Denied a Uefa Cup place on the final day of last season by a dodgy offside decision, Portsmouth are knocking on the door again. Indeed, victory away to Everton this afternoon would leave them only three points off the Champions' League positions. That canny old manager Harry Redknapp, 61 today, does not care for such talk and is playing it down at every opportunity: "To even be sat here talking about it is almost beyond belief." But some of his players are more bullish, among them a vastly experienced defender who has seen life at the top and at the bottom and knows which he prefers.
Hermann Hreidarsson, "The Hermannator", is a rugged Icelandic full-back or centre-half with the undesirable record of having been relegated from the Premier League four times with different clubs. He has suffered that sinking feeling at Crystal Palace (1998), Wimbledon (2000), Ipswich (2002) and Charlton (2007), before he lifted his proud head, found a new club and had another go. "You can't hide away from it or stick your head in the sand," he says. "It's a fact. You look at yourself first and foremost and think, 'Am I doing my job?' That's all you can do, not go into depression."
Before the sudden collapse at Ipswich, there was even a tilt at European football in the form of a Uefa Cup run that left him wanting more; he has bored friends many times with the tale of beating Internazionale at Portman Road. Having baled out of there, he moved to Charlton, a club who, frustratingly, often entered March in a promising position only to fall away for reasons neither Alan Curbishley nor Hreidarsson worked out.
"It was incredible," says Hreidarsson. "If you could put your finger on it, it wouldn't have happened. There were 19 other teams in the league and they seemed to carry on to the end. Maybe it was the size of the squad, and we'd get suspensions and injuries, but there was no excuse for fading away."
No excuses then if Portsmouth do the same? "When I came here [last summer] I didn't know what to expect. Portsmouth had a great season last season, then bought in a few players and it's worked out well, the team's improved and taken an extra step. When you're up there and round the European places, you want to be part of that and have something to hold on to. You want to achieve something. Top 10 is good but it's not great."
The list of Icelanders who have played for an English club turns out to be unexpectedly long – even if Stoke City have accounted for a disproportionate number. Eidur Gudjohnsen may have achieved most at Bolton and Chelsea, but Hreidarsson outdoes everyone else in terms of longevity. This is his 11th season since he arrived at Palace as a mature 23-year-old who had studied engineering at university as well as experiencing the hard life in order to pay for it. "I was in a fishing factory freezing the fish, in a net factory doing building work. On trawlers a bit as well. When you have worked at a proper job, you appreciate it when you have an opportunity like this."
Redknapp is also appreciative of the qualities he was able to obtain for nothing last summer, Hreidarsson having smartly inserted a clause in his contract that he could have a free transfer if Charlton went down. "Hermann's been fantastic," the manager says. "He's a great character, a 100 per cent team player who would run through a brick wall for you."
Occasionally exposed for pace at 33 by niftier Premier League strikers, he has benefited from the advice of Redknapp's assistant, Tony Adams, as well as a more unusual source – his wife, Ragna. "She was captain of Iceland, played 30 or 40 times as centre-back or midfielder. It's a bit annoying coming back to the house and she's got all these things to say about football."
Mrs Hreidarsson will doubtless be studying the television transmission from Goodison Park closely today. Meanwhile, Sandra Redknapp, a long-suffering manager's wife, will be putting the candles on her husband's birthday cake and, win or lose, knows not to mention the Champions' League.
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