Mandaric risks pyrrhic victory at end of prolonged power struggle

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The Independent Online

The seeds of Harry Redknapp's departure from Portsmouth were sown 14 months ago in the boardroom at Birmingham City. It was not the 2-0 defeat that Redknapp's side suffered that caused the problem - it was the conversation afterwards between Birmingham's chief executive, Karren Brady, and Milan Mandaric.

The seeds of Harry Redknapp's departure from Portsmouth were sown 14 months ago in the boardroom at Birmingham City. It was not the 2-0 defeat that Redknapp's side suffered that caused the problem - it was the conversation afterwards between Birmingham's chief executive, Karren Brady, and Milan Mandaric.

For some time the Portsmouth chairman had been troubled by the costs he was incurring as he bankrolled the club's astonishing rise to the Premiership. Mandaric was even more troubled to hear from Brady that the Birmingham wage bill, in their first year in the top flight, had been £13m. Portsmouth, a gob-smacked Mandaric replied, were paying £17m (it is now over £22m). Birmingham's remains lower, as do many others'.

As the two chatted, Redknapp was also talking. Downstairs he was telling the media that Portsmouth were in a relegation battle, but he did not have the money to bring in new players.

When news of this filtered back to Mandaric he was furious. He had grown increasingly irritated at what he perceived as Redknapp's implied criticisms of him by claiming he had achieved promotion on a shoe-string and was working a solo miracle. Mandaric wanted a share of the credit, but he also wanted to make sure that his money was spent wisely.

Mandaric did his maths. Forty-nine players had arrived in under three years, many had left as well. The wage bill had more than doubled, £7m was spent the summer before last on transfer fees and agents' costs. The players were old, also. There would be no re-sale value for Steve Stone, Patrik Berger, Teddy Sheringham or Eyal Berkovic, for example and they were all on significant wages. Even the midfielder Nigel Quashie was earning a reputed £36,000-a-week (and has since received a pay rise).

Mandaric also questioned the coaching that took place, grumbled about the lack of interest in young players coming through, the lack of strategy - and heard allegations, from former players such as Boris Zivkovic, who arrived and left within months, that Redknapp showed little interest.

Redknapp, who, ironically, had been director of football, succeeded Graham Rix in March 2002. Portsmouth finished the season 17th in the old First Division. The next year they were promoted, finishing 18 points clear of the play-offs.

Even during the promotion year Mandaric complained about the money he was paying out. He surveyed a crumbling Fratton Park and realised that crowds of 20,000 do not help balance the books. Among his plans is a £36m scheme for a Pompey Village development with a 35,000-capacity stadium. It needs to be paid for.

Towards the end of last season Mandaric decided to put the squeeze on Redknapp. He wanted more accountability, more strategy and more control. Their meetings turned into a confrontation. Suddenly, Redknapp was going live on Sky Sports News to berate his boss, accusing him of being a "liar", of trying to force out him, his assistant, Jim Smith, and the coach, Kevin Bond. Mandaric and Redknapp reached an uneasy truce as Portsmouth secured 13th place in the Premiership.

Redknapp won the manager of the month award for October, but Mandaric won his battle to appoint someone over his head. His friend Velimir Zajec joined the board and his title was finessed to executive director.

The crunch came. At a dinner function, Mandaric sat next to Redknapp and began to talk things through. He was plain. Zajec would have greater control than Redknapp had thought. But then no one really believed that the Croat was going to accept a secondary role. Zajec would be in control of transfers and would recommend players. Mandaric also stressed his desire to get the "best potential" from the squad - a loaded comment in itself.

On Saturday, Redknapp looked uneasy as he denied he was about to resign. His words sounded hollow. He leaves Portsmouth 12th in the Premiership - better than last season, as Mandaric demanded - and in the cold light of day the chairman-owner will surely give a shudder as he wonders whether or not he has really done the right thing.

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