'Ard work the key for 'Arry


Last updated at 21:06 29 December 2006

Here is the lazy view of Harry Redknapp’s gift for alchemy: "Gets a guy in, makes him laugh, tells him how brilliant he is, sends him out to play in a bric-a-brac team."

It’s an endearing image, but it robs him of the credit he deserves for being one of England’s finest managers.

Adams set to quit Pompey

Among the clipboard obsessives of the modern game it comes as a pleasure to visit a manager who tells you entertaining tales, gives you a tip for a horse and then invites you to observe the Prozone-assisted video analysis of the team’s next opponents: in this case, Bolton Wanderers, who Redknapp’s Portsmouth visit on Saturday in an unlikely struggle for what will become the fourth Champions League qualifying spot.

The headlines will say that Art faces Science at the Reebok Stadium. Pre-planned football hosts self-expression. All that does is libel both teams, because to thrive in the Premiership you need graft and craft.

The mission, though, is to answer a nagging question. How does he do it? How does Redknapp raise Pompey to the Premiership and then come back to save them from relegation before persuading a gang of apparently fading aristocrats to inspire a push for Europe?

The easy explanation — one which we’re all prone to — is that he spots talent and makes the holder feel so good about himself that playing football becomes not work but fun.

There is truth in this. A lot, in fact. It’s where Redknapp starts on a wet morning in Hampshire as his players prepare to hear coach Joe Jordan’s detailed but easily digestible analysis of Bolton.

This is the first big clue that the man the whole of football knows as ’Arry does more than throw 11 jerseys across the dressing room and tell his players to recreate the good old days at West Ham.

"I think the key is to make them feel very important," Redknapp began. "I keep going back to what Bobby Moore said to me. We were in America together and he said: 'Do you know, Harry, in all the time I played for West Ham, Ron Greenwood never said well done to me?'

"Ron was the best coach I’d ever seen and Bobby would have agreed with that. But he said: 'You know, we all need a pat on the back, Harry.' And I thought he was dead right. It’s about confidence and that’s why I try to instil it in my players.

"Somebody said to me last week after we went in one-down at half-time against Sheffield United: 'Did you give ’em the hairdryer treatment?'"

A shudder runs through him: "What am I going to get out of screaming and shouting at people? Why would I do that to Sol Campbell? It becomes monotonous. I’d rather keep being positive with them and that works for me, do you know what I mean?"

So that’s the prime foundation. Positive energy. Optimism. Bonhomie. A word for everyone.

But now let’s get down to the other ingredients. Two stand out. One is a racehorse trainer’s gift for spotting a thoroughbred. Without this, even the most hard-working wannabe coach is doomed.

The other is what Bolton’s Sam Allardyce referred to this week when he praised "Harry’s hard work and dedication".

Redknapp tells a story from the darkest days of last year that nails the myth of him as a seat-of-the-pants or "bare bones" manager.

"One day I went to watch Blackburn play at Tottenham," he starts off. "They got beat but they worked their socks off that day, Blackburn. Fantastic. We had a meeting on the Monday and looked at their stats, which were way up on the way we (Portsmouth) had performed that weekend.

"It really brought it home to our players that we had to step up our work rate. Suddenly people were covering a lot more ground and working a lot harder on and off the ball. And in those last 10 games it really made the difference."

Where the "hard work" comes in is an endless appetite for studying matches. Redknapp, you realise, is a scout in a manager’s anorak: an obsessive mental note-taker on teams, tactics and individual performances.

"I’ve always watched a million games. I love watching football matches," he says. "I don’t like missing them. If there’s a game somewhere I’ll go to it.

"I probably got that from my old man. My dad used to sit there waiting for the lights to come on at the King George stadium at Stepney — and as soon as two of them lit up he was over there. My mum would say: 'Thank God he’s gone for a couple of hours.'

"Tonight I’ve arranged a dinner around a Luton game on Sky. I just want to watch it. It’s about being a judge of a player. There’ve been some very clever coaches but maybe some of them weren’t so good at judging a player.

"I like people who can play. I like signing players who can do things. I like people who can turn a game. I’ve always enjoyed having a Di Canio or a Kanu or a Berkovic or a Merson. They’ve all done great for me.

"With a stroke of genius they can turn a game upside down for you. You always feel you’re in the game when you’ve got people like that around you."

Four current names jump from the notebook, and Redknapp explains each transformation.

First, Glen Johnson: "When I signed him in the summer I said: 'Look, you’re different class, you should be the next England right back. If you’re not, you’re letting yourself down. Come here and play and be an important player in a team that can push on a bit this year.'

"I’m not on his case. I started him in a game last week and he gave the ball away a couple of times early and I just said: 'Hey, Glen, keep playing', and he responds to that. You wouldn’t want to knock him or scream at him. He’s been a real credit since he’s been here."

Sol Campbell: "He’s enjoying his football, out there laughing and joking with the lads. Sol said to me one day: 'Gaffer, can’t we put some drainage in these pitches?'

"I said: 'Sol, you used to play on Hackney Marshes. Do me a favour'. So Sol said: 'Yeah, yeah', and he really laughed."

Kanu: "He’s been fantastic. But you have to handle him. Some weeks I might get a message on my answer machine from him saying: 'Boss, I have an upset stomach, I can’t train today, I’ll see you on Tuesday'.

"I think: 'Oh, all right, Kanu'. But he turns up Tuesday and trains for the rest of the week. He seizes up for a couple of days after a game. Everybody was anti when I took him. No one was on my side. But I just had a feeling for him. If I could just get him playing…"

David James: "He’s made a massive difference. He’s like an 18-year-old. You can’t get him off the training ground. He’s there diving around.

"To have him and Sol at the back is great. And Linvoy (Primus) has responded to having Sol there with him. And the Gary O’Neills and Matt Taylors have come on a bundle."

The enthusiasm is always cloud-high, but the mental gears are always working. This is the bit that Redknapp’s good nature conceals: the tactician, the thinker who always trusts his instincts.

So far no call has come from the league’s big hitters and there is a gap in his c.v. — the chance to work with A-list players in their prime. Surely he needs that opportunity to leave football management fulfilled?

A diplomatic streak emerges: "Mers (Merson) came on the telly the other day and said: 'I can’t believe Harry’s never had the chance.' But I enjoy being here. I’m comfortable. I’m happy. And I daren’t talk about leaving because the Pompey fans might lynch me again. I had enough aggro last time."

Street-wise is a phrase invented for Harry Redknapp.

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