Peter Corrigan: Saint Harry's sideshow to test Lowe threshold

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The Independent Online

Harry Redknapp's 20-mile journey along the south coast from Portsmouth to Southampton has attracted more than the usual interest from the impartial observer because it guarantees us hours of fascination. Not for the football so much, because these local rivalries are best left to the locals, but for the latest demonstration of the power battle between owner and manager.

Redknapp has walked away from such a conflict at Portsmouth, where he felt that Milan Mandaric undermined his authority, and promptly joined South-ampton, where Rupert Lowe is similar to Mandaric in that they both act as if they own the place. The trouble is that they both do. If anything, Mandaric is slightly more patient than Lowe, who has tended to go through managers like a finicky earl goes through butlers.

Fair play to Redknapp, he declared his independence as soon as he walked through the door by warning that he would not tolerate any interference. When you are about to sit on a powder keg, it's always a good idea to light the fuse.

It is a scenario well worthy of our constant attention and more than makes up for a clash we are now not likely to see. Our age-old football face-off between those who have the money and those who have the brains has never had the trans-atlantic edge that would have resulted had Malcolm Glazer taken over Manchester United. The American tycoon is still trying, after several rebuffs, to bully the deal through but his chances are receding. At what stage Glazer's ice-cold financial ambitions would have collided with Sir Alex Ferguson's ruthless dedication to his club's interests is difficult to say, but it would have been an enthralling encounter.

Glazer, who would have had to borrow most of the money, bears no resemblance to Roman Abramovich, who not only arrived with cash to burn but whose commitment to Chelsea seems to have acquired a genuine heart's content. While Jose Mourinho continues to astound with his near-miraculous style of management we cannot be sure of the level of Abramovich's impatience threshold, and it might be a while before we are.

The thought of our clubs being at the mercy of either sheer avarice or mere whim is far from comforting, but there is a difference in the types of leadership we have.

There was a time when every club was run by a board of directors, one of which would be elected chairman, but he would not be necessarily the most powerful. Few put their own money in, and were more likely to be guarantors. Until 40 years ago they certainly didn't take any out. There was plenty of warfare between boardroom and management, and there were pig-headed chairmen who insisted on getting their own way, but it was generally more civilised and certainly less publicised. There are still clubs run in the old-fashioned way - but most would sell themselves to a wealthy suitor - and one or two who are run in an exemplary manner. Norwich and the saintly Delia Smith is the obvious one.

The very word "chairman" isn't quite an adequate description now. "Owner" is a more appropriate title even when, in Lowe's case, he is an owner via his company, or, in some distressing examples, chief beneficiary where the man did not bring any financial strength with him.

Our club scene could not run without private investment, and it is an area that has been scandalously short of regulation. Until the FA start taking more interest in the proper administration of the game than having their pictures taken with David Beckham, merchants with no love for football will continue to sidle in and ruin clubs for their own gain. The situation at Oxford United is but the latest manifestation of money being made at the expense of a club's future. And what has been going on at Wrexham hardly smacks of good and sympathetic husbandry.

Where clubs like Portsmouth and Southampton differ is that their owners have an unswerving interest in their well-being and are prepared to work hard as well as pile in generous investment.

Passions tend to run higher in football when a man's love for his club is multiplied by his high regard for the money he has put into it. In these situations everyone begins by wanting the same thing and sharing ambitions. It is hardly surprising that differences occur on the way. They do in every business. I am told we even have some proprietorial interference in newspapers. Not just for that reason, I believe they are entitled to.

Mandaric finally upset Redknapp at Portsmouth because he brought in a director of football, Velimir Zajec. It was part of Mandaric's idea for restructuring the club, but it would have been politic to get the manager's agreement first.

To anyone, the title of director of football would put the newcomer above the manager in the pecking order. In other walks of life people leave their jobs every day for slights like that. Unlike most of them, Redknapp was not taking much of a risk. He was playing his cards from a very good hand. His reputation as a manager was certain to get him snapped up by another club.

The fact that it turned out to be Southampton was a curious happenstance and not the plot that Pompey fans imagine. Nevertheless, he is ideally placed to make his point, and he'll be a rare man if his soul is not now sown with thoughts of vengeance. With Mandaric similarly unlikely to take it lying down, we have been awarded a sideshow that could be more interesting than the main events.

That old Cup magic is now myth

Hasn't the FA Cup had enough magic kicked out of it? The big clubs have been steadfastly downgrading the tournament by fielding weakened teams and, in Manchester United's case, opting out of it altogether several seasons ago.

Now the FA themselves have connived at robbing the competition of a substantial piece of its traditional appeal by agreeing that Yeading must switch their third- round tie against Newcastle United.

Yeading, from the Ryman League, were intending to stage the game at their 3,500-capacity ground, the Warren. The BBC were intending to televise it, which would have meant a £100,000 fee for the club. But after further talks with the police and council, safety and segregation fears were raised, and the club decided that they couldn't conform to FA rules.

Before the FA Cup rounds begin, all entrants must give an undertaking that they can stage all fixtures, regardless of the opposition. So why didn't the association take command of the situation and see what the problem was? Did they think the Toon Army was going to come down and rape and pillage the place?

Quite rightly, the FA have refused permission for the tie to be switched to Newcastle. It would have given Yeading a big payday, but that's not the point. This is not the Lottery, it's the FA Cup. And, in case anyone needs reminding, one of its enduring charms is that the minnows can entertain the mighty in the most humble surroundings. This would have been of particular interest following the Newcastle chairman's expression of contempt for smaller clubs a week or so ago.

Now Yeading will play United at Loftus Road, which will render it utterly meaningless as a Cup-tie. This is the world's oldest football competition - you would have thought the FA would take better care of it.

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