Nick Townsend: Chimes are a-changing - for better or worse

Life down among the south coast football fraternity these days reminds you of those tacky tabloid revelations about liaisons between pop singers and "mod-dels" you've never heard of, but who have somehow achieved an ephemeral fame. Is it really true love? How long will it last? And then towards the inevitable and increasingly bitter end: How long before they finally split? The "Harry met Mandy" story has been a bit like that. And at the end of their two-and-a-half-year liaison, the question remains to be answered: who is really the love rat? Harry Redknapp or the Pompey chairman Milan Mandaric?

Life down among the south coast football fraternity these days reminds you of those tacky tabloid revelations about liaisons between pop singers and "mod-dels" you've never heard of, but who have somehow achieved an ephemeral fame. Is it really true love? How long will it last? And then towards the inevitable and increasingly bitter end: How long before they finally split? The "Harry met Mandy" story has been a bit like that. And at the end of their two-and-a-half-year liaison, the question remains to be answered: who is really the love rat? Harry Redknapp or the Pompey chairman Milan Mandaric?

Of course, everyone loves 'Arry. He conducts supporters' emotions and media reactions with the dexterity of Sir Simon Rattle. That tradesman-like shake of the head, a sharp intake of breath, and words invariably to the effect of "my squad's down to the bare bones, it's a tough job, but we'll battle through" always appealed to the Fratton faithful.

And he has fulfilled many of their expectations, too, having raised the club from the knackers' yard of the First Division to live in some splendour with the blue bloods of the Premier League, while providing performances laced with no little panache. Few would dispute that that the alchemist in him brings lustre and an esprit de corps to whichever club he ventures within. At least for a time.

Last week, after several instances of sabre-rattling, he finally left Portsmouth in that inimitable style of his; that of a world-weary western hero, with a touch of the Clint Eastwood grimace, leaving behind an appreciative townsfolk, his task complete.

The problem for many with Pompey at heart is that the bandits remain in control. The popular, if simplistic, view is that a "football man" has found his position untenable, leaving Mandaric and his executive director, Velimir Zajec, the former Yugoslav defender, to construct a "continental-style" administration, similar to that at Tottenham. Redknapp, for all his diplomatic protestations that he had been considering resigning for a while anyway, fooled no one.

He leaves Portsmouth apparently luxuriating in the comfort of mid-table. It is an illusion. Pompey are actually far too close to those knee-deep in the relegation quick-sand. It is an unwanted legacy of Redknapp that cannot be ignored; that and his refusal to operate by anything other than a hand-to-mouth existence.

Redknapp has long viewed football management as an exercise in profiting from others' excess stock. He has identified gifted performers - the Patrik Bergers and Teddy Sheringhams- regarded as either aged or out of form, but certainly supernumary elsewhere, and successfully utilised their talents for a year, maybe two.

Yet Mandaric, having acknowledged Redknapp's prowess in that specialist field, and initially willing to play by the rules of Harry's game, has grown exasperated. He has long harboured two grave concerns: a wage bill of reportedly over £22m a year, and the failure to nurture home-produced talent.

The Serb is acutely conscious that Portsmouth have been existing "above their station", to borrow what Prince Charles claims he didn't say, since promotion. To confirm that status long-term, it is necessary to create a structure that can flourish post-Redknapp and, for that matter, post-Mandaric.

Whether the installation of his friend, Zajec, the former Yugoslav captain and director of football at Panathinaikos, as a full board member who, as well as overseeing European scouting and youth development, will have complete control over signings, is prudent remains to be seen. What is less difficult to dispute is the principle; that it is crucial to create an environment which permits continuity in such a case as Redknapp's departure.

That said, Mandaric should not delude himself that the creation of an executive director, or in Spurs' case, sporting director in the shape of Frank Arnesen, is a panacea. In the ego land within which management dinosaurs roam it requires a mature, positive and harmonious approach from everyone concerned, and at White Hart Lane such qualities have not been evident.

Neither is the academy system necessarily beneficial in the manner it operates in this country. For as much as we acknowledge the achievements of one of our best-run clubs, Middlesbrough, in producing Stewart Downing, Anthony McMahon and Stuart Parnaby, and acclaim Aston Villa, whose youth development brought forth Gareth Barry, Jlloyd Samuel and Darius Vassell, it should be borne in mind that there are no fewer than seven Premiership clubs without a former trainee in their regular line-ups. They include Portsmouth.

Hence Mandaric's insistence on restructuring. He does so in an environment which is generally antagonistic to such radicalism. It is a courageous move in a country where the manager is acknowledged as a procurer of personnel, a negotiator of salaries and a coach. That catch-all role has gradually been transformed, particularly after the various "bung" accusations, with financial affairs handled by the chief executive. Men like Mandaric want to devolve powers a stage further. They should be applauded for doing so; though, knowing this professional sport as we do, the suspicion is that it is derision they will hear first.

What response would that induce from Mandaric? "Sometimes I wish I could go, like Harry," he declared ominously. To lose both the characters responsible for the renewal of those Pompey chimes really would dismay the Fratton Park following.

Which is why, after a series of skirmishes which have benefited neither club, nor outgoing manager, Mandaric's version of peace deserves a chance.

Sven in search of lost chord

So, the Beckham career is over, it was revealed last week. The only regret was that it was the chanteuse, Mrs B, who was hanging up the microphone, and David was nothanding over the England armband, and possibly even the No 7 shirt. The racism row in the wake of England's defeat in Spain may have distracted many from the poverty of his performance as a captain and a player. But it should not have diverted Sven Goran Eriksson's eyes. Apparently it didn't. The Swede says he will be visiting Beckham in Spain before February's friendly against Holland.

With what in mind, exactly? In his quaint way, Eriksson probably imagines that it will suffice to offer encouragement, when it is clear to the majority of us that a player who has rarely performed with distinction for England since that World Cup qualifier against Greece at Old Trafford, actually requires not a shoulder, but "a rest" from both roles.

At the Bernabeu, Beckham epitomised the attitude of too many England players who believe they should have a divine access to selection, and in his case, who continues to be picked, apparently on the basis of his celebrity status.

Even the best require a shock to the system now and again. A stint on the bench, with Michael Owen given the armband, would provide the salutory lesson that representing one's country is not a sinecure. Where this England coach is concerned, though, perhaps we should not hold our breath.

It is not over just because the thin lady has stopped singing.

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