Jason Burt: Redknapp ready to repay Hoddle's faith after fitness fight

Tottenham's new captain faces dual challenge of guiding much-changed side and remaining injury-free after recovering from latest setback
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The Independent Football

It is nine months since Jamie Redknapp last gave an interview. Time largely taken up with the hard, unforgiving yards of trying to regain fitness. Again. Injury struck last December. A stress fracture to his foot to add to the breaks and tears that have shaved at least three years out of the career of one of the most gifted footballers of his generation.

During the summer, the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder turned 30. It was time to take stock. Time to assess where he was going. "I have never taken for granted any game I have played in," Redknapp states. "I suppose with the injuries I have suffered it has made me even more appreciative. I have always enjoyed my football, and even more so now, and I want to savour every moment I can."

There was a party to celebrate. "We had a great time but the fact of reaching 30 - when you are 29 you still think you are young but 30 was quite hard to take. I do feel like I have been around for years," says Redknapp.

Which he has. At 17 he was courted by Kenny Dalglish and catapulted into the sporting Camelot of Anfield. He scored on his debut and, at 18, he became what was then the youngest-ever player to appear for Liverpool in Europe and went on to make 308 appearances stretched - by injury - over 11 years. He made his England debut at 22. The attention, the level of expectation, was immense. And with his looks, ability and pop star marriage - to Louise Nurding - Redknapp inevitably drew comparisons with David Beckham. How does it feel to be in the public eye? "I enjoy the football side of it, but don't really enjoy the other side," he admits. "I know I married a pop star, but I like to leave it at that. Lou does here singing, and does very well at it, and I do my football."

He has observed Beckham phenomenon. "Fair play to him. He's a good footballer, a better player than me," he says. "I personally would not like that level of attention. I like to go home and just relax and take it easy. That's how I am. But if that is how you want your life to be, and that's how it has worked out for him, he obviously enjoys that. But for me I would not want that."

Home life means a lot to Redknapp. It was the explanation he gave to Terry Venables, the then Spurs manager, for deciding against signing professional forms at White Hart Lane back in his teens. "I said I was homesick, which was not the case, as I then moved to Liverpool after six months - which did not go down too well," he says.

Redknapp had been at Spurs since he was 11. "But just as I was leaving school, at 16, I thought 'do I really want to go to Tottenham?' because there were so many good players at the time - Gascoigne, Paul Stewart, a few others - and I thought 'I'm going to be sitting in the reserves'," he explains. "I had seen how some of the reserve players were and felt they were not being given a chance. As a young kid I obviously had a lot of front because I thought I should be in the team, at 15 or 16. I was obviously confident in myself."

So he talked to his father, Harry, who was then manager of Bournemouth, the club he had been training with. "I said 'I will get into your team' and that will do more for me than playing in Tottenham's youth team," Redknapp says. Soon the calls were coming from Dalglish and 16 games into his career at Dean Court he was off. "It was an opportunity I could not pass by." Those dozen or so games had helped him mature, hardened him to professional football.

His Liverpool years are dear to him. "It will always be something I can look back on and say 'I played for Liverpool for such a long time'," he says. "I went back there last year and got a standing ovation and that is something no one can take away from me - at such a great club like Liverpool, with all their great players, for the fans to feel strongly about me."

Still, when, early last year, he was offered a 12-month contract, by the Liverpool manager, Gérard Houllier, he knew it was time to move on. "I felt it was nice of them to do so do so, but in a way I felt it was for the service I had given to them before. I felt I was probably not going to play and I would be on the bench. I did not want to do that as I was feeling better."

Feeling better from having his shattered knee rebuilt and an understandable desire to make up for lost time. "I did not want to waste another year. It is bad enough when you are injured, but when I was fit I did not want to be not playing," he says, before explaining what it is like to be out for so long. "There are times when you have an injury and you think 'I don't know if I can deal with this any more' because it is so tough especially when you are out for months.

"When I was struggling with my knee, I must admit, there were times when I thought 'I can't do this any more' and go and get on the machine for eight hours a day. I thought 'this is not for me' but the next day you would feel a bit better and say to yourself 'come on you can do this'. You just have to be mentally strong. If I did not love football as much as I do then I probably would not bother."

Unsurprisingly, he admits that injury is a subject he prefers not to discuss. "You do not want to go on saying, and I have said it before, 'yes, I'm back now' and then all of a sudden you break a bone in your foot," he says.

"My injuries have always been really tough injuries to get over. I have had a minimal amount of muscle injuries, hardly any. Instead, they have been knee operations and ankles and a broken foot and things like that. It is hard to deal with but you do and you come back and it makes you stronger. You're also desperate to show what you can do and get back to the form you were in before you had the injuries."

It is, once again, desperately important to him to now stay injury-free. "But it is something that is out of my control. I do everything I can to stay fit, I am a dedicated professional," he says.

It is, also, a critical season for Tottenham, who today are at home to Leeds United after losing to Birmingham City last weekend. "I am really looking forward to this season with an exciting new squad coming together and I have been feeling good pre-season. I am keeping my fingers crossed that things will be fine and I am confident I am going to be," he says. "I do sense that people are ready to jump on us if we do not start well. We realise that and know it will be a good test of character. I am used to that having played for Liverpool."

Not that Redknapp wants any sympathy. "I would never ask people to feel sorry for me because I am such a lucky fella," he says. "I have so many things going for me, but I do feel I have never had the chance to show on a permanent basis what I can do and that sometimes can be really frustrating. I feel I could have shown a lot more and played a lot more games but you can't dwell on it because I have such an exciting challenge now with being made captain of Tottenham."

The captaincy, succeeding Teddy Sheringham who has now joined Redknapp's father ("an incredible fella") at Portsmouth, means a lot to him. "I did not sit down and say to myself 'I am desperate to be captain' because I was concentrating on what I personally needed to do,' Redknapp says. "But when the gaffer said to me that he was pleased how I did pre-season and that I was good with the younger players and he wanted me to be captain then it was such a great honour. I could not let it pass by."

The "gaffer", Glenn Hoddle, is also under immense pressure after an indifferent, disgruntled season last term. Redknapp, however, is full of admiration for the man who handed him a four-year contract a year last April. "He has been great with me," he says. "I guess he took something of a chance when he signed me because I did not see too many other people interested. I enjoyed working with him with England and for him to want to sign me was something I could not really pass by. He has shown a lot of faith in me and I want to make sure I have a good season."

In a re-shaped squad Redknapp is now one of the elder statesmen after the departure of a number of thirtysomethings. "The age has come down dramatically," he says. "I think that helps. It is good for the younger players and gives us fresh legs - and you do need that."

He is excited by what he has seen. Helder Postiga is "breathtaking", Bobby Zamora is a "bit like Stan Collymore" while other young players such as Stephen Kelly and Mark Yeates will soon come to the fans' attention. "When we get Dean Richards fit, Ledley King, Freddie Kanouté, Darren Anderton then we will be looking at a completely different side," says Redknapp. Ah, fitness again. There is no escaping it.

Unsurprisingly, given his time on the sidelines - "I'm not a great spectator" - Redknapp has pondered what to do after his playing days. "I have thought about it a lot," he says. With his background, football is in his blood. Management or coaching are his favoured options while he has already done some punditry for the BBC. "I would find it hard to just walk away from the game," he says. Not that he will have to decide, with some much deserved and overdue luck, for several years yet.