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Friday, January 11, 2008
Speculation mounts after Redknapp stays silent

Newcastle were today closing in on their man as they stepped up efforts to lure Harry Redknapp to St James' Park.

Redknapp did not attend Portsmouth's scheduled pre-match press conference, leaving the club's training as the media gathered amid mounting speculation over the Magpies' interest in him.

PA Sport understands the Tyneside club were preparing to formalise their interest in the 60-year-old today by making an approach to Pompey for permission to speak to him.

Neither club was either confirming or denying that contact has been made this afternoon.

However, Redknapp's impromptu departure and the fact that Newcastle chairman Chris Mort was away from his desk - club owner Mike Ashley is currently in Hong Kong - added fuel to the fire as the former West Ham boss was backed down to an overwhelming 1/7 favourite with Ladbrokes.

Portsmouth moved quickly last night to make their position clear, insisting Redknapp was happy where he was and committed to the club's future.

But the word from the south coast today was that there is a growing acceptance that his days at Fratton Park could be numbered amid rumours that talks over a compensation package are already under way.

Redknapp, who was driven away from the training ground by chief executive officer Peter Storrie, had earlier played his cards close to his chest, re-iterating yesterday's insistence that he had heard nothing.

The manager, whose side are due to head north to face the Magpies arch-rivals Sunderland on Sunday, told the Portsmouth News: 'To say a deal has already been done is absolute rubbish.

'I couldn't say anything else because that's the situation.

'There has been no approach. All I'm doing is trying to get a couple of players in before the Sunderland game, but I haven't got anywhere with that.

'Nobody from Newcastle has contacted me and in any case, that wouldn't be allowed. Nobody has contacted Peter Storrie.'

However, the signs are that things have progressed rapidly since then with Newcastle hoping to install Sam Allardyce's replacement in plenty of time to make an impact in the January transfer window, with Ashley ready to loosen the purse strings.

Tyneside woke this morning to read headlines suggesting Redknapp could be flown to and from his south coast home by private jet on a daily basis, although that has been played down.

But events appear to have moved on significantly since then and the city is waiting with bated breath for further news.

The vacancy at St James' has been described in some quarters as a poisoned chalice since Allardyce's demise, but one of its former incumbents believes it is one of the biggest jobs in the domestic game.

Jim Smith, a close friend of Redknapp, said: 'Age is not a problem - Harry's a spring chicken.

'Sir Alex Ferguson has got seven years on him and he is still going strong, so there's no danger on that front.

'I haven't spoken to him yet and it is a fantastic opportunity, but it is a big ask.

'Newcastle is a big club too. It is one of the biggest jobs in English football - in fact, it is one of the biggest jobs in European football.

'It will be interesting to see what happens. I don't know if Harry will go up to Newcastle.

'It's a long, long way from Bournemouth and Portsmouth are doing really well.

'The thing is, he is doing a really good job at Portsmouth and people will notice that.'

Redknapp's favouritism saw Blackburn counterpart Mark Hughes slip in the betting after making a strong showing yesterday, although he was quick to express his satisfaction with his lot at Ewood Park today.

He said: 'There is always speculation when any big job comes up. I seem to be talked about in good terms and I'm appreciative of that, but it's just recognition of the work myself and my staff do here.

'I have not spoken to anyone from Newcastle. I spoke to my chairman last night and he has had no contact, and I don't think there will be any contact.'

In the meantime, there is the little matter of the Magpies' Barclays Premier League trip to Manchester United tomorrow evening with which to contend.

Coach Nigel Pearson has the task of preparing the team which left Tyneside this afternoon as they attempt to end a run of three successive league defeats.

He will at least have James Milner and Emre back from illness and an ankle injury respectively, while Stephen Carr could rejoin the squad following a hamstring problem.

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