolutely dominates Spurs' trip to Loftus Road. It's impossible not to imagine what Tottenham would be like had their old manager still been in charge; how Villas-Boas will cope with his predecessor in the opposite dugout; what Redknapp really thinks of the young upstart who has replaced him - except, that is, for the managers themselves.
Both completely played down the issue in their pre-match press conferences and attempted to deal with it as matter-of-factly as possible, minimising any potential controversy. Both also talked up what excellent achievements the other is capable of: salvation for QPR; eventually the title for Tottenham.
In fact, Redknapp stated that, as he walks past a lot of the players he brought through, the fans who used to love him and some of the directors he used to work for, he'll only be thinking of one thing: how to beat them.
"What will be going through my mind is how we can win the game, how we can set up to get a good result against a good team," he insisted.
Behind such a blase attitude there is an interesting psychological question. How exactly do you adjust to suddenly taking on players you worked with so intensely for so long? Redknapp, after all, has done it more than most given the amount of Premier League clubs he's managed. Then again, that perhaps explains his answer.
"It's very easy, very easy," he said. "I don't know because that's the way I am. Maybe I shouldn't be like that but it's me."
He did admit that his first such departure - from his beloved West Ham in 2001 - hit harder than most.
"That was difficult," Redknapp explained. "That was a bolt out of the blue, but I don't know. Honestly, lads. There were more important things happening in my life last year than [leaving Spurs]. I was supposed to be getting the England job, then I didn't... but that's football. That's life. Things happen. And, I know it sounds corny, but there are things happening in life... there are people with little kids with Leukaemia and this is nothing, what happened to me.
"I had four great years there, got very well paid. I've now come to QPR, don't get so well paid! But I'm here, out there today, involved in football. I love football. I'm out there today with the players trying to find a way of beating Tottenham."
Even if you take Redknapp's comments at face value, he couldn't help himself - as is often the case - suggesting a little edge ahead of Tottenham's trip. When pressed on why it was Spurs actually dispensed with him, the QPR boss said:
"I've got my own feelings about what happened but it's difficult for me to say... yeah, it was political."
There may be a certain credence to Redknapp's words given that many sources indicate the Tottenham hierarchy simply wanted a different direction, a younger model, someone to build a fuller future on.
That in itself reveals the futility of comparing the two men and what might have been at Spurs: Redknapp and Villas-Boas are two managers at opposite ends of the coaching spectrum. Too much has changed and been altered to really wonder what might have been. It's a reality reflected on both the training ground and the pitch.
One Spurs figure talks of how markedly different the team's sessions are now. Whereas once they were freer and a little less structured with "a fair few five-a-sides", they are now planned to the minutest detail.
In games, Villas-Boas is attempting to integrate the team into a calculated and occasionally complex framework. Redknapp, by contrast, is trying to mostly save QPR through the equally potent forces of mentality and momentum.
It's a contrast that adds another compelling element to Saturday's game beyond the psychodrama and the opposite objectives of the teams. In this regard, Villas-Boas maintains that Redknapp has that distinct "advantage" due to his knowledge of the Tottenham players.
"In the end, when you manage a club you know your players very well. You get to know them, you get to know their qualities and I think Harry can take advantage of that," Villas-Boas claimed.
"The fact that he knows these players well can play to his advantage.
"I think he is aware of what he has to exploit in this team for sure."
Redknapp, was, predictably, a little more reticent:
"I don't know about that. You've got a difficult job stopping some of their players. But we've got good players, we're a good club. This is my club, my team. I'm not interested anymore in Tottenham."
Instead, it is actually one of Villas-Boas' own former teams - Chelsea - that will be more relevant to Redknapp this weekend; or, rather, how his QPR side managed to beat them 10 days ago.
"That did mean a lot," Redknapp added. "That was definitely one I wasn't expecting. It was a shock to me as well as everybody else. I would be a liar if I said anything else. It kept us in touch. We would have been cut adrift badly if we had not picked up that result - especially after that awful game against Liverpool when I thought we were all over the place.
"It was a big boost, a great night for us. To come away from Stamford Bridge with them three points made such a difference. It was a great feeling in the dressing room for everybody. And we'll compete, we'll have a real go and hopefully cause them some problems so should be a good game.
"We have got to set up to be solid again, that is the key. If we open ourselves up too much, as much as I would like to, you're going to get what happened against Liverpool. I have to set them up to be difficult to beat. You don't want to be too open and get run all over. Chelsea was much better shape, a more solid look to us. That is how we have to be with what we have."
That is what Redknapp has been working on. And that, he maintains, is all he wants out of Saturday. No revenge, nothing else.
"I just want to win a football match," he said. "If I see anybody from the other side, great, I'll say 'hello'. I'm not going to be running around making a big fuss about it. I had four great years, enjoyed my time there. That's in the past."
The present offers a very different challenge.