Redknapp blossoms late to join stellar list – but taxing issue clouds the horizon

The first Englishman to reach European Cup last eight for 26 years would be a shoo-in for national job – were it not for looming trial
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The Independent Football

Before the final whistle sounded at White Hart Lane on Wednesday night, the last time an English manager had reached the final eight of the European Cup was Terry Venables with Barcelona in November 1985. Then Ron Atkinson was Manchester United manager; The hand of god still meant, in popular parlance, a natural disaster rather than Diego Maradona's supreme act of self-justification; And Venables would confide in English journalists that the wife of his star player Bernd Schuster had a habit of walking into the changing rooms to berate her husband's manager while most of the team were still in a state of undress.

Venables' team reached the final in Seville in May 1986 where they were expected to beat Steaua Bucharest. After a dreadful final that finished 0-0, they lost on penalties missing all four spot-kicks. Venables hung on until September the following year and was sacked.

It feels like a lifetime ago. Since 6 November 1985, when Venables' team eliminated Porto on away goals to reach the quarter-finals, more than 25 years have passed. Only on Wednesday night did Harry Redknapp finally fly the flag again for the brotherhood of English managers when he took his Tottenham side into the last eight of Europe's leading competition.

Jimmy Armfield, Bob Paisley, Brian Clough, Ron Saunders (who quit having reached the quarter-finals with Aston Villa in 1982) and Joe Fagan all achieved the last eight and better in the preceding 11 seasons to Venables. The fall-off since then says a lot about English managers – and not much of it good.

But Spurs' achievement does say a lot about Redknapp. The blossoming of his career has come very late. He was 64 this month, only four years younger than Venables. Unlike Venables, who got the Barça job straight from managing Queen's Park Rangers (will that ever happen again?) at the age of 41, Redknapp had to wait much longer for a big club. There is a good argument for saying that his career only really started when, in October 2008, he was put in charge of a Spurs team bottom of the Premier League.

Now, he can expect to be the England manager come a year in July when Fabio Capello will walk away after Euro 2012. All that stands between Redknapp and the England job now is the tax evasion charges scheduled for court in July.

That never seems to be very far from his mind, even in the aftermath of results such as Wednesday's draw with Milan. Redknapp has never been one for whom jubilation lasts much longer than the end of the game but some of his recent post-match moods have been flat even by those standards. There is no doubt he would be enjoying Spurs' season a lot more were it not for what awaits at the end.

That has been a concern for those close to him for some time but Redknapp himself voiced those preoccupations in an interview on Sunday. "I just want to get it out of the way and move on," he said. There is a compulsive urge to the confessional in Redknapp. He broaches subjects that would be well off-limits for other managers. It seems he cannot stop himself at times.

From a distance, the Football Association, and especially its new chairman David Bernstein, will be observing Redknapp closely. It knows he will never be bound by the same rules of discretion and protocol which previous England managers have worked under. But, providing he comes through the court case unscathed, he can be the only name on the shortlist to succeed Capello.

Bernstein, originally an accountant and naturally cautious, will not regard Redknapp as a natural bedfellow. He may even see in him some of the impetuosity of Kevin Keegan who, when he was manager of Manchester City, eventually fell out with Bernstein, then the club's chairman. But he too will look at what Redknapp has done with Spurs and wonder if he might not be able to do the same with England.

Redknapp has made a few signings of his own such as Peter Crouch and William Gallas, and the likes of Rafael van der Vaart and Sandro have been brought in by the club, but for the most part he has improved what was already there.

Looking back at the Spurs team from his first game in charge against Bolton Wanderers on 26 October 2008, there were seven players who played in that game who also featured in Wednesday's 0-0 draw with Milan. A further two from that game were on the bench this week.

He is not a hands-on coach but he has radically changed the staff. What do Spurs players say most about playing for Redknapp? They enjoy it. And while there may be a couple of big egos at the club, the spirit is excellent. They spent much of the build-up to the games against Wolves and Milan in Dubai, a trip that the players felt combined exactly the right amount of match preparation and relaxation.

The Spurs team that Redknapp inherited had won the Carling Cup final eight months earlier and there was undoubted quality in the squad. To the extent that there are some voices at the club who think that Redknapp's part in this success story is not as great as might be thought.

No one at Spurs, however, wants to be the one who tests the theory. When Redknapp gave consideration to a lucrative £3m net annual salary offered by the Dubai team Al-Ahli in the summer, there were some at Tottenham who would have been happy to let him go. Eventually, chairman Daniel Levy reached a compromise over the two-year option on his contract.

Now Redknapp' reputation as a manager is made. Success with Barcelona was the making of Venables even though he has not managed full-time since he left Leeds United in March 2003 at the relatively young age – for a manager – of 60.

In November 1985, Redknapp was in his second full season as Bournemouth manager in what is now League One at the start of a long journey to where he is today. If it feels that Venables stepped away from front-line management too early, then it is certain that Redknapp has taken too long to arrive.

How El Tel showed the way in 1986

Terry Venables was the last Englishman to lead a team to the quarter-finals of the European Cup, his Barcelona side making the final in 1986.

After beating Sparta Prague, a goal from former Spurs striker Steve Archibald helped the Spanish champions, also featuring German midfielder Bernd Schuster, see off Porto in the second round to set up a quarter-final with holders Juventus. Archibald again scored the vital goal in Turin and in the semi-final against Gothenburg Venables' side overcame a 3-0 defeat in the first leg in Sweden to win on penalties at the Nou Camp. However the pressure of winning the club's first European Cup proved too much and they lost on penalties to Steaua Bucharest in the final after a dreadful game finished 0-0.

From bottom to top: Harry's time at Spurs

26 October 2008 Succeeds Juande Ramos with Spurs bottom with two points from eight games. Beats Bolton and Liverpool, and draws 4-4 at Arsenal in first week.

January 2009 Jermain Defoe, Wilson Palacios and Robbie Keane arrive in transfer window.

1 March 2009 Leads Spurs to League Cup final, where they lose on penalties to Man United.

May 2009 Spurs finish in eighth place, missing out on European qualification by two points.

August 2009 Peter Crouch and Niko Kranjcar join as Spurs make best start in 49 years.

April/May 2010 Loses FA Cup semi-final to Portsmouth before wins over Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City secure fourth spot.

Summer 2010 William Gallas, Sandro, and Rafael van der Vaart arrive as Spurs beat Young Boys to reach the Champions League proper.

February/March 2011 After topping group, a Peter Crouch goal is enough for Spurs to beat Milan.