When Portsmouth's manager, Harry Redknapp, had Avram Grant foisted upon him as a technical director by an ambitious club owner of Russian extraction (sound familiar?), he was understandably suspicious. But having previously fallen out with the club and walked out for an ill-judged spell with the enemy down the road at Southampton, Redknapp played the pragmatist and was agreeably surprised by what he found.
"As good as gold," he said. "Very knowledgeable, an absolute gentleman and a nice person to have at the club. He's got a good knowledge of the game and of foreign players." A touch of envy at Grant's new position would be understandable, but Redknapp has enough on his own plate improving on Portsmouth's difficult start to the season. Last week he was rushing round with "undiminished enthusiasm" from a reserve game at Upton Park to PSV Eindhoven's Champions' League tie against CSKA Moscow and back to prepare for today's visit to Blackburn.
Before all that he was a popular guest at the launch of Portsmouth's contribution to the Premier League's admirable Creating Chances community scheme. The club's initiative is entitled "We Can Make Dreams Come True", and Redknapp continues to do so.
Dream on: after saving Portsmouth from relegation in 2006, his team were one disallowed goal from a place in the Uefa Cup. Dream on: he will keep pushing for a futuristic new stadium that he believes the club must have.
Gazing out over Fratton Park, where the away end has only in the last few months been favoured with a roof, he says: "We've got a new owner who's ambitious and wants to do things and I hope we'll have a new stadium and training ground in the not-too-distant future. In the long term, you can't survive in the Premier League on gates of 20,000."
Having played last season's top four clubs in the opening six fixtures of this campaign, Redknapp is delighted at the way his team have stood up to the test. "Apart from the first half at Arsenal, we've more than held our own. And we're capable of finishing in the top half again. Where were we five years ago? We were playing in the Championship and hadn't seen the Premier League. I think it's been a fantastic achievement."
Born and bred in West Ham country – albeit as an Arsenal fan – Redknapp is well aware of the strength a club can derive from their community, and he has always been impressed by the local pride in Portsmouth: "It's a place where you don't see people walking round in Manchester United shirts or Chelsea shirts. The people here are Pompey through and through."
So it was all the more surprising he should have taken an opportunity with hated rivals Southampton, one of the few subjects he is uncomfortable talking about: "We all do things in life... I didn't want to leave in the first place, I was pushed into a situation, but it's history now. Jim Smith, who's a Pompey man, ended up going with me and we had our reasons."
Now he is back at a place he loves, doing what he does best. For how much longer? "I'm not losing any enthusiasm; if I did I'd sit at home with the wife.
"I love it. I'll keep going while I'm good at the job." Franco-Russian owner permitting.Reuse content