The Future

Last updated : 08 March 2006 By Jim Bonner

Hindsight: a vision for the future

At the time of writing there is an excellent debate developing on the Message Board regarding how best to revive the ailing patient that is Portsmouth Football Club.

Most seem agreed that the primary treatment is to change the doctor. But the question of timing appears to pose more of a dilemma among the poor old lumbering giant’s friends and family.

Life-and-death decisions are never easy, and Pompey have been on the brink too many times for comfort.

Do you get rid of Dr Redknapp now and give a new surgeon the chance to see what he’s operating on before it gets wheeled into the operating theatre?

Do you give Red Doc the chance to see his rather unusual course of treatment through, even though it’s pretty obvious the patient isn’t going to recover while he pursues his maverick and rather dogmatic approach to medicine?

Or do you accept that the patient is best left in the hands of the man who knows it so well, and who in his younger days performed miraculous surgery that had everyone hailing him as the saviour of the club – well, at least one of them?

The quality of debate is first class, with some excellent arguments.

But if there’s one thing it – and many other discussions on this and other websites, and in pubs and offices wherever there are Pompey fans – proves, it is that when it comes to effective cures, the only one guaranteed to work is hindsight.

Judging by what I have read and heard, everyone is to blame for Pompey’s current demise – from Milan Mandaric to Velimir Zajec to Alain Perrin, Redknapp, Kevin Bond and Joe Jordan.

And do you know what? I reckon they’re right.

But those same people – to varying degrees – are also responsible for much of the joy and excitement we have been treated to in the past few years.

Yes, we’re in trouble; yes, we’re in a mess. But at least we’ve had some good times back – and now we’ve tasted a sustained period of elevated status, we’re surely better equipped collectively to learn from our experience and make sure the club – our club – gets the surgery it needs to restore it to the rudest of health.

For what it’s worth, here’s my prescription – but remember, if there was a guaranteed cure, we’d all be rich.

Throw caution to the wind

One thing that has linked Redknapp and Perrin has been their relatively conservative tactics, particularly away from home but even at Fratton Park.

One striker for much of the time – a ploy that in my opinion blunted the potential effectiveness of Ricardo Fuller and failed to bring the best out of Dario Silva, Vincent Pericard and Benjani Mwaruwari – makes it easier for most Premiership teams to deal with and in my opinion sends out the wrong signal about Pompey’s ambition.

I suspect the tactic was born out of panic and fear of failure – a sign of the Premiership times. But even if it were justified then, it surely isn’t now.

Neither manager has been prepared to try three at the back, either – even though Redknapp has employed it successfully in the past. Ironically, with our dearth of quality full-backs in recent times, we’re probably better suited to it now than ever before.

Our lack of balance was one of the areas Redknapp did address when he received his multi-million-pound windfall in January. Routledge was a shrewd loan signing, and after his debut, everyone was saying the same – and more – about Andres D’Alessandro.

By luck or judgment, Ognjen Koroman has provided us with an alternative if Redknapp genuinely believes D’Alessandro is too lightweight to be risked.

Yet how many times have we seen the club employ two genuinely wide players this season?

Instead, damagingly, Redknapp has moved Gary O’Neil to both the right and left and only occasionally played him in the middle, negating the impact of one of one of Pompey’s few bright points this season and almost certainly paving the way for his departure in the summer.

Pick for the future

In what is left of the season, I believe we should select the players who are likely to form the nucleus of the squad we will use next term plus those who are likely to want to leave but who could still play a valuable part in helping us do ourselves justice for what remains of season 2005/6 (we should also be sending out signals to Richard Duffy and James Keene that they are in our plans for next season).

“But we mustn’t give up – we still have an obligation to try to avoid relegation,” I hear you say.

I agree. But let’s be realistic, we’re not going to stay up now unless we run into an unprecedented streak of form – backed by results – and our recent performances hardly inspire confidence on either of those counts.

So let’s try Emmanuel Olisadebe; bring back Brian Priske; give D’Alessandro the chance to thrill us while he can. Let’s face it, they can’t produce much worse results than the existing wearers of first-team shirts.

If we go down, it won’t be because of how these players perform in the last handful of games of the season.

Next season

I have mixed feelings about Harry Redknapp. I was grateful for what he did during his first spell with Pompey, not only delivering us Premiership football, but bringing it in style – and treating us to some of the best players I have seen play for Portsmouth – Merson, Sheringham, Festa, De Zeeuw and Todorov.

But I thought he was wrong to walk out, whatever the provocation. And he was even more wrong to join Southampton, especially after saying he wouldn’t.

I had mixed feelings about his return, too, but I figured desperate times called for desperate measures, and I thought if anyone could save Pompey, he could.

The Gaydamak cash was a double-edged sword – in my opinion, Redknapp has always been better in the transfer market ferreting out bargains and wholly committed veterans than with a big wad in his hand to splash adventurously.

But many of his January signings looked promising, good or excellent – Mendes and Kiely are worthy additions; so, too, in my opinion, is Sean Davis, who I believe could prove to be an excellent asset, despite his mixed form so far.

Even Mwaruwari may prove to be a good player - somewhere. For all we know, he may develop into a quality striker. In his first few games, I honestly believe he looked promising, making some intelligent runs and showing far less myopic greed than some of the more exalted names around him.

I agree he looks overpriced, and he is not currently worth his place in the team, but as I said earlier, it is so much easier to judge with hindsight.

I’ve tried to put myself in Redknapp’s position, but for the life of me, I can’t understand why he didn’t make shoring up our abysmal defence a priority in the transfer window, or why he has failed to select the likes of Priske, Silva and Olisadebe.

If there have been good reasons for this, he has done himself no favours in failing to explain his reasoning to the public. If he feels he does not need to justify his decisions to the fans, he is failing to comprehend the dynamic of the football club.

The paying public – who will always be Pompey fans – have a right to know what is happening. Yes, they are devoted to the club in a way no manager and very few players can understand. But they’re not stupid. And neither their incomes nor patience are limitless.

So is Redknapp the future of Portsmouth Football Club?


Should we get rid of him now?

I’m not in favour of sacking people, and I hate the annual turmoil that clubs like Pompey and Southampton have found themselves in because the chairmen have been so quick to push the panic button.

My understanding is that Redknapp’s contract expires at the end of the season. That would seem to be the logical time for an amicable parting of the ways.

The man who has brought us so much has had a fair chance to revive the patient a second time around – but almost certainly failed.

Time to say thank you and goodbye.

But what I said earlier still applies – give Redknapp’s outcasts a chance. If ‘arry is not prepared to swallow his pride and do just that, maybe he should go sooner.

I suspect Milan has one or two names in mind as his successor, and they should be installed in plenty of time to create a new platform of stability in the summer.

If they are not available yet – and Redknapp does leave early – please, Milan, think carefully about appointing a proper caretaker… don’t let’s lurch through wasted weeks and months by appointing from within someone who patently is not up to the job (which unfortunately neither Zajec nor Jordan were).

Make these final games of the season part of the building process – not some sort of twilight zone.

And when it comes to the new season, cut the wage bill and spend wisely. Don’t spend money just because you can (in fact, given how coy Pompey are about releasing information about financial and transfer dealings, who knows whether there really is money to spend anyway?).

Much as I hate to see annual turnovers of the entire squad, I think relegation is the watershed that requires such drastic surgery – but let this be the last time.

Neville Dalton is a journalist with the BBC News website and a Portsmouth fan of nearly 40 years. His expressed views are his and not necessarily those of the BBC.