Harry: 'I was keeping the hot seat warm'

Southampton manager on way back to Portsmouth as Sir Clive's profile looks set to rise
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The Independent Football

Let's get this straight. You want to appoint the manager who left you in the lurch in a huff 12 months ago and has since managed to get your great rivals relegated? Have you thought of taking a business management course Mr Mandaric?

Whatever the true story behind Milan Mandaric's change of mind about Harry Redknapp, the last time there was such a conversion a man called Saul was running up his camel miles on a business trip to Damascus. And, frankly, the original story takes a lot less faith to believe. But come next week Redknapp, the man who was being branded as a traitor by Portsmouth supporters only last year, is likely to be back in charge at Fratton Park.

Which is a surprise even given football's ability to make fact more extraordinary than fiction. But even in his leaving Southampton, Redknapp managed to have eyebrows raising. "I felt once I told chairman Rupert Lowe I wanted to speak to Portsmouth, I had burned my bridges at Southampton," he said yesterday, as if he hadn't left a few smoking ruins in his wake on his way to St Mary's.

"Once I've said that, I can't go back there. Their people wouldn't want me back at the club. I understand that." There may be a few fiery words spoken to go with the smouldering bridges if and when the two clubs come to discuss financial terms. But yesterday, Redknapp just seemed happy to be out of a job that has seemed less than ideal ever since the former England and Lions Rugby Union coach, Sir Clive Woodward, was appointed as the performance director in the summer. "I felt, to be honest, that I was only keeping the hot seat warm for somebody else," Redknapp said darkly, although he refused to elaborate whether Woodward was that "somebody".

So what kind of Portsmouth will Redknapp be returning to? Not the buccaneers he left for sure - many of the senior players have been allowed to leave the club in his absence and those remaining have managed only 11 goals in the Premiership this season - but not the bedraggled rabble that Alain Perrin was working with in his final weeks either.

At Liverpool last month, defeat might as well have been written on the shirts instead of the sponsors' name and the only wonder was the famous chimes were not reworded to "Give up Pompey, Pompey give up". Yesterday they were still inept, but at least the body language was a little better.

Lomana LuaLua worked hard and skilfully up front and there is potential in the midfield pairing of Salif Diao and Gary O'Neil, but the defence is a shambles that could have leaked more than it did. Jamie Ashdown made at least three saves that bordered on the heroic, but you do not get out of the relegation places when your goalkeeper is your best player. Stand by for Redknapp doing his best Del Boy impression in the January transfer window.

That is Harry's game, wheeling and dealing and encouraging Indian summers out of ageing internationals. It was also what brought about the original rift with Mandaric, the club's owner, who became concerned at the wage bill Redknapp's acquisitions were inflicting on Fratton Park.

"We had a fall-out," Redknapp said of Mandaric, "but I had a fantastic time there. It was the time of my life. Milan has shown a lot of courage to try and get me back there - but whether it comes off is another matter."

Whether the supporters will be as forgiving is also another matter and it was notable they did not chant Redknapp's name once at Old Trafford. He may welcome a return to Portsmouth; Fratton Park may not universally welcome him.

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