Re-enter Harry the messiah, this time slightly tarnished

Yet another turbulent chapter draws to a close - but happy ending is still in doubt
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Only in the barmy world of football could a manrejected as "Judas" a year ago so swiftly reacquiremessianic qualities. But faith comes in many curious forms in the old game, and once Milan Mandaric was spurned by Neil Warnock, there were few doubts - particularly among the customers of the betting exchange Betfair - that the Portsmouth chairman was prepared to entrust the club's future prospects as a Premiership outfit to his former manager. Welcome back to the crazy world of Harry Redknapp.

This observer is not being gratuitously discourteous, incidentally. Those were his own words. On Friday, as the newly appointed Pompey manager articulated his intent while reclining on an imaginary shrink's couch, he reflected on his attitude to management. "Perhaps I'm mad," he said. "Perhaps I should go and see a psychiatrist."

He added: "Being a manager is a lot harder now than when I first started; there is no one who would rather be walking their dogs and staying out of the limelight than me. My Christmas is ruined every year because I am either worrying about relegation or whether we can win a match. Football messes with your head, and I really do not need the aggravation any more."

And then the admission: "Anyone who had money on me to go to Portsmouth on Friday may as well have kissed goodbye to it, because I was going to quit football for good." The mental picture of him being held back from premature retirement by his then Southampton assistants, Dennis Rofe and Kevin Bond, frankly requires a substantial leap of the imagination.

Somehow, though, he forced himself to accept Mandaric's overtures. Arthur - sorry, Rupert - Lowe, Southampton's chairman, curtailed his duck shooting finally to negotiate a reported £218,000 compensation deal, and that other "Harry", Dave Bassett, was installed for the time being at St Mary's: comparative calm on the South Coast was restored.

But for how long will that be the case for a character who in the past 12 months has in turns been deemed a quisling and quixotic? Certainly, Mandaric's first entreaty to Redknapp in 2002 had an inspirational effect. Promoted as champions to the Premiership, Pompey progressed to a highly satisfactory finishing position of 13th. When Redknapp departed (acrimoniously, but, he now concedes, too hastily) the club were 10th.

This time, the portents are not so encouraging despite the reality that, before yesterday, Pompey were third from bottom, three points behind the next club, West Brom, and only three points below three other clubs. Not exactly adrift in Hades.

Yet already on Friday, typical of the varnish of despair Redknapp tends to apply, the pleas for mitigation were being aired. "It will be hard because when I was here last time, we were a top- eight team [ninth was actually their highest position] and we had some good players. Most have moved. At least three of the players here cannot even speak English. I love a challenge, and if I can keep Portsmouth in the Premier League, it will be one of my greatest achievements."

Since that fateful day last December, the lustre has been chipped away from his image. After Lowe had enticed him to Saints, Redknapp had 23 games to secure their Premiership status. His squad included such personnel as Peter Crouch and Kevin Phillips. Southampton finished bottom. When he departed, they were mid-table in the Championship.

But then what of Lowe's judgement in introducing Sir Clive Woodward into the club, together with Simon Clifford? Whatever their merits, was there ever the remotest chance that Sir Clive and Redknapp would become comfortable bedfellows? It says something about Redknapp's current standing that, having been the centre of an onslaught of betting on his move to Fratton Park - provoking an ongoing investigation by the FA, with the assistance of Betfair - there has been a torrential downpour of cash from those convinced that he will fail to last until the end of next year.

In essence, they are predicting that Redknapp will suffer the ignominy of accompanying two Premiership teams in their descent to the Championship in successive seasons. His response would no doubt be to the effect of: "Nah, mate. I'm just the lift operator. I didn't build and install the thing."

Maybe 'Arry will revive Portsmouth, Lazarus-like, and the club's followers will, no doubt, prove themselves willing apostles - for the foreseeable future. Life under Redknapp has, for them, been good. Now is the time to forgive and forget his brief affair with that blowsy neighbour. He has seen the error of his ways.

Say what you like about him, he fronts up when others may hide. That, and because he is as mischievous as MP Dennis Skinner in his outpourings, is why he is beloved by the media. Yet what troubles you is that everything turns into the "Harry Show". On Friday, for instance, there was rather too much dev-otion to his love, or otherwise, for the game, rather too much use of the personal pronoun.

As those personnel training consultants relish advising, there is no "I" in team. There is, however, one hell of a mouth in Portsmouth. Somehow, you feel we will be hearing quite a lot from it in the months ahead.