Ahead of a first return to White Hart Lane since leaving in 2012, Harry Redknapp was asked the inevitable question: what does he expect? It led to something of an inevitable response from the Queens Park Rangers manager. “I had a great time at Tottenham,” he said. “This is my team now.”
Except that the current team are increasingly resembling his old club. There is no escaping the links between QPR and Spurs. Four of the coaching staff are former Tottenham employees – Redknapp himself, Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Bond and Joe Jordan – as well as four core players – Steven Caulker, Jermaine Jenas, Bobby Zamora and Adel Taarabt. Last season’s promotion also involved two Spurs loanees.
The connection was one of the big issues in the build-up to today’s game, although Richard Dunne insists the squad do not look at it like that. “I’ve not really talked about players or staff going back to previous clubs,” says the veteran centre-half, who arrived at Rangers last summer. “The focus is general, on a normal game. Once the game starts, it’s just a game, there are no revenge missions or anything like that.”
If so, it represents a new focus from QPR, which may be key. Certain staff members and players are not the only factors the clubs have in common. Both London sides are trying to escape recent ructions as well as all the resulting perceptions about them, and move on to new levels.
Yet, for all of last season’s chaos at Spurs as well as the debate about Redknapp’s performance as manager there, he did play a significant part in restoring stability on the pitch at White Hart Lane.
Successive finishes of fourth, fifth and fourth in the Premier League were a long way from the intermittent mediocrity Spurs suffered before then. It is now difficult to imagine them dipping below that band of Champions’ League wannabes, which does mark a long-term change. Although Spurs may be far from satisfied with where they are, they have found a long-term stability that used to seem so elusive.
It is this that QPR are striving for, and makes for the biggest story of their season: how does a club that endured such chaos in their last Premier League season now recover an element of normality?
They have started by making adjustments to the transfer policy. Although Redknapp has spent £22m this summer and still hopes for at least two more midfielders, it has not been on anything like the scattered scale of two years. There has been more of a balance to their purchases, bringing in a mix of Premier League experience in Rio Ferdinand, solid quality in Jordon Mutch and some impressive gloss with Chile’s World Cup star Mauricio Isla.
Redknapp says it makes for a better group, “a nicer feeling, a much nicer place, no bad apples”. He adds: “It’s a good bunch of lads. We’ve got a good chance – I think we are going to be OK this year.”
Rob Green has previously told the story of how, in the 2012-13 season, the old stalwarts such as himself and Clint Hill knew things were really going wrong when they were put back in the team at the expense of the costly signings. Dunne alludes to a deep dysfunction. “I wasn’t here when Harry arrived [in November 2012] but I’ve heard the stories,” the 34-year-old Irishman says.
“Nobody was overly impressed with the squad the last time, and the style and the standard of player that was coming in. This year I’ve not heard anyone question the players the manager signed. They’re all players with ambition, with experience and the right age. I think the board have done their homework and learned their lesson. I think we’ll be a stronger club for it.
“We’ve added people who have bought into that mantra the manager sets, so there’s not been a minute’s problem since we’ve come back.”
That balance has seemingly extended to the back-room staff. Renowned for the more motivational aspects of management, Redknapp has brought in Hoddle to work on tactics – specifically a switch to a 3-5-2 formation. Although there were evident teething problems in the 1-0 home defeat to Hull City in the opening League game last weekend, and the system has attracted qualified criticism from Gary Neville, Dunne offers praise of Hoddle’s work.
“For everyone, 3-5-2 is 3-5-2, but to have a man like him, who knows the formation inside out, it’s just about little details: in terms of shifting over two yards, or moving forward or backwards two yards,” he said
QPR will hope those little details add up to bigger strides. So Dunne thinks it was vital that Hoddle rejected the advances of managerless Crystal Palace and stayed on at Loftus Road. “The fact that he’s there shows his commitment.”
It also deepens the perceptions of stability. Redknapp will hope for more of that with the first points of the season today, on his first trip back to Spurs. What better place to start?
Tottenham Hotspur v Queens Park Rangers is today, kick-off 1.30pm
QPR signings 2012-13
Ryan Nelsen free
Andy Johnson free
Robert Green free
Samba Diakite £3.5m
Park Ji-Sung £4m
Junior Hoilett free
Jose Bosingwa free
Julio Cesar free
Esteban Granero £9m
Stéphane Mbia £5m
Tal Ben Haim free
Loic Rémy £8m
Yun Suk-Young undisc
Chris Samba £12.5m
Jermaine Jenas £2m
Andros Townsend loan
Total: £22.5m minimum
...and 2014-15 so far
Rio Ferdinand free
Steven Caulker £8m
Jordon Mutch £6m
Leroy Fer (left) £8m
Mauricio Isla loan
Eduardo Vargas loan
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