Redknapp calls on experience to direct Spurs' amazing season

Victory at San Siro is reward for an astute manager who has fought long and hard to reach this level, writes Sam Wallace
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Late on Tuesday night in his press conference at San Siro, Harry Redknapp was asked by an Italian journalist to compare the merits of Italian football with English football and Redknapp told him flat that the Serie A could not hold a candle to the Premier League.

As he prepared to leave Redknapp decided to return to the subject on the basis that, as he said, "the gentleman who asked the question doesn't seem very happy with my answer." For a moment it felt like Redknapp was about to back down – but he did not.

"I would say that we have a better league than Serie A," Redknapp said. "We have Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool – we have a much stronger league than Italy. I'm not saying we [Spurs] are stronger than Milan. I think the favourites in this competition are the Spanish teams. But I think one of the English team, maybe even us, will go very close."

What Redknapp was saying was that if you are good enough to be among the best in the Premier League, you are good enough to be among the best in the Champions League. His subsequent observation yesterday that "not many" Milan players would get in his Spurs side was a fair reflection on the evening's events.

And what a battle it has been for Redknapp. He took over Spurs in October 2008 with the club bottom of the Premier League with two points from eight games. Having beaten Milan at San Siro he is now one game away from reaching the last eight of the Champions League. It took Manchester United three attempts before they reached – and passed – the quarter-finals of the Champions League in 1997.

Of course, Redknapp is not quite there yet and for all the success, there is a cloud hanging over him. That is the tax fraud trial that awaits the Tottenham manager in July and which, for all the enormous strides he has made over the last two and a half years he knows could potentially bring down the curtain on his career just as it is in its golden era.

There are some at Spurs who would not have been sad if Redknapp had taken the lucrative manager's job at Al-Ahli in Dubai that was offered to him in the summer and promised him £3m net a year. Some feel that with the players he has at his disposal – and Tottenham do have a fabulous squad – the Champions League is exactly where the club should be.

The flaw with that argument is that many of the same players – Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Heurelho Gomes, Aaron Lennon, Tom Huddlestone, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Vedran Corluka – who have been part of Redknapp's success were at the club under Juande Ramos when they were in severe danger of relegation.

It was Crouch who pointed out on Tuesday night that winning without Bale and only having Modric as a late substitute, told us something about Spurs. "Gareth Bale and Luka Modric are top, top players and if we can come to San Siro and win without them, then there's probably no limit to what we can achieve. I don't think we have got anyone to fear."

As for Redknapp he kept true to his promise that his side would continue to play their open attacking football – but without being defensively naive. "The English game is so different and this made it difficult for Milan," Gomes said. "We pressed them and we closed them down and it makes it difficult. They like the space and the time to play. We did not give them either. Milan became more frustrated as the game went on."

There will be those who will always treat Redknapp with suspicion or dismiss him as a manager who simply spends a club's money to buy better players than his rivals. There is no doubt he is also surrounded by a sizeable coaching staff who do much of the day-to-day work on the training ground.

But no manager goes to the home of Milan and wins a Champions League knockout tie without a serious talent for their profession. No manager builds on his team's success year after year to crack the top four of English football without drawing on decades of experience in the top-flight.

That was what Redknapp seemed to be saying to his indignant Italian inquisitor on Tuesday night. It has taken him a lifetime to fight his way to the top of the English game and now that he is 63, finally in the upper echelon of the Premier League. So do not be surprised that he is an overnight success in the Champions League.