What would you do when a boyhood passion that turned into your life-long profession starts to reach the end of its course?
For Harry Redknapp, this is the unfolding scenario.
A latest autobiography titled Always Managing says it all about one of English football’s most colourful – and ubiquitous – characters.
Yet the man who upset FA Cup holders Manchester United 33 years ago with then Fourth Division Bournemouth during his first full season in charge, lifted the same competition at underdogs Portsmouth in 2008 and then took Tottenham Hotspur from the bottom of the table – you might have heard him mention it – to the UEFA Champions League’s quarter-finals is now into his 71st year. That’s half a decade since his British state pension could have been claimed.
A dismissal in September by Birmingham City after he had salvaged their Championship status mere months before led to the latest flirtation with retirement.
But like a moth to a flame, professed desires to take up the vacant Scotland job or re-visit previous interest in joining the UAE’s Arabian Gulf League have flowed whenever a microphone is near.
The thought he has manned the dugout for the last time is, clearly, hard to countenance. This is little surprise when you consider his opening foray into coaching came way back as a teenager in 1960s London with West Ham United, encouraged by Ron Greenwood – one of British football’s finest minds.
“We were lucky,” Redknapp warmly tells Sport360° ahead of taking part in today’s ‘Swing Against Cancer’ Golf Series finale at Jumeirah Golf Estates – organised by Sixteen10 and Worldwide Golf. “What he [Greenwood] did with us was he got us working in schools.
“We went to schools in the East End of London, coaching the kids for four days a week. We used to get £2.50 (roughly Dh196 today) an afternoon, doing three hours coaching.
“They were all inner-city schools, the ones which produce footballers, boxers. Real tough schools of the type we went to as kids.
“That was the first real interest in coaching. He [Greenwood] gave us that at 17 or 18.
“As soon as we finished training, we’d head off in our cars. Maybe Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon, I might play [celebrated ex-England midfielder] Trevor Brooking’s school, it was great fun.
“I did that for four or five years. It was fierce competition.
“Four afternoons was £10 a week. We were only on £12-15 a week anyway, so it was nearly as much as we are earning – how the game has changed.
“It is difficult to step away. You miss it every day, obviously, being out there on the training ground with the players.
“It is a great buzz, you know. If you win on a Saturday, the feeling is fantastic.
“But you can’t keep going forever. I had a fantastic run and I have loved every minute of it.”
A steady playing career as an honest, skilful and industrious winger saw more than 300 appearances racked up at the likes of the Hammers, Bournemouth and Seattle Sounders.
Iconic status would soon follow once the boots were hung up in 1982. Interviews out of car windows and angry reactions to being labelled a “wheeler dealer” have led to easy characterisations for an open figure still held with affection by many in the English game, but this should not detract from achievements of real distinction.
When asked to reflect on his greatest moments from a spell which has included eight club positions plus a short stint with Jordan last year, Redknapp replies: “Getting Portsmouth into the Premier League for the first time in their history. Even looking back, getting Bournemouth into what is now the Championship after not being in there for 100 years… People said it would never happen.
“Wherever I’ve been, I’ve had good times. Even Queens Park Rangers, Bobby Zamora’s last-minute goal at Wembley to get back into the Premier League was a fantastic afternoon.”
Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, Paolo Di Canio, Nwankwo Kanu, Gareth Bale and Luka Modric are just some of the stellar names to come under Redknapp’s guidance. A Tottenham debut was also handed to a coltish Harry Kane in the Europa League during August 2011, amid a flurry of unremarkable loan spells.
The veteran now concedes he did not expect for this to be Kane’s first step on a burgeoning career which has included captaining England, scoring 112 goals in 177 run-outs for his club and being talked about as the sport’s greatest centre forward.
Redknapp says: “I’d be a liar if I sat here and said I thought he’d be what he is: the best striker, certainly, in the Premier League and one of the best strikers in the world.
“We always thought he was going to be a top young player, but we loaned him out to play. It was difficult at that time, as we had lots of strikers. You had [Jermain] Defoe, [Peter] Crouch, [Emmanuel] Adebayor and [Roman] Pavlyuchenko.”
But what is it that makes Kane so special?
“He is certainly the best striker in the Premier League,” says Redknapp, who led the North London club from 2008-12. “He will be the leading goal scorer again, for sure.
“Not only is he a great footballer, who works, can play and scores. He is a great lad, he is just a fantastic fella.
“I don’t think anyone could dislike him. There’s nothing flashy about him, he is just down to earth.”
Not getting the chance to watch Kane blossom could go down as one regret. Another obvious one is a snubbing by England five years ago when an appointment seemed inevitable.
But in typical fashion, the garrulous Redknapp chooses not to ponder what could have been after a career consumed by football and embroidered by warm memories.
He says: “At the time, it looked like I would get it. But it didn’t happen, so life moves on doesn’t it? I don’t look back and don’t hold regrets. They went with Roy [Hodgson] and that was their choice – at the time, it did look for sure like I’d get the job.”
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