Sam Pilger chats to the Premier League stalwart about QPR’s woes, his 31 years as a manager, the challenges of dealing with players, owners and agents in today’s game and his dramatic 2012 in which he stood trial for tax evasion, lost his job at Tottenham and was overlooked for England...
Every morning, Harry Redknapp’s alarm goes off at 4am at the start of another day in which he will make the two-hour drive from his south coast home to QPR’s training ground in west London.
After more than three decades as a manager Redknapp refuses to treat himself to any lie-ins or slow down in any way, and despite QPR’s poor start to the season, he remains in a defiant and bullish mood. In this exclusive interview with FourFourTwo, the 67-year-old admits he came close to retirement last season and that the R's could be his last ever job in football – so he now he wants to savour every moment.
While QPR remain bottom of the Premier League, Redknapp was heartened by their performance in their cruel 3-2 loss to Liverpool at the weekend, which he hailed as “the best we have played since I have been at the club”. It has earned Redknapp a reprieve and further time to resurrect QPR’s season.
How would you assess your season so far with QPR?
It has obviously been difficult; we haven’t had a great start. We’ve come out of the Championship and found it tough. We finished fourth and went up through the play-offs last season compared to Leicester and Burnley who had more time to prepare. We had eight loan players last season who all went back to their clubs. Two weeks before the season started I only had 12 players, so it has been tough.
Tony Fernandes said QPR wouldn't make the same mistakes in the transfer market this summer. Were you happy with your business?
It was a bit rushed, but we bought some good players. I just haven’t been able to get them all on the pitch. We bought Jordon Mutch from Cardiff, but he’s been injured, and Sandro is a great player but hasn’t yet played as much as I would have liked.
One of those loan players you had last season was Ravel Morrison; where is it going wrong for him?
He has got great ability, he has been truly blessed, but he has got to start putting it altogether. He is a real, real talent, and I liked him as a lad. He needs to sort himself out now, though. He has been at Manchester United and Fergie let him go, he has been at West Ham, but Sam Allardyce let him go. He has made a few mistakes and must look at himself.
It says in your new book that the one player you would have signed to guarantee staying up would have been John Terry…
John is like Rio, a fantastic player, and I would put both in my best-ever Premier League team. When you have John in your team you have a real leader, a warrior, and he would have been a great signing.
Overall what has been the main reason behind QPR’s slow start?
I would say losing Loic Remy to Chelsea hasn’t helped us, because it left us a bit short up front. But overall it is a tough league and we need to adapt to it quickly now.
Do you think you would have stayed on at QPR if you had not won promotion last season?
I wouldn’t still be QPR manager if we hadn’t won promotion last season. I would have called it a day. I might have retired completely. I really enjoy being at QPR, I was happy here, we have a great owner and great fans, but the truth is I wouldn’t have fancied going back into the Championship again for another season. I couldn’t have done that. To be fair, I reckon the owners would have also wanted a change and someone fresher in the Championship.
Is this likely to be your last job in football?
It could well be, you never know in football. But the funny thing is if Bobby Zamora’s shot in the play-off final hits the post rather than the back of the net then I wouldn’t be at QPR today. I might have finished with football then. I would be in Dubai or South Africa with the wife enjoying the sunshine.
Do you get more or less enjoyment as a manager than 10 years ago?
It is the same really. When you win, the highs are great, but when you are losing and not playing well then it can be awful; it can be very lonely in this job. You feel responsible for everyone around the club, and you feel you are letting people down. It is a horrible feeling. You take it all on your shoulders. It is very difficult when things don’t go well.
If this could be your final job in football do you savour everything just that little bit more?
Yes, that’s true, I do savour things more when you go to places like Anfield and Old Trafford. I do think it could be the last time I go to these places.
How difficult are players to manage now in the modern game?
It is a different game now, because when I started in management there weren’t really agents so you dealt directly with the players. If they had a problem they would come and see you, but now they go straight to their agents instead, who then speak to the chairman. Agents don’t speak to the manager, they speak to the chairman now. They don’t build relationships with us now, they just see managers as passing through.
So do managers command less respect in today’s game?
Yes, that’s a good way of putting it. We do get less respect. Agents think, "Never mind the manager, I’ll go straight to the top." And nowadays chairmen are more willing to speak to agents and listen to what they have to say. Players don’t come to me, knock on my door and say, "Gaffer, why aren’t I playing?" Instead they go and complain to their agents, who then get on the phone to chairmen. A lot of players have got direct lines to club chairmen now these days. This is unfortunate and weakens the relationship with the manager.
Is it also getting harder to manage with owners getting more involved?
Yes, that happens at some clubs. When I played the chairmen and owners were distant figures. If he spoke to you, you called him 'Mister' with respect rather than Reg or Charlie. Now they are much more accessible to the players. A lot of the players have even got the chairman’s phone number now.
What did you make of Raheem Sterling at 19 saying he was tired?
If he was a bit fatigued, then maybe it was better off being honest. He probably looked at the week Liverpool have coming up and thought, ‘We’ve got Real Madrid.’ Maybe he’s got one eye on that. He said he felt tired, so what else could Roy Hodgson do? Sterling is such a good player, and if he wasn’t so good and he did that then maybe Roy would have just binned him.
How would you react to a young player telling you they were too tired to play a full part in a game?
You have to listen to the player, but I have to say it is very unusual for a young player to say they are tired. Normally it is an older player of around 34 and 35, and they need to be rested.
Is English football still too easily impressed by foreign coaches?
Yes, I think that is right. We still tend to want to go foreign at every opportunity. Liverpool have proved with Brendan Rodgers that you can bring through younger managers and they can do well. I think there are plenty of young British managers in the Championship who could step up and do well. The truth is it is all about players, and if you have good players then this job is not that difficult. If you took Jose Mourinho and put him in charge of QPR or Burnley he’s not going to suddenly start finishing in the top seven with them.
And so if you were given the manager’s job at Chelsea or Manchester City do you think you could win the league?
Oh yes. Well I would certainly be very close, without a doubt. But never mind those clubs, I think I could have actually won the league at Tottenham. If we had invested more at the right time, we could have done it. We were probably short of a striker. Then all those years ago at West Ham if we had kept that batch of young players then we might have got into the Champions League places. If we could have kept hold of Ferdinand, Lampard, Cole, Johnson, Carrick and Defoe...
So you think you could have won the league with Tottenham, but two years on from leaving them have you worked out why it finished there?
I know the reasons why, but they are personal. I enjoyed my time there, and to be honest I was choked when I had to leave. But I couldn’t sit at home and sulk about it. It is life, it happens.
Did Tottenham act too rashly in letting you leave?
They did what they wanted to do, but they haven’t been in the top four since me. I finished in the top four twice in three years.
That same year you were favourite for the England job, but didn’t get it. Have you been able to work out why?
I haven’t worked it out. You do hear theories and different stuff. I am clearly not an FA type of person, and you only have to look at the people they employ at all levels to know that. They go for a certain type.
Is it hard to watch England now without thinking of what you could do?
I watch England, but I don’t sit there thinking like that. The World Cup was a bitter disappointment to finish bottom of a very weak group, but I think we’ll now win the Euro 2016 qualifiers and get to the tournament because we have a really good set of young players.
You have said you would turn England down if they ever offered the job to you now. Is that right?
The FA wouldn’t come back to me, and I wouldn’t be interested if they did. It is never going to happen though.
Do you think you get the credit you deserve as a manager?
I think so, yes. People know my teams always try to play good football. You don’t manage for 30 years at all levels if you’re not doing something right. There are lots of good lads who get one job, get sacked and then they are gone forever. I have been lucky.
How do you look back at your trial two years ago?
[It was because] I told the police about this bonus myself, which was probably worth about £12,000 worth of income tax. Now I am not being big headed, but that isn’t a big amount of money in my life. Why would I go through all of that for that? I couldn’t believe what I was going through because of that.
Did you have a deep fear of going to prison?
I asked my barrister what would happen if I was found guilty and he said I would have gone away for two to three years. But he always assured me it wouldn’t happen because I wasn’t guilty. My son Jamie was fantastic, he was with me in court every day, but I couldn’t subject my wife Sandra to that every day so I told her not to come.
Arsene Wenger recently celebrated his 18th year at Arsenal. Can you see that happening again in the Premier League?
No, no chance. Maybe Brendan Rodgers might do it if he’s successful at Liverpool – it'd be nice to see one of the younger guys doing it – but overall it is very difficult to see. Foreign owners are coming into the game, and they all want to win the league. They don’t understand why they are not winning all the time. They have all been successful in business, and can’t understand why they are not winning the league.
What did you make of the recent Wenger and Jose Mourinho pushing and shoving? Have you ever been tempted?
No, that’s not for me. I don’t argue with other managers, I have never pushed another manager. We all lose our head at times, but it’s all a bit silly. But it is obvious those two don’t like each other; there is no love lost there. I get on OK with Arsene Wenger as well as anyone, he’s not going to make a big fuss of you. He is OK. I don’t really mix with any managers socially.
How do you feel about Mourinho shaking hands with opposition managers when he thinks he’s won the game before the final whistle? Is it disrespectful? Roy Keane has said you would be knocked out in Sunday football for doing it...
There was only a couple of minutes to go and Chelsea were winning 3-0 [against Aston Villa], so I don’t think it is that big a deal. If I was in that situation, you have to be realistic, and at 3-0 down you’re not coming back, so if he wants to get down the tunnel I wouldn’t mind.
Do you think Keane can get another chance as a manager?
Yes, I think he will get another chance. Whenever I have met him I have been very impressed with him.
You are working with Glenn Hoddle here at QPR; do you believe he deserves another chance as a manager in his own right again, maybe even with England?
I have got a lot of time for him, he’s a good person. I think he could manage England again. He could work with the top players. He has a great football brain. I think he thought he had the Tottenham job before they gave it to Tim Sherwood. He could have gone back to White Hart Lane and done a good job there. He just needs that little bit of luck.
Do people underestimate how much you need a bit of luck?
Absolutely, you need those breaks, it is all about those fine margins. Bobby Zamora doesn’t hit that shot, we don’t get in the Premier League. You need that bit of luck in life. I have a mate of mine who is worth a fortune, hundreds of millions, and he used to sell photocopiers and couldn’t earn a penny. Years ago he went into an office block to sell these photocopiers and sat next to a fellow salesman who told him he was there to sell mobile phones. Like most people, he had never heard of mobile phones back then. This bloke told him that these mobile phones had just come out and he was selling loads of them. My friend goes in first to try to shift his photocopiers, and gets the custard pie, they aren’t interested. So this bloke says, "My firm are looking for some more mobile phone salesmen. Would you be interested?" He takes the job and years later sells his own mobile phone business for £150 million. It was all luck. If he hadn’t met that bloke that day he doesn’t make his fortune. It is amazing what a bit of luck will do.
What do you have in mind for after management?
I’m not sure really, maybe just enjoy my retirement. It is difficult to know what to do next. I might become a director of a club, I might even invest in a football club. That’s one idea of mine; it could happen.
Can you imagine a life without football? How would you cope?
The first six months I had in between Tottenham and QPR I really enjoyed. I didn’t miss football too much. I played some golf and enjoyed a few holidays with my wife. It was OK, but after a few months I did miss it. I am useless around the house, so the truth is I would miss the game. I can’t imagine not being involved in it in some form.
Lastly, which of your former players have you taken the most satisfaction from seeing progress over their career?
Gareth Bale would be up there. He was struggling at Tottenham; there was that record where he hadn’t been on a winning team for something like 28 games (ed: it was 24). Then suddenly he took off, and he has become an amazing player, one of the top four in the world. I have an obvious pride in all the West Ham boys, seeing Rio Ferdinand coming out of Peckham and doing so well, and the best professional I have ever seen is Frank Lampard.
A Man Walks On to a Pitch: Stories from a Life in Football by Harry Redknapp is published by Ebury Press and out now.