Redknapp seeks new order from chaos

The West Ham manager keeps his confidence though his club are bottom.
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Harry Redknapp could be forgiven for feeling both relieved and insulted. His West Ham team are bottom of the Premiership with two points from five matches, having just lost to Tottenham, one of their bitterest rivals, and are facing a Football Association charge of being unable to control their players.

Harry Redknapp could be forgiven for feeling both relieved and insulted. His West Ham team are bottom of the Premiership with two points from five matches, having just lost to Tottenham, one of their bitterest rivals, and are facing a Football Association charge of being unable to control their players.

Yet there have been no headlines claiming the club is in crisis, no sense that Redknapp's position is under threat, none of the hyperbolic angst that usually attends such a bad start to the season. It is almost as if it is regarded as par for the course, as it would be with Coventry, Southampton or one of the promoted clubs.

This must be almost as disappointing as the results to Redknapp, given his efforts to lift the club's profile since becoming manager in 1994. As well as attracting players of the calibre of Davor Suker and Paolo Di Canio, and bringing through the likes of Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and Michael Carrick, Redknapp has overseen impressive results.

In his six seasons West Ham have never finished below 14th in the Premiership and, in the last three, have come eighth, fifth and ninth, above Tottenham, Newcastle and Everton. Were those clubs now bottom with two points the talk would be of "crisis" and "votes of confidence". Indeed, Ruud Gullit fell on his sword last year with Newcastle having taken one point from five games. In the previous season, Christian Gross departed White Hart Lane after a haul of three from three.

Redknapp, however, does not feel either under pressure, or insulted by the lack of it. Leaning back in his office chair after training at Chadwell Heath yesterday, under a huge black-and-white copy of the famous photograph of his late friend, Bobby Moore, embracing Pele in the 1970 World Cup, he said: "I haven't got a care in the world. I have a tank of petrol. The wife has got some baked beans and loaves of bread in case the country grinds to a halt. Nothing bothers me.

"I don't feel insulted by the reaction to our results. People know we have had a tough run of fixtures." He leans forward and adds: "As a neutral, how many points would you expect us to have by now? You'd expect us to lose at Chelsea and Sunderland, beat Leicester at home, draw at home to Man United and at Spurs. Five points. If we'd beaten Leicester, and we would have if Igor Stimac had not been sent off, we'd have that five points.

"Four years ago, when we were bottom, I wasn't sleeping at night. Not now. I don't lie there wondering where the next win will come from. It's not like we're 10 points adrift. One win and we're half-way up the table."

Injuries have not helped, though unusually Redknapp does not say he is "down to the bare bones". Even so, most squads would miss the likes of Lampard, Ferdinand, Suker, Trevor Sinclair and Frédéric Kanouté, who have missed much of the campaign. In addition Ian Pearce and Scott Minto are long-term casualties while Christian Bassillas, a loan signing from Rennes, played half a match before suffering a cartilage injury and goes under the knife today.

This last injury, though simply bad luck, will be filed by some under "it could only happen at West Ham". Though Di Canio has been an outstanding signing, Redknapp's early forays into the foreign market were less successful. There was Marco Boogers, who ran away to live in a caravan, Florin Raducioiu, who went shopping at Harvey Nichols when he should have been playing at Stockport, Paulo Futre, who stormed out before his debut when told he did not have the No 10 shirt, and later bought the honour off John Moncur with a free holiday, and Dani, who wanted to stay at The Dorchester and "see the sights".

Then there was last season's Manny Omoyinmi saga, in which Redknapp brought the player on in a Worthington Cup quarter-final only for the Football League to order a replay, which West Ham lost, after it was revealed he was ineligible having already played in the competition for Gillingham. Redknapp complained that the player not only did not not make any impact on the game, but he had not expected him to.

Stuart Pearce, in his recent autobiography, revealed the culture shock of moving from the professional but sterile plc environment of Newcastle to the Hammers' more homely but somewhat chaotic set-up.

Pearce described how on his first day's training he was ready at the appointed time only to find a Bulgarian trialist his only partner. The rest of the squad wandered out of the dressing-room at their leisure. On another occasion he found Joe Cole had pinched his boots with the excuse "I knew they were someone's - but someone has nicked mine". At Christmas the dinner ladies were on holiday so, on the rest day between two games, instead of pasta, lunch became Jaffa cakes and mince pies. The showers, he added, "are mouldy and grotty. I don't know what the foreign players must think".

The answer was provided by the Israeli, Eyal Berkovic, who described West Ham as a "pub team" after he left for Celtic, and Bernard Lama, of France, who ridiculed their training after his loan period finished. The club's fans might retort that, according to rumour, Lama departed leaving his club car at the Romford branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken, with the keys still in it.

All this, Pearce hastens to add, creates a "good team spirit and a nice atmosphere to work in", a stark contrast to Newcastle under Gullit.

Until this season it has worked, partly because Redknapp is an innovative coach who is open to ideas, even though he may appear, with his fondness for a bet and a cliché, like an unreconstructed manager of the old school. He had a spell in the United States in his playing days and is one of the first managers to have his own web-site.

On it, before the season, he talked of a top-six finish and a place in Europe from the club's best squad "in 20 years". Some Hammers players from the 1985-86 team, which came third in the league, four points behind the champions, Liverpool, might take issue with that view.

However, Redknapp's European ambitions now appear reliant on a cup run, the first prospect of which begins with Tuesday's televised Worthington Cup tie away to the Second Division leaders, Walsall. It is the sort of fixture that West Ham, who have gone out of cup competitions to lower division clubs seven times under Redknapp, often have problems with.

Even more important, however, is tomorrow's home match against a Liverpool side in hot form going forward.

"We obviously need a win but it's just a case of getting something from the good performances we have been putting in," added Redknapp, the fourth longest-serving manager in the Premiership after Sir Alex Ferguson, Alan Curbishley and Bryan Robson,

West Ham have started this badly before. In Redknapp's first season in charge, they drew two and lost three of their first five matches, scoring just once. They were still bottom in March, but despite Redknapp being, in his own words, "saddled with a group of players not good enough to perform in the Premiership", they recovered to finish 14th. Two years later, with relegation again looming, he offered his resignation after a cup defeat at Wrexham. It was not accepted and, inspired by the signings of John Hartson and Paul Kitson, the Hammers survived.

This is a much better squad than either of those and, having seen the unfortunate defeat to Leicester, and spirited one at Chelsea, I would agree with Redknapp that there is too much quality to go down; but West Ham would not be the first team to be mistaken in such a belief.

As one Upton Park regular said: "It is not a crisis but the cusp of one. Having seen how teams like Sheffield Wednesday can lose confidence after a bad start, I am beginning to get nervous. "

As ever, a victory will imbue the situation with a much rosier hue of claret and blue.