Redknapp fires first shot: City's bully tactics ruined our bid to sign Bellamy

Ahead of fourth-place 'play-off', Tottenham manager accuses rivals of sharp practice
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The Independent Football

Harry Redknapp, the Tottenham manager, knows from first-hand experience the perils of getting in the way of Manchester City and their ambition. As his re-energised Tottenham side travel to Eastlands tonight for the game that will effectively decide who goes into next season's Champions League, Redknapp yesterday revealed how he was strong-armed and virtually blackmailed by City as the two clubs fought over Craig Bellamy last year.

Redknapp said Tottenham were warned that unless they ended their pursuit of striker Bellamy, who in January 2009 was at West Ham United, City would flex their financial muscles and deliberately sabotage Spurs' attempts to sign midfielder Wilson Palacios from Wigan. Fearing they could lose out on both players, Tottenham went into retreat and allowed City to sign Bellamy for £14m. City withdrew their interest in Palacios and a few days later Spurs signed the Honduran for £12m. The incident clearly still rankles with Redknapp.

"They blow you out of the water," Redknapp said yesterday with an air of resignation. "I was interested in Bellamy, we tried to sign Bellamy. And, at the time I was trying to sign Bellamy, we were after Palacios as well. And then they came and said 'You know, if you don't drop out of Bellamy, we'll sign Palacios as well, and you won't get any of them.' So we had no choice really. They just said 'We'll blow you out of the water.' That was it really. Then obviously the money they offered Bellamy we couldn't compete with anyway."

Redknapp believes City's interest in Palacios was not genuine. Asked if he thought City really wanted to buy Palacios, the Tottenham manager replied: "Not really, I don't think, no. They were half-interested, but it was like..."

Redknapp did not go as far as berating City for their bullying behaviour, preferring instead to let others make their own judgments on the rights and wrongs of the incident. Yet his decision to go public on the threatening manner in which City, led by their combative chief executive Garry Cook, tower over the domestic transfer market reflects the growing resentment within the English game that is directed at the side from Eastlands.

The club's behaviour since it was sold to Abu Dhabi United Group in September 2008 has been questionable to say the least. They aggressively went after the Chelsea captain John Terry in the summer of last year, and last month the club's manager Roberto Mancini angered the hierarchy at Liverpool with his admission that he would like to bid for their striker Fernando Torres.

Tonight's game did not really need any more hyping up, such is the magnitude of the occasion, for City in particular. Redknapp is convinced City will win the league title in the next three or four years, and reaching the Champions League is a key step in that progression, although the Spurs manager believes when a player is offered £200,000 a week he will not fret too much about which European competition his club is contesting.

The timing of Redknapp's disclosure will add extra spice to a match that already has so much riding on it. Tottenham can clinch fourth place ahead of City by winning tonight, a remarkable achievement for the former Portsmouth manager who took over in October 2008 with the club four points adrift at the bottom of the Premier League with two points from eight games.

"When I took over here I discussed targets with the chairman [Daniel Levy]; it wasn't European football, it was to make sure we did not get relegated," Redknapp said. "We were bottom of the league and Daniel hadn't slept for a couple of weeks so I helped him sleep by getting us out of trouble. He's sleeping well now, especially with the chance of getting into the Champions League."

Redknapp remains relaxed ahead of the prospect of taking Tottenham into the uncharted territory of the Champions League. "What gets me excited? My missus is still trying to find the answer," he joked yesterday. He has spent too long in the game to waste time fantasising about the prospect of taking Tottenham into the European elite.

"Hopefully it will happen. If we can get in the Champions League next year, it would be great for us," Redknapp said. "But if I start thinking, 'Oh I am going to make it' and then you don't make it, you will commit suicide in this game. You can't get ahead of yourself. We've got to do it first."

One person Redknapp expects to do a job for him is striker Jermain Defoe, who has scored 18 Premier League goals this season but only four of them since January. Of those 18 goals, 12 have come against teams in the bottom six. Redknapp, who has taken Defoe off early in several key games recently, admitted the striker's indifferent form of late has put his place in England's World Cup squad in jeopardy.

"We need a performance from him," Redknapp said. "In the first half of the season he was fantastic, unplayable. He's got to try and get into that England squad. There's no certainties with any of them apart from [Wayne] Rooney. All the other places up front are probably up for grabs."

Redknapp suggested that goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes could start despite picking up a groin injury in Saturday's 1-0 win over Bolton. Ben Alnwick stands by to make his Premier League debut for Spurs should the Brazilian fail to recover. Captain Ledley King remains a major doubt as his long-standing knee problems make the task of playing two games in the space of five days an onerous one.