East Ender the big star in south coast saga that always scores with viewers

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The Independent Online

Even the Portsmouth chairman, Milan Mandaric, refers to his relationship with Harry Redknapp as a "soap opera" - although the writers of the most hackneyed of daytime dramas probably would not dream of coming up with some of the plot-lines that have dominated football on the south coast over the past 12 months.

If only the events on the pitch had been quite so entertaining but, during that time, Portsmouth have struggled to retain their Premiership status while Southampton lost theirs.

A scene was recently played out on the pitches of the club's Marchwood training ground which sums up the craziness of it all. Southampton's performance director, Sir Clive Woodward, is said to have stopped a training session to demonstrate to first-team players just how to kick a ball properly. It didn't go down well, while Redknapp is believed to have reacted with bewilderment.

That bewilderment was shared 12 months ago when Redknapp walked out on Portsmouth, Southampton's fiercest rivals, only to pitch up two weeks later - after saying "I will not go down the road, no chance" - at St Mary's Stadium. He succeeded Steve Wigley, who was sacked after just one win in 14 games.

At times, it appears that the clubs' rivalry in the last few seasons extends to who can get through the most managers. Southampton have had eight managers in nine years - whoever comes into Portsmouth will be the eighth in six years.

Redknapp's departure from Fratton Park was dramatic, citing an inability to work with Mandaric after he had brought in a director of football, Velimir Zajec, above his head, although Zajec only lasted a matter of months before returning to Athens.

The acrimony was increased by an apparent clear-out of many of the senior players Redknapp had signed in the three years he was at Portsmouth - players such as Arjan De Zeeuw and Steve Stone - amid grumblings about the club's wage bill. Those players had taken the club from the depths of the First Division, as it was then, to mid-table in the Premiership.

While Portsmouth struggled, firstly with Zajec, who did not settle in England, and then with Alain Perrin, Redknapp had his own travails at Southampton. He inherited a club fourth from bottom of the table but, despite his efforts, they slipped further, finishing 20th and leaving the top flight after 37 years.

If his relationship with Mandaric was always a volatile one - not least because they are both very emotional men - then his understanding with Saints' chairman, Rupert Lowe, was never going to be easy.

Redknapp and Lowe, who had wanted to bring back Glenn Hoddle as manager, are unlikely bedfellows and, despite their public statements of support, there has always been tension between them.

It is no secret that Lowe has a dream of restructuring the club along innovative lines and his appointment of Woodward has caused friction, especially when cut-backs were being made in other areas.

Many incidents have seeped out in the last few months which have not helped the harmony at the club. There was the appointment of Dr Sherylle Calder, the "vision expert" who works on strengthening players' eye muscles and improving their peripheral vision, which led to Redknapp quipping that there was nothing wrong with his "mince pies". Most dramatically, there was the arrival and rapid departure of Woodward's protégé, Simon Clifford. He quit as head of sports science after a series of clashes with Redknapp's coaching staff. The final straw came when photocopies of an article about Clifford's quest for the perfect player were photocopied and stuck to players' lockers. Clifford felt he was being undermined, while Dave Bassett, one of Redknapp's coaches, questioned his experience. It was the clearest of culture clashes.

Redknapp's team selections have also led to heated exchanges - especially because of a perceived lack of faith in some of the Championship club's promising younger players. That, ironically, was an accusation levelled at him when he was in charge of Portsmouth, where players such as Gary O'Neil appeared not to be given many opportunities.

Yesterday, O'Neil, now regarded as the club's most valuable asset, said he would support Redknapp's return if that is what Mandaric wants. "If he feels that bringing Harry back is the best way of keeping us in the Premier League, I'm all for it," O'Neil said. "I didn't play many games when Harry was here but that's the manager's choice. If Harry comes in, he might be able to re-establish the magic at Fratton." That was something that, at Southampton, he has failed to do but another plot-line may well be about to be written.

Ultimate soap opera: The feuds, the liaisons and the characters behind football's most popular drama

Harry

The lovable Cockney has had many relationships along the south coast but can never seem to make up his mind. Wheeler-dealer and bargain-hunter.

Milan

The eccentric millionaire Croatian frequently falls out with those he loves but has always been loyal to his cause. Will happily talk to anyone.

Rupert

The posh one is an old Etonian who loved hockey but now yearns for success in his new career. Has a habit of parting company with staff on a regular basis.

Sir Clive

Rupert's thick-skinned mate is another posh boy who was knighted before bravely entering a new world - which has been less than welcoming.

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