Saving QPR would be Harry Redknapp’s greatest achievement
Harry Redknapp ranks his Bournemouth achievements highly, but saving QPR from the drop would top it, Kieran Beckles
Harry Redknapp’s unveiling as Mark Hughes’ successor at Queens Park Rangers sees one of the Premier League’s most popular managers embark on one of the biggest challenges of his career as he attempts to save the Hoops from relegation.
It could have been a vastly different story which broke over the weekend. Redknapp was on the verge of agreeing a deal to become Ukraine’s new manager, replacing Oleh Blokhin (both Andriy Bal and Oleksandr Zavarov have assumed caretaker roles since Blokhin’s departure).
There were suggestions Redknapp’s apparent interest in taking charge of one of Eastern Europe’s powerhouses was purely a tactical manoeuvre to force QPR’s hand, who were showing a reluctance to sack Mark Hughes.
But Redknapp insisted Ukraine was a real possibility and if the west London outfit hadn’t got in touch, the one-time favourite to replace former England manager Fabio Capello would now be a neighbour of the Italian, who is current Russia boss.
“It was a great, great job,” he said. “I met the people from there and they were good people. It wasn’t like I had to live in the Ukraine. Fabio Capello coaches Russia, but he lives in Italy. When you’re an international manager you go to the games at weekends and spend a few days there, spend a few days at home.
“It was just a good job. I spoke to Andriy Shevchenko and he thought there were some good young players coming through. So yes, I was excited by it. Then I got the phone call from QPR, I would have gone that weekend otherwise.”
Of course, Redknapp was favourite to be in charge of Ukraine’s Euro 2012 conquerors and current 2014 World Cup qualifying group opponents: England.
Following Capello’s departure in March, Redknapp was expected to finally get his teeth into one of the most prestigious management roles in the United Kingdom – and for many, it was merited.
But in a surprise move, the FA opted for West Bromwich Albion manager Roy Hodgson, who had experience at international level, denying Redknapp the fairytale end to a remarkable career.
Despite the disappointment, Redknapp remains pragmatic about being deprived of a much-coveted role and is adamant there will be no regrets if he never gets a chance to manage England.
“No, not really [the England job isn’t the one thing missing from my career]. If it happens, it happens. When I heard on the radio that Roy had been given the job I didn’t go lock myself up in the room. I just went, ‘Oh well good luck to him’, and moved on with life. It’s only a game, it’s only a job.”
Redknapp was dealt a further blow in June. Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy decided to sack his head coach after narrowly missing out on Champions League qualification.
It was a cruel end to a distinguished spell at White Hart Lane. The 65-year-old took charge of Tottenham with the north London club bottom of the table and boasting a meagre two points from their opening eight games in October 2008.
Redknapp led the club to safety before guiding Spurs in Europe’s premier club competition for the first time in 2010, while Tottenham looked like genuine Premier League title contenders last season until imploding in March this year.
However, Redknapp believes his shock exit may have been a blessing, with the veteran manager seizing the chance to recuperate after a demanding year which saw him endure a difficult period at Spurs, a high-profile court case and frenzied England speculation.
“It’s been OK. I probably needed a break, so maybe it didn’t do me any harm. I went through a tough old year last year, so maybe it wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened to me.”
It should come as no surprise that Redknapp does not count taking Spurs in to the Champions League as his greatest managerial achievement in a career spanning 29 years.
The new QPR manager, who regularly frequented Bournemouth and Dagenham and Redbridge over the past five months to satisfy his thirst for football, believes leading the Cherries into the old Second Division tops facing Europe’s elite.
“I think getting promoted with Bournemouth was great for me. They had never been out of the old third or fourth division in their history and to take them into the Championship after 100 years is something I’ll never forget that because it put me on the road really.”
Redknapp’s career was on a steady upward curve having started at Bournemouth in 1983, overseeing an exciting, young West Ham United side thrill in the top flight in the late 1990s, transforming Portsmouth from relegation candidates to Uefa Cup competitors, and turning around Tottenham’s ailing fortunes.
So, for many, QPR could represent a backward step. But Hughes’ replacement takes nothing for granted in the impatient and temperamental environment that is football management.
“I’m lucky to be managing. There’s a lot of clever managers in the lower divisions who don’t get the opportunity. I’ve come to a good club here.”
So what are his plans for QPR? Redknapp insists this job is for the long-term and after fulfilling his most-pressing task of ensuring survival, he wants to build the Hoops into an established Premier League outfit.
“I want to stay here and build a team here. Stay up this year and build from there. I’ve not come in to just fire fight and keep them up. I want to build a team here like West Brom who have taken three or four years and put a team together, not just throwing players together.”
It’s a big ask. In 2006, Derby County had two points more than the Hoops after 13 games, and Billy Davies’ hapless Rams were widely considered the least competent side of the Premier League era.
So, if Redknapp can lead QPR to Premier League safety, next time he is asked about his top feat in management, it could be the greatest of all Great Escapes at QPR.