Driving force at centre of the stage

Glenn Moore talks to Jamie Redknapp, who holds the key to control of the midfield
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The Independent Online
On Wednesday he sat quietly by the touchline, just behind Terry Venables, his face a mix of wide-eyed wonderment and intense concentration. Tomorrow Jamie Redknapp returns to Wembley but, instead of watching from the edge, he will be patrolling its heart.

Redknapp was at Wembley in midweek as a member of the full England squad for the first time. That recognition has followed his emergence as the driving force of Liverpool's midfield and, if they are to subdue Bolton's own free-running youngsters in the Coca-Cola Cup final, the 21-year-old will be a key figure.

A fortnight ago Redknapp was outstanding as Liverpool defeated Manchester United at Anfield. He continually collected the ball from John Barnes or a central defender and carried the game to United. His beautifully- taken goal caught the eye, but his subjugation of Paul Ince was equally impressive.

Yet, earlier this season, Redknapp was in and out of the side and seemingly destined for a season of frustration, always showing potential but never realising enough of it to cement a place. He was twice dropped and admitted, after a training session with England this week, that he had discussed his frustration with Roy Evans, the Liverpool manager.

"I did see the gaffer to have a chat but that is what he expects me to do," Redknapp said. "He told me there was no way he would let me go - not that I wanted to. It was Jan Mlby who was keeping me out - not just anyone.''

Now it is Mlby who fears his Liverpool days are over, sidelined, like Michael Thomas, by Redknapp's form. "He is being consistent on and off the ball," Evans said. "We always knew he could play with it, now he is picking up on what to do without it. He is listening to and learning from John Barnes and Ian Rush. He is still a boy, but he is experienced - he has played a lot of games.''

Redknapp, despite his tender years, has played more than 150 matches for Liverpool after joining the club as a 17-year-old from Bournemouth. Kenny Dalglish signed him and it is an indication of Redknapp's maturity that he is one of the few Liverpool players the Blackburn manager still sees socially - usually on the golf course.

Redknapp grew up fast at Anfield. Before the move he had been something of a homeboy. He turned down a chance to join the FA's national school (he had made the final trial) to stay at home, and also rejected terms at Tottenham (then managed by Venables), who he had played for as a schoolboy.

There were, however, sound footballing reasons to stay at home with Bournemouth. His father, Harry, was the manager and Jamie went training with him on a regular basis. "I went down there from the age of 11. Some days he would say `don't go to school, stay with me'. But I would tell mum I went to school.

"It was a big move to go to Liverpool but it was also a great one. I thought it would be harder to settle but, within a year, I had played in Europe and was in the team.''

If not overawed by Anfield Redknapp did, initially, find himself in its shadow. "Kenny put me into digs and the first one was right outside Anfield. I used to wake up in the morning and see Anfield and I thought `I have got to get away from this'. No matter how much you like it, you need to get away.''

A year later he was looking to get his own place but, Redknapp said, "Graeme Souness was the manager and he did not think I was the right age. He wanted me to stay with someone. Well, you don't argue with him.

"He knew a family who were looking for someone. I went along out of courtesy and I am still there more than two years later. They are great people. I still talk to Dad a lot, he has been my biggest influence, and he knows I am in safe hands.''

Harry is now the manager of West Ham and both parties are dreading the prospect of his team needing a win to stay up when Liverpool visit Upton Park in the penultimate game of the season.

"I have played against him once and I did not enjoy it. I had a shocker. I will have to play, I have got to be professional, but it will be hard. I hope they will be out of trouble by then.''

It will also be a case of divided loyalties for Jamie's No 1 fan, his grandfather, also called Harry.

"He lives in Poplar, in east London, and he gets the train everywhere to see me. He's a retired docker who used to support Arsenal but he is a Liverpool fan now.''

Harry Snr will be at Wembley to watch Jamie make his first full appearance on the famous turf. Redknapp watched West Ham win the 1980 FA Cup final and has seen several England games but his experience on the pitch is limited to 10 minutes as substitute for England Under-17s in a 3-1 defeat to France five years ago.

However, Redknapp does not appear the nervous type and Wednesday night's experience will make the stage easier to stroll.