Redknapp cast as senior citizen in Reds revival

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The Independent Football

It is supposedly every schoolboy's dream to lift the FA Cup, although the thrill palls when the people around you are wearing your club's sweat-stained colours and you are dressed in a suit.

Liverpool's last visit to the Millennium Stadium brought them the game's most romantic trophy, the FA Cup, to go with the Worthington Cup they won in March. A few days later, in one of the most extraordinary of all European finals, they took the Uefa Cup. Jamie Redknapp, nominally Liverpool's captain, watched all of this from the sidelines. His club had taken the treble and Redknapp had not played in a single game.

After the 2-1 defeat of Arsenal, both Robbie Fowler and Sami Hyypia pushed their club captain forward to take the Cup which brought almost as much embarrassment as pride. "It was a nice touch but it's not really my style," said Redknapp. "I would rather have stayed in the background. I felt perhaps I didn't deserve it, not having played all season, but they thought it was right. It was a lovely gesture. Robbie's had his fair share of injuries so he understands how frustrating it is but I'd like to lift a trophy when not wearing a suit."

When Redknapp did play in an FA Cup final, coincidentally against Manchester United, tomorrow's opponents in the Charity Shield, there was more comment made about Liverpool's suits than their performance. The white Armani outfits, which to some made them look as if they were attending an ice-cream salesmen's convention, summed up "Spice Boy Liverpool", a club in which talented but ill-disciplined players produced far less than the sum of their parts.

United won a dreadful match 1-0, the last encounter between these clubs on the grand stage until tomorrow's curtain-raiser in Cardiff.

It will, as everybody at Anfield keeps repeating, be far less important than Wednesday's 5-0 crushing of Haka that all but ensured Liverpool will be competing for the European Cup for the first time since the Heysel disaster. However, for supporters who have had to endure a decade of United dominance and for Redknapp, who last played a competitive match for his club in the 2-0 victory over Sunderland in November 1999, this will be a significant moment.

His knee needed an operation to repair ruined cartilage. On the advice of Patrik Berger, who had endured similar problems, Redknapp consulted Richard Steadman, one of the world's leading authorities on knee injuries, who has also overseen Alan Shearer's recovery.

"I went to America three or four times in the end but it's been well worth it. I've become good mates with the physio [as has Shearer], although I'd rather not see too much of him next season.

"I never thought about giving the game up. It meant so much to be playing. It's been my life. It's what I do. Sometimes I worried about what might happen if I didn't come back but I never once thought about packing it in.

"My family helped. We're close and they gave me extra help. I have been moody at times and they've been there for me. My father [Harry Redknapp] has guided me and it is lucky that he's involved in football so he understands the problem but you've got to be so strong."

Dr Steadman reshaped the bone and the cartilage and although he did not make the bench for the rout in Helsinki, Redknapp played in the 3-1 defeat by Ajax in the Amsterdam Tournament and has not missed a pre-season training session, although, at 28, he is amused to find himself one of the older members of Gérard Houllier's squad.

"It's amazing the number of young lads here, amazing and exciting. To be in contention and involved is excellent, the real challenge is to try to get into the team, but I'm not stupid and it's not going to be easy. Things have changed since I last played."

That is rather an understatement. Houllier may have conceded the championship to United before a ball is kicked, a piece of psychology that fooled nobody at Old Trafford, but he has overseen a transfusion of pride, silverware – and where the Champions' League is concerned – money into Anfield. Redknapp was, incidentally, an England international when he underwent surgery and by coincidence his last matches for club and country were both at the Stadium of Light.

Redknapp was part of the England side that beat Belgium at Sunderland after which Kevin Keegan predicted they would win the European Championship. If his England career is ever resumed, he will find much has changed both in terms of personnel and attitude.

Of Liverpool, the club he joined 10 years ago after Kenny Dalglish approached his father, who was then managing Bournemouth, at a dinner dance, Redknapp says: "We have set a standard now and everyone wants us to be challenging for the championship and the Champions' League.

"The team proved to itself and a lot of other people what we can do this year: that's half the battle. We made mistakes in the past. The season we reached the semi-finals of the Cup Winners' Cup [1996-97] it all went wrong in the end. We made stupid mistakes. Last year the dedication and the will to win that the lads showed in game after game was remarkable."

But although they overcame United twice in the Premiership last season, there are some who doubt whether Liverpool can compete with Sir Alex Ferguson's machine, which has spent £50m on players during the summer, more than 10 times the amount Houllier laid out on his only close-season purchase, John Arne Riise. Roy Evans, Redknapp's manager during the Spice Years, believes they may yet upset Ferguson's farewell, though Liverpool's captain remains suitably cautious.

"United are a great team, let's be honest. They've added to their midfield and forward line, both of which were brilliant anyway, and that shows desire. Our manager feels he is happy with what he's got and he's not done too badly with his judgement so far."

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