Harry's game

Updated: May 10, 2020

I agree with Harry Redknapp. This season was the best Tottenham Hotspur have had for a long time. I want Harry to be the club’s manager next season. So presumably I’m not the kind of brain dead moron that Harry is so fond of criticising in his increasingly numerous, even by his standards, media appearances. Except I probably am, because while I think Harry is without doubt our best manager since Keith Burkinshaw, I also think we could have done better this season, and I expect us to try to do better next season.

I caught Harry’s latest tirade post-match in the pub as the ubiquitous Sky big screen became the target of the remaining Spurs fans’ wrath. Wheeling out the old ‘these people know nothing about football’ routine, Harry – we’re all on first name terms you’ll notice – went a little bit further than he has in recent weeks and said we ‘should not expect’ to finish above teams such as Manchesters United or City, Chelsea or Arsenal. It was an incredibly stupid and counter-productive thing to say in public. Donna Cullen, who is famously reported to scour the media for every word said about Spurs to ensure the line stays right, must have been slapping her forehead in frustration.

Of course, Harry was making the point that, certainly in the case of United, City and Chelski, the clubs we are competing with have greater resources. And he was continuing to manage expectations so that any success is seen as a bonus rather than what’s expected. I’m certainly not going to blame him for trying to strengthen his own position and protect his back in these treacherous times for football managers.

But can you imagine Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger or any of the top managers saying in public that they did not, should not, expect to do better than their opponents? Of course not. It sends out entirely the wrong message, and it is obviously going to annoy the fans. Fans aren’t always right, and we are often very unreasonable. But that’s part of being a fan – wanting to win. Unfortunately the mainstream media fawning over Harry’s every word seems to be further convincing him that he should continue to stick it to the ingrates who don’t recognise why we have, to pull a phrase unrandomly from the air, never had it so good.

The essence of sport is that the winner is never guaranteed, so therefore every game should be approached with the possibility of winning very much on. Of course I don’t believe that, as professionals, Harry and the players approach any game without a 100% commitment to win – perhaps with the exception of cup games when we’re in a bad league position. But mindset counts for much in sport, and projecting the impression that we’re not really worthy of being the best can’t be helpful.

It’s also worth reflecting on a few things. It’s becoming something of an accepted wisdom that Spurs are a plucky underdog struggling against the big boys on limited resources. Between 1992 and 2010 Spurs’ net spend was £9,785,139. Only three teams have spent more. One of those teams is Liverpool. And one of the others is not Manchester United. Spurs are owned, ultimately, by a man who is listed in the Sunday Times Rich List as the 17th wealthiest Briton and who is the 347th richest billionaire on Forbes magazine’s list. Spurs have a vibrant fan base and a strong history that means it is able to attract big players.

Of course, none of those things means Spurs are guaranteed success. Just as all the vast resources of the opposition don’t guarantee them success. In the end, it is winning games of football that counts, and long may that, rather than who has the biggest wad, be the measure of success.

So it’s a little disingenous of Harry to posit Spurs as a sort of southern Wigan Athletic, slugging it out with the big boys on limited resources. And his protestations of limited resources must raise hollow laughter in manager’s offices from Scunthorpe to Lincoln City.

Of course, Harry’s comments are designed to shore up his own position – an entirely reasonable thing to do – and increase the pressure on Daniel Levy and his ultimate boss Joe Lewis to splash more cash. The idea that actually coaching the players you’ve got to be a unit that is better than the sum of its parts being a little out of fashion in football these days. But, like a government spokesman constantly blaming the previous regime years after it left power, Harry’s constant reminders of how bad everything was before he arrived to save Spurs are getting just a touch irritating.

It’s also worth mentioning, as my friend and fellow Park Laner Annelise Jespersen points out over on The Boys from White Hart Lane Facebook page today, “Smart managers cultivate reserves of good will among fans to see them and the team through hard times. There’ll be none for Harry if we get off to a poor start next season.” So, ironically, far from shoring up his position, Harry is storing up problems for himself and the team.

The problem with all this is that, to again draw on Annelise’s observation, “Harry’s constant sniping at fans is tiresome – it’s managed to make me feel worse about the season than I should.” That highlights again the counterproductive nature of what Harry’s doing.

Harry can be very likeable. And his quotability is welcome in a time when media management threatens to drain the character from everything it touches. So I’m not suggesting his every word is drafted by the club’s spin doctors. Even as I refer to the idea I can see in my mind’s eye Harry launching into a “It’s political correctness gone mad”-style rant. But I wonder if it would be too much to ask that our manager understands that fans want their club to be the best, and perhaps think a little before laying into them in future.

Harry has often professed his admiration for Bill Nicholson. Bill must’ve found the fans a pain in the backside on more than one occasion – it goes with the territory. But he never attacked them in public and always set his sights high. Some say the game has changed since those days, and I’d agree it has. Fans believing their team has a right to instant and then constant success is one way in which the game has changed for the worse. Football figures who take the responsibility for success but not for setbacks is the flipside of that coin.

Harry, most of us are behind you. Just lay-off the self promotion and the fan-bashing and let’s concentrate on what we can achieve, eh?

#HarryRedknapp #Spurs

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