The end of an era

Last updated : 25 November 2004 By Keith Allman

When we look back in a decade or two, "The Harry Redknapp Era" will no doubt be one of the most fondly remembered. After being starved of success and silverware for generations, it was a time when we finally awoke from our slumber as a perennial "sleeping giant" and took our place amongst the Premiership elite. Now that it's over, what better time to look back at the reign of the statistically second most successful manager in our history?

His start at Fratton Park was a strange one. Appointed as "Director of Football" and championed by Milan as "my best ever signing", it was unclear what exactly Harry was to do. Indeed, The News even launched a small hate campaign against Harry at one point for taking a holiday in the middle of the season, despite Pompey being short of strikers and in need of his extensive contacts. Even so, Milan called Harry and then-manager Graham Rix his Dream Team, although results were inconsistent. Indeed, under Rix's command, Pompey suffered some of their most embarrassing results of recent history; heavy defeats to West Brom, Palace and Huddersfield in particular. A home cup defeat to Leyton Orient lead to Harry being offered the job, although he repeatedly turned down the chance to take charge.

There was a time when it seemed as if the inactivity and insecurity of the "Director of Football" title had finally got to Harry, as he seemed set to take over as manager of Leicester. Nothing ever came of it though, and finally a 0-0 home draw with Sheffield Wednesday was the straw that broke the camel's back. Milan once more pleaded with Harry, and this time he relented - his first game a defeat away at Preston. Despite this, there was suggestion of Harry's influence over first team matters had become greatly increased before his official appointment; Svetoslav Todorov had made his first appearance in a blue shirt the week before Redknapp took over, despite Rix claiming he knew "absolutely nothing" about the Bulgarian striker.

Pompey failed to win the final five games of that season, marking a less-than-impressive start for Harry Redknapp's return to first team management. In fact, it was to be four and a half months from his appointment until Harry picked up his first ever win.

We'll probably never know another summer like that of 2002, during which it's fair to say Harry lived up to his wheeler-dealer reputation. Hislop, Howe, Foxe, De Zeeuw, Taylor, Robinson, Burton, Pericard - an influx of names; some known and some not, all of whom would go on to transform Pompey's fortunes. The icing on the cake was the signing of Paul Merson a week before the season began. There were rumours of a "sensational" signing, and the choice came down to four - Ginola, Dublin, Ravanelli, or Merson. It was the latter, an Aston Villa reject under Graham Taylor, who was to turn Pompey from a good side into an exceptional one. Meanwhile, the ever-popular Jim Smith returned to the club as assitant manager.

And it didn't stop there. As time progressed, the side became stronger. Festa, Stone, Sherwood, Diabaté, not to mention the completely unheard of Yakubu all became regulars within the side. After finishing 17th the season before, Pompey stormed to 1st with 98 points; a story we've all heard many a time but I don't think will ever grow old. After years starved of decent memories, we'll all have taken five or six fantastic ones out of the promotion season. What's more, it finally seemed like OUR turn - after watching everyone else have their go in the spotlight, it was our time to read the script and to enjoy ourselves. Admittedly we still threw in a typically Pompey moment - losing 2-1 at home in the 90th minute to a team who got relegated on a day when a win would've sent us up - but hey, when the night against Burnley came, it just made it all the sweeter.

Rather than rest on his laurels and reflect on a job well done, it was time to prove Pompey deserved to be in the Premiership and could stay there, contrary to popular and critical opinion. Players of previously unimaginable quality began to flood down Frogmore Road; Patrik Berger and Teddy Sheringham perfectly highlighting just how far we had come. Even more impressive were the "who?" signings, players who no-one would've thought worth a go. A case in point was the player in a preseason friendly appearing under the false name of "Andy Henry" to avoid other clubs picking up on him; Amdy Faye as he was later called signed on to much head scratching from unknowing fans. Dejan Stefanovic, Alexei Smertin, Boris Zivkovic, Harald Wapenaar - unknowns who would play their part.

Paul Merson left before the season began to protestation from some sections of the crowd, but it made no difference. Pompey topped the table in August and although things got hairy later in the season, everyone knows how it ended out. Not least thanks to the inspired loan signing of LuaLua, Pompey were safe by mid-April. Once again Harry and his team had provided us with some fantastic memories - beating Manchester United, Liverpool (twice) and Southampton; thrashing Leeds and Middlesbrough; unbeaten in the league by the champions Arsenal; everyone will have their own personal favourite in twenty or thirty years time.

The now infamous "Harrygate" in May brought everyone crashing down to earth. Rumours of Jim Smith being replaced led to an argument splattered across the media, and for a while it seemed as if the end of the road was nigh - despite Harry being the reigning Manager of the Month. A truce was called, with Milan and Harry agreeing to back down for the greater good of the club. An uneasy summer followed, with continued rumour surrounding 19-goal Yakubu. The speculation was rode out, as well as the addition of more talent - Unsworth, Cisse, Fuller, Mezague, Kamara, and LuaLua on a full-time basis.

And now we're up to the present, almost. Just a month ago we were preparing for the visit of Manchester United, and were unbeaten in four games. A 2-0 win later and some were beginning to speak of Europe. Some even suggested that, if Mark Hughes deserved an OBE, then why not Sir Harry! Another manager of the month award followed, but three defeats later and we find ourselves managerless.

We all know the official reasons, and no doubt we all have a nagging doubt that there's something we're not being told. Fact is, we'll probably never find out. Time to look to the future, whatever the hell it may bring - but there can be no denying that Harry Redknapp has brought us some of the most successful football we've ever seen. Maybe sometimes he let his mouth and his ego get in the way, sometimes his tactics and persistence with certain players may have seemed mystifying, but he has dragged us by the scruff of the neck further than any other man ever could have done. Maybe now it's time for us to try and impliment this fancy continental idea, maybe we've got a good platform for Zajec or some other new guy to build on - but Harry has firmly laid the foundations. For this, he deserves out utmost thanks and respect.