Harry Redknapp: One-on-One

Harry Redknapp answers FourFourTwo readers' questions back in September 2003, when he was manager of Portsmouth.

Harry Redknapp's image is as enduring as jumpers for goalposts. Even at 200 yards, a wide grin can be seen crossing the familiar features of football's favourite Cockney, a reassuring sight as he guides the newly promoted Portsmouth squad through their first day back in training after the summer break. The former West Ham boss is preceded into the canteen by Jim Smith and Steve Stone as players munch their way through plate-loads of cold meat and pasta. It's such an English scene you are almost surprised not to see eggs and bacon on the menu.

No better place for Redknapp to answer your questions, then...

How close did you get to playing for England? Which player stood in your way?
Richard Beswick, West Hampstead, London
Er, very difficult to remember the names of all 82 of 'em after so many years. The main obstacle was that when Alf Ramsey came in, wingers went out – that's my story anyway!

What made you decide to become a manager, and what would you have done if you hadn't gone into management?
Bill Styles, Putney, London
I had an injury at Bournemouth that finished my career and it all got pretty desperate. We hadn't got a lot of money but I was negotiating to buy a Bournemouth taxicab for £14,000 and I was gonna borrow the money off the bank. Yep, I was gonna drive a taxi. But Jimmy Gabriel, who I'd played with at Bournemouth, got a job with Seattle and I went to help him. I had four or five years with him and it was there I started my coaching career, which I found I enjoyed. You never see yourself getting a break but I was lucky – my career had started.

Who's the most talented individual that you have ever worked with?
Rodney Allen, Whitstable, Kent
Paolo Di Canio. He was more than talented; he was a genius. Rio Ferdinand was another very gifted player and, looking back, there was Johnny Byrne from the West Ham team of the '60s, and Trevor Brooking too. Young Joe Cole was another superb player. I'd put him in second place behind Paolo.

When Paolo di Canio pushed referee Paul Alcock onto his backside and disappeared off to Italy in a sulk and fell into dispute with his club Sheffield Wednesday, why did you, as West Ham manager, sign him on the cheap? Surely everybody should have backed off until he'd sorted things out with Sheffield Wednesday, a la Pierre van Hooijdonk and Forest?
Paul Brown, Sheffield
We spoke to Sheffield Wednesday and were told he wasn't going back there. They had made up their minds they wanted to get rid so we went in and made our offer. There were no other buyers, although they had tried to find clubs. It was a gamble nobody wanted to touch him and everybody said I was crazy. But when we'd played against Wednesday my only instruction to the team was don't let Di Canio get the ball, because he was frightening. He's a genius, no doubt about it.

I know you had your ups and downs with Paolo di Canio but, honestly, how did you get on with him in general? I'm led to believe that he is an outstanding professional and always trained to the top of his ability; is this also true?
Pam van Dache, via e-mail
Oh, he's a great trainer. You've never seen a man in such a physical condition. You've only got to look at that advert on the telly; that is him. He doesn't drink. He eats the right food. He just lives for his profession. We had our moments but, you know, he just wanted excellence all the time. He'd get the hump with people who didn't train as well as him. One day Paolo came over and said to me: "That Neil Ruddock, 'ee talk about what a great night he had last night. He tell me he drunk ten pint�s of beer. F***ing hell, what eees going on?" I just love that man.

Your departure from West Ham still mystifies a lot of us. Talk us through the circumstances and what was said both to and by you.
Chris Carr, Johannesburg, South Africa
I agreed a four-year contract with the West Ham chairman. He wanted me to sign it during the last couple of weeks of the season. I went in to see him after doing an article for a fanzine stating I'd need about £15m of the Rio Ferdinand money to push on. I think he got the hump about that, particularly as it found its way into the national papers. I think he felt I was putting him under pressure. I'd walked into his office expecting to sign this four-year deal and within five minutes I was walking out without a job. I didn't say anything to him. It was his decision. It was up to him. You can't get down about it. It happens; it's football.

During West Ham's crisis period of last season, if asked, would you have returned to save the sinking ship?
Anthony Stevens, Braintree, Essex
Um... I would have loved to have gone back to West Ham but not under the people who were running the club, so no. However, once I took over here I couldn't have returned whatever the circumstances because I was enjoying it so much. But, of course, West Ham is always close to my heart. I went there as a kid and love the place.

Who do you rate as your best-ever signing?
Viv Blackwell, Mill Hill, London
Paolo was a great signing, particularly as people said at the time I was mad to take him. One and a half million pounds – next to nothing. I remember reading in the paper people saying I was walking a tightrope with no safety net. It was a massive gamble in terms of his temperament but not money. John Hartson, though, was probably my best signing. Things couldn't have been worse when he arrived. We were battling relegation and John did exactly what I wanted came in and scored goals. Paul Kitson also came as his strike partner and he did a terrific job as well. They scored 14 goals between them and kept us up. Great business.

They say people come to resemble their dogs. You're not a bloodhound owner, by any chance?
Ted Riley, Clapham, London
Haha, no, I've got a couple of bulldogs.

Are you prone to kicking the odd football boot across the dressing-room? Are flying teacups a regular occurrence during a half time team talk?
Chas Barker, Gidea Park, Essex
No, no, not at all. I did that years and years ago. I threw teacups all over the place once at Grimsby when I was manager of Bournemouth. One teacup hit Luther Blissett on the head and he knocked it on to the far post! Luther and me had a laugh about it on the way home. But no, that wouldn't happen again because you don't get anywhere shouting and screaming. Those days are over. Players don't respond to it: they're very highly paid professionals and know what they are out there to do.

If you had £30m to spend on players, who would you buy and why would you buy them?
Jackie Clarke, via e-mail
Well, if I had £30m I'd try to get Thierry Henry but it seems that ain't enough now. Van Nistelrooy? Thirty mil's not enough for him either, nor could you get Steven Gerrard another I'd go for. I've taken a lot of players on frees this summer and I couldn't have got better ones if I'd spent £6m or £7m. If £30m were enough it would be a toss up between Henry and Van Nistelrooy but I think I'd go for Henry; he's scary.

Who do you regard as the greatest manager of your time?
Betty Ellis, Leamington Spa
Brian Clough's achievements at Notting�ham Forest; an unfashionable club were phenomenal. He won championships and European Cups. Forest had no right to such success but Cloughie won the European Cup twice. That tells you everything you need to know about the man. There have been great Liverpool managers but Liverpool's a big, big club. Alex Ferguson? Fantastic, but it's another big club. What Cloughie achieved at a club like Forest was nothing short of a miracle. Amazing.

When you became Portsmouth's Director of Football, was it written in that you were going to take over the manager's job?
pfc_worthinger, via e-mail
No, because the last thing I wanted at that time was to become manager of Portsmouth. I nearly left and went to Leicester. I would have gone but the truth was I didn't really want to move. I'm 55 and settled in this area so why would I want to go and live in Leicester? My wife Sandra has settled, I enjoy walking the dogs and love my life. The chairman here asked me to take it on and I said no about four times and then finally he said if I didn't take it he'd pack it in. I thought, well, if he goes the club's in schtuck so I took it. I thought I'd made a mistake as so many people had tried and failed. Ted McDougall told me the club was used to failure. So when I got up in one season, that was just utterly amazing.

On the video clip that's doing the rounds on the  internet, you're getting interviewed and all of a sudden the ball comes out of nowhere and whacks you on the back. You then turn around and shout, "Now you know why you're in the f***ing reserves!" Who was that player you slated?
Elliott, Bethnal Green, London
[Laughing] I can't, I just can't. I mustn't tell yer the name of the player. It wouldn't be fair. He may have to spend the rest of his life here and the whole of Portsmouth would be at him forever. He's a young player, about 19, 20, and a defender, but I can't tell you anything else. He was on shooting practice and I was standing at the corner flag when the ball hit me – that tells you everything.

Which player in the Pompey squad would you least like to have a fight with?
Alister Flett, Bradford, West Yorks
Probably Linvoy Primus, but it's very unlikely because he's a born-again Christian. He's a strong as an ox but the nicest, quietest man you've ever met. But you wouldn't like to upset him cos he's built like something you've never seen. He probably never would, but were he to lose his temper, you wouldn't want to be in the same county, never mind the same dressing-room.

How do Portsmouth fans compare to other Premier League supporters?
Gary Cook, via e-mail
Great, great supporters. They are fanatics; they live for their football club. They are looking forward to this season so much and the support we had last season was amazing. They've got a lot to look forward to because, no doubt about it, we'll really play some football. We'll pass the ball and although we haven't spent any real dough, all the players have their qualities. The biggest problem I've got is keeping them all fit. I hope we can keep Patrik Berger fit because if I do I've got a top player for nothing. If the older guys want a day off from training or need a rest, fair enough, it's no big deal. They are top pros and want to be out there giving it everything on a Saturday afternoon.

Have you ever been offered money in return for signing a foreign player?
Dave Chapman, Grimsby, North East Lincs
Yeah, and there's not a manager in the country that would tell you otherwise. If they did they'd be telling you lies. It wouldn't be a brown paper bag but there are agents who will come up with something. It's not an issue for me. I don't want to know about all that.

Do you feel that there could be more done to promote the game at grassroots level?
Tom Riley, via e-mail
It's a Premiership game now. Unfortunately, people only look after themselves in football. Chairmen of the top clubs are only interested in their own club. They don't want to develop things any further than that and, as a result, the number of kids entering the game and the number of clubs starting up are falling away. There's less and less football in schools and less money being pumped in so it's getting much tougher to produce players.

We don't seem to have any natural flair players in England yet Spain, Italy, Brazil, Argentina always produces naturally gifted footballers. Why do you think that this is?
Chad van Peam, via e-mail
I don't fully agree with that. They do produce a different type of player, for some reason. You see more players who are comfortable on the ball and that's probably because of the way they grow up. They probably still play in the streets, on the beaches or whatever. There's an awful lot of organised football here and one of the biggest problems with that is that kids are all playing for teams at the age of nine or 10 and, bless 'em, they all want to win for their lives. There's the parents on the touchline screaming, "Get it up there!" Unless it's their boy doing a dribble, they scream at a lad who is: "Don't be greedy!" So kids aren't going to learn how to beat two or three players and develop their abilities.

You and Terry Venables have the reputation of being ducking, diving Cockney wideboys. Is this a lazy stereotype like the dour and gritty Scots manager, or is this reputation to any extent merited?
Keith Rodgers, San Francisco, USA
I dunno about that! I've always been at clubs where I haven't had money to spend. If I'm gonna get a team out that's going to compete I have to work twice as hard as many other managers. You sell one for £4m to get one in for £3m. That's the way I've always had to work. I've never walked into a club where there's been a squad of players that I could just start work with. It's always been a case of bringing some in and getting some out. I'd love to walk into Manchester United where you haven't got to spend money. But that's never been my life. It's always been a case of nicking a player here and another there which is why I've finished up with a fair turnover of players. It's not by choice but it's how I've turned bad teams into good teams. No, I'm not a Cockney wideboy but I am a Cockney and very, very proud of it. I'm a family man; I'm not one for going out.

Given your current interest in buying from Spurs, would you ever try to sign your son Jamie? If so how do you think he would react to his dad dropping him?
Craig Stanford, Broadstairs, Kent
No, I wouldn't sign him. The game's hard enough as it is without having your own boy around. He came to Bournemouth at 15 or 16 but I never saw it as being a long-term thing. The only bloke who's ever made a real success of that is Cloughie. Nigel was a great player for him but, no, it's not something I'd want.

Since you've been at Pompey, you have brought in a number of players who have looked well past their best and got them playing football again. What's the secret?
Clark Kent, Stalybridge, Cheshire
You make sure they don't over-train. Make 'em feel important and let 'em know they can still do the job. There's a bit of ego-massaging goes on. It's called man management. Treat 'em right, talk to 'em right; it goes a long way.

Did you actually watch Teddy Sheringham play for Spurs last season? If so, didn't you notice that he was so slow that he couldn't get the ball without being dispossessed or hustled into playing a hospital ball straight to the opposi�tion? How is that going to help Portsmouth stay up?
Mike Aspland, Ventnor
I watched him on about 10 occasions last season. Teddy couldn't run when he was 15, so he's never lost his pace. Hisfootball brain is incredible and he got 13 goals in the Premier League last season, making him about eighth in the leading goalscorers list. If he can get me 13 goals this season I'll be delighted. Any player who can get 13 goals will probably be my leading goalscorer.

What is your most abiding memory of Marc-Vivien Foe?
Paul Pottle, Dagenham, Essex
Oh dear, what a terrible loss; what a fantastic man he was. I remember him in the dressing-room in shorts and boots about half an hour before the kick off with his headphones clamped to his ears dancing around to his African music. Ian Wright would be in another corner of the room doing his Elvis routine and the other lads would be listening to their music. It always finished up with Marc leaping and dancing around with the other lads cheering him on and clapping to his body rhythms. He was a great man. I was devastated when I heard the news that he'd died.

Your chairman Milan Mandaric made his money in the USA. The same can't be said of Chelsea's new majority shareholder, Roman Abramovich. Even if there's nothing in law to prevent him ploughing over £100m into a football club in a rich country which was derived from asset-stripping his Siberian countrymen, leaving them on the poverty line, don't you think it stinks?
Clive Ashley, Ware, Herts
Well, I don't know anything about his background. All that matters, I suppose, is that he's got the money now and he can do what he likes with it. Let's be honest, we don't know very much about the backgrounds of a lot of people who own our football clubs.

In your opinion should the England football captain be plying his trade in Spain?
Alan Ancram, West Derby, Liverpool
Well, that's a difficult one. To be perfectly truthful and without being disrespectful, because the boy's a great player, I never saw him as a captain in the first place. He's done well but I've got my doubts about him as a captain. Certainly, I think you need someone more involved in the game rather than a player who is stuck out there on the wing, particularly when things ain't going well. I'd be looking at Rio Ferdinand or Steven Gerrard. They'd be more my cup of tea.

What scares our Harry?
Tim Mattingly, Hulme, Manchester
Well, the wife's harmless. I don't mind flying. Er, probably facing Arsenal or Manchester United away next year. Ah, yeah, I know there was a seagull landed in my garden last week that couldn't fly. The RSPCA wouldn't take it away. I didn't know what to do with it. I'm thinking, "How do I get it out?" It's a nightmare. It's a silly thing but here's this bloody great seagull and it can't fly. For four hours I'm pretending to try and get hold of it. I've got two dogs, locked up and they can see it. They wanna run out and play with it or jump on it while I'm f***ing chasing round the garden thinking, "What do I do with this bloody great seagull if I get hold of it?" Which I really don't want to do anyway. I don't want to pick a seagull up – f*** that. I'm scared of it, really. It might peck me or do any f***ing thing. In the end we shooed it out and ain't seen it since.

Who's your best mate in football?
Paul Morris, Newcastle
Well that would be my brother-in-law Frank Lampard. I love being in his company and Jim Smith's a lad I like to spend a lot of time with; great company. Frank's the one I'm closest to, though.

Who is your greatest rival in football?
Jan Palak, Prague, Czech Republic
I haven't really got one. You just get on with managing, don't you? This year it will probably be Gordon Strachan at Southampton. But I get on well with him, so no problem there.

Are the working-class roots of football fading as the game itself comes under the domination of the financial entrepreneurs?
Colin Edison, Roehampton, Surrey
It's a money game, now. It's all changed from the days when you used to go and stand on the terraces. When I first started going to Arsenal with my dad we'd stand on the same corner every week. But all that's gone. You'd have a cup of tea with the visiting fans. Now it's all different, with the boxes and corporate hospitality suites. It's just become big business. You have to be worried and a bit upset by that.

Is there one club that you would loved to have been at the helm of?
Geoff Boyle, Lowestoft, Suffolk
Well, I was a big Arsenal supporter as a kid. My dad was a mad Gooner and I always went with him. We were Arsenal fanatics. Great club, Arsenal; I'd love to have got hold of them.

When did you first suspect that Marco Boogers wasn't quite the full shilling? Did you find yourself having words with the agent who sold him to you?
Jason Ashwell, Lincoln
Pretty soon after he arrived I realised he wasn't quite right. He was still playing in Holland up until a year ago and now he's a football director at a club over there. He could play, he wasn't bad. Sometimes I look back and wonder whether it wasn't out fault. You bring 'em over here for loads of money and then leave them to get on with the day-to-day bits and pieces of life and that's not easy. You just say, "Here's yer boots, here's where you are living, get on with it." They don't speak a word of English and after a month Marco's wife was crying, she's missing her mother and we can't understand any of it. It's not right because we expect them to arrive and settle in just like that. There's no after-care. It's not on, but that's how it was at West Ham.Now it's different at the top clubs who employ people to look after foreigners. It's something we need to look at.

Who is someone you look up to outside football?
Jo Smith, Peterborough, Cambs
Any decent human being, not necessarily somebody famous. I look at people and see what they do with their lives. You put the telly on in the morning and see a mother bringing up a child with cerebral palsy, maybe on her own, and you have to admire the way she copes. What does me in these days is that you get OBEs and knighthoods for doing next to nothing. They give 'em out like tuppence ha'penny whereas years ago people used to get them for being special people.

What is your most memorable and most pleasing moment in football, as a player and as a manager?
Dean Martin, Portsmouth
As a manager, last season would take some beating. Portsmouth winning the championship in the first season. As a player, making my debut for West Ham against Sunderland at Upton Park.

What do you look forward to in retirement?
Derek Walker, Padstow, Cornwall
I don't want to think about retirement. I reckon I'll get bored if I retire. I could even do a Bobby Robson; I want a knighthood! I got fed up when I was out of the game so all the while there's a job somewhere I'll probably be around.

Interview: Hugh Southon Portrait: Chris Taylor. From the September 2003 issue of FourFourTwo.Subscribe!

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Nick Moore

Nick Moore is a freelance journalist based on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. He wrote his first FourFourTwo feature in 2001 about Gerard Houllier's cup-treble-winning Liverpool side, and has continued to ink his witty words for the mag ever since. Nick has produced FFT's 'Ask A Silly Question' interview for 16 years, once getting Peter Crouch to confess that he dreams about being a dwarf.