'I am the manager's son, and there will be an occasion when a couple of the lads will be slagging off my dad'

Today's match between Southampton and Portsmouth is a crucial one for the whole Redknapp family. Jamie, now playing for his dad Harry, talks to Sam Wallace about fathers and sons, the Spice Boys and not being Posh and Becks
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The Independent Online

Jamie Redknapp says without hesitation that it has always meant the world to him to have his father Harry in the stands watching him play football. Not just over the 11 years he spent at Liverpool, the subsequent two years at Tottenham or the 17 England caps he earned. But even before then, when he was still a kid in Bournemouth playing for the local team Greenfields and wondering whether any of the big clubs would ever come looking for a cultured midfield prospect in a quiet seaside town.

Jamie Redknapp says without hesitation that it has always meant the world to him to have his father Harry in the stands watching him play football. Not just over the 11 years he spent at Liverpool, the subsequent two years at Tottenham or the 17 England caps he earned. But even before then, when he was still a kid in Bournemouth playing for the local team Greenfields and wondering whether any of the big clubs would ever come looking for a cultured midfield prospect in a quiet seaside town.

Then he was the son of the town's most famous manager. Harry was transforming Bournemouth into a team good enough to beat Manchester United in the FA Cup in 1984, but he always found the time to watch Jamie play, slipping in after kick-off at the back of the stand. "My dad was never one of those dads who would be at the front," Redknapp says, "but I would love him being there. I would always look up to him at half-time, and if I had done well, he would give me a little thumbs up. If I hadn't, he would give me a little sign to work harder. I was really lucky to have him."

Tottenham eventually signed Redknapp as a teenager but, in June 1990, he decided with his father that he would stand a better chance of launching his career at Bournemouth. It took just 16 appearances for Kenny Dalglish to decide to buy the teenager and from there the two careers diverged. Redknapp became captain of one of England's most prestigious clubs - albeit in a career that has lost around three years to injury - while at the same time his father began earning a hard-won reputation as one of Britain's best football managers with Bournemouth, West Ham and Portsmouth.

Then, last month, Southampton came calling. First for Harry, who had spent two weeks out of football after the deterioration of his relationship with the Portsmouth chairman Milan Mandaric, and then for Jamie. To rescue from relegation the deadly rivals of the club he had just left was a daring proposition. In order to do so, Harry recruited the 31-year-old son he had sent up to Merseyside 14 years earlier.

"Dad has said it's like having two madmen in the family, but I didn't really look at it like that," Redknapp says. "There wasn't a great deal to think about. I didn't want my career to fizzle out. I have come to Southampton to play football, do a really good job and hopefully help escape relegation. But I am still the manager's son and I am sure there will be an occasion when I walk into the dressing-room and a couple of lads who aren't playing will be slagging off my dad. I am going to sense that horrible quietness and I will probably have to say, 'All right lads', and just walk out. Football is that type of game, but I can handle that."

For the average English male, who has never captained Liverpool, never played football for England and never married a beautiful pop star, Redknapp would appear to have been dealt one of life's better hands. But Redknapp's quality is that he has never taken any of it for granted and, through the injury problems, never acquired any lasting bitterness or rancour. And his reward at the end of his career is to be back with his favourite manager.

The first victory of Harry's reign was played last Saturday with three generations of the Redknapps present. In the stands was six-month-old Charlie, his dad Jamie was in midfield and granddad was in the dug-out. Victory over Liverpool began the real business of Premiership survival, but today's FA Cup tie against Portsmouth is an intriguing aside to the relegation fight. It is a chance for Harry to show the club that rejected him how serious a mistake they have made.

Father and son are extremely close and their relationship has been built, to a great extent, on football. Harry took his family with him when he first coached in Arizona and Seattle at the end of a playing career with West Ham and Bournemouth. Jamie, he admits, never really thought about coaching until recently when, as a new father contemplating the end of his own playing career, he asked Harry why he had gone into management. "His answer was simple," Jamie says, "he said, 'I had no money.'

"The difference now with Premier League players is that we have choices," he says. "As long as you are quite sensible with your money you can either sit back and play golf for the rest of your life, you can go into coaching or open a restaurant - the choice is yours. In those days, dad didn't have choices - he had to earn money to look after his family.

"He just seemed to take to coaching. He's got a great eye for a player, he's got a good personality around the training room and the big break was when Bournemouth beat Manchester United. They were the FA Cup holders and played a full-strength team including Bryan Robson, Frank Stapleton and Norman Whiteside. I will never forget the day after when GMTV came to our house to interview him. The match gave my dad a bit of a name."

Twenty years later the name is bigger than ever. Harry's son, however, worries that the years in the limelight have taken their toll.

"I must admit I do worry about him. He does look stressed out because I know how much it means to him. I realise he cares so much about it. He is desperate for us to stay up and the shame of it is that he does always have to prove himself again. He lives for football, he didn't enjoy that couple of weeks when he left Portsmouth. As soon as he got the opportunity to come back in he jumped at it."

It is not just Harry seeking a postscript to a career. Eight operations to Jamie Redknapp's right knee, two broken ankles on England duty - "that has to be a record, doesn't it?" - meant that for an aggregate of three seasons of his 13 years in the top flight he was injured. Now he says that he owes his fitness to Kevin Lidlow, a pioneering physio recommended to him by Les Ferdinand, who treats him once a week. There has been, he says, "a lot of heartache" but when he runs out at St Mary's today he will feel grateful still to be playing at 31.

"I look back on my England career and my biggest problem was that I was so desperate to do well in international games that I was too tense and picked up injuries," he says. "I tore my hamstring in one game. When I came on in Euro 96 [against Scotland] I broke my ankle. Then I came back into the England team [against South Africa, May 1997] and broke it again. England played such a big part in my career, but I often thought about retiring from international football because it just didn't seem to agree with me.

"Against Scotland in Euro 96, I came on at half-time at a time when I felt like I was coming to the peak of my career. Then, with five minutes to go, I had to come off with the broken ankle and I could hear the crowd while I was getting an X-ray in the stadium. I couldn't believe that I was in there and I could still hear all the other guys celebrating and the crowd singing 'Football's coming home'. I just felt like crying. I tried so hard to get back for the Holland game but I couldn't walk on it, let alone run."

By now, however, he has rationalised the injuries and their toll on his career. What gives Redknapp most cause for regret is the opportunity presented to his Liverpool side in the mid-1990s to embark on a run of success that his cousin Frank Lampard now seems set to enjoy at Chelsea. It was the Liverpool side of Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler and Phil Babb, aka the "Spice Boys', and it was that 1996 FA Cup final defeat to Eric Cantona's Manchester United which was the defining moment for Redknapp.

"I look back at that game and it's one of my biggest regrets because we had such a good group of players," he says. "In Roy Keane's book he said what a good side we were. Had we been a little bit more disciplined we could have gone on to rival Manchester United. If Chelsea can win the League this year they can become anything they want to be. I think it was similar for us but we never got over that last hurdle of winning something. We took an incredible amount of stick and some of it was fair."

In 1996 he met Louise Nurding, who had by then left the pop group Eternal and, for a while, they were football's celebrity couple, before David and Victoria Beckham rewrote the rules on fame. Redknapp suspects that if he hadn't had so many injuries, he and Louise might have been subject to something like the attention the Beckhams receive, but he is more than happy without it. "I like the way my life has panned out," he says. "I can pretty much do whatever I want. And I'm still thankful, when I ring up a nice restaurant, that they are more than happy to look after you.

"Louise and I are very similar in that, like me, she comes from a down-to-earth background. When we met, she was a pop star and I was a footballer. We made a conscious effort that I was going to keep football as my priority and she was going to keep singing as her priority. Then David Beckham and Victoria came along. He's had an incredible career. I don't know anyone who has made as many headlines as him, and enjoyed making headlines. But I didn't."

There is still the question of what comes next. He is contracted to Southampton until the end of the season and much depends on whether or not they stay in the Premiership. He also has a fledgling career as a BBC pundit but the prospect of coaching is still tempting, especially with what he has learned from his father and what he hears from Lampard at Chelsea. Redknapp does not live far from Chelsea's new Surrey training ground, and he plans to watch a Jose Mourinho session soon.

"Frank says that a lot of the stuff they do is very good," he says. "All the work they do is with the ball. It would be great to pick up some of his sessions. It's not rocket science, you just have to keep players happy. In training, if you make it boring that's when players switch off - when you do the sessions they have to have a theme to them. Frank says that if something has happened in the game that he [Mourinho] does not like, then they adapt the training to solve the problem. Like if the team aren't getting enough crosses in, you work at a drill where each move has to end with a cross."

As the son of an English football manager there is something about Redknapp that feels a slight sense of injustice at the instinct to give all the top jobs to foreign coaches. However, as one of the few current players who can remember life before the Premiership he can appreciate the change that has taken place across his time in professional football. It has been a transformation that has been ushered in by foreign players.

"When I was first growing up playing football, we didn't stretch and we would have a bit of fish and chips and a few beers on the bus home," he says. "We used to think that was the norm. Now players are treating their bodies differently. Because we are British we do like to have a drink, and some players can still do it, but that is pretty much gone now. If you carry on doing it, it catches up with you in the end. When I was 19, I loved going out with the lads after a game. I wasn't married and I enjoyed going to the clubs in Liverpool. I think you realise you can't do it any more, you have to be professional."

Southampton does, nevertheless, promise to provide an exciting finale to a career that, four years ago, Redknapp was told was over. Later in the conversation, we return to the tricky question of a career in management. "You might be a hero at a club, but if you go into coaching one thing is for certain," Redknapp says, "you will get the sack one day. You've got to be a certain character to enjoy it." At full-time today, he will turn towards the dug-out in search of one of those very same characters. He will be looking for the most important man in the stadium. Hoping for a thumbs up.