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When Harry Met Pompey


Are Redknapp and Portsmouth the perfect match?

Although born in Poplar, Tower Hamlets, at the heart of Cockney East London, Harry Redknapp has developed an affinity for clubs on the south coast. Redknapp is in the process of quietly transforming his current paramour, Portsmouth, into a club that is capable of finishing regularly in the top half of the English Premier League, qualifying for Europe, and winning a trophy or two in the near future.

With the transfer signing last week of David Nugent from Preston North End for a reported fee of £6 million, Harry Redknapp brought Portsmouth’s total number of summer captures to 7.

Other Portsmouth signings this summer: John Utaka ( from Rennes), Arnold Mvuemba (from Rennes), Sulley Muntari (from Udinese), Sylvain Distin (from Manchester City), Hermann Hreidarsson (from Charlton), Martin Cranie (from Southampton).

Last summer, Redknapp brought in three high profile players, all in their 30s. David James (born 1970), with 34 appearances in goal for England, and 440 appearances in the EPL between 1992 and 2006 for Liverpool, Aston Villa, West Ham and Manchester City (including a record 142 clean sheets), was signed for £1.2 million in August 2006. In the same month, Redknapp also signed Sol Campbell (born 1974), a defender with 69 England caps, having played for England in 6 consecutive major tournaments between 1996 and 2006 (the only player ever to have done so), and a key player in Arsenal’s league and cup successes between 2001 and 2006, after he had been released by Arsene Wenger. Nwanku Kanu (born 1976), another former Arsenal player, was signed from West Bromwich Albion on a free transfer shortly before the start of the season. Kanu, who was part of the Ajax Amsterdam side that won the Champions League in 1995, captained Nigeria to an Olympic gold medal in the 1996 Olympics, was twice African Footballer of the Year (1996 and 1999), and enjoyed league and cup success with Arsenal between 1999 and 2004.

The vast experience of James and Campbell (the latter forming a solid central defensive partnership with Linvoy Primus) enabled Portsmouth to start the 2006-07 season with 5 clean sheets. Together with fine goals by Kanu at the other end, for a short while in September 2006, Portsmouth stood at the top of the EPL.

Although Portsmouth was not able to sustain its great start to the season, and the team’s formed dipped after Christmas, it still managed to finish last season in the top half of the table (9th), the first time it had managed to do so since its promotion to the EPL in 2003.

In fact, last season was the first time that Portsmouth had finished in the top half of the top division in England since 1955. Portsmouth had spent much of the intervening years in the second and third tiers of English football, slipping into the fourth tier in 1978 and spending two seasons there.

Yet, in the years immediately after World War II, Portsmouth was among the leading clubs in England, winning the league title in consecutive seasons (1949 and 1950). During the war, the club had signed a number of good players who had been serving with the British forces based around the city, which was an important military port on the south coast of Britain. The club, like the city, is nicknamed “Pompey”.

Redknapp took over at Bournemouth, another south coast club, in 1984, and famously led the club, then in the third tier of English football, to an FA Cup third round victory over the then holders, Manchester United that season. In 1987, Bournemouth was promoted to the second tier of English football for the first time in the club’s history, finishing ahead of Middlesbrough to win the old Third Division. The talents of his son, Jaime were developed at Bournemouth under Harry’s management, before his transfer to Liverpool in 1991, where he was considered one of the “Spice Boys”.

Redknapp returned to East London with West Ham United in 1992, and remained with the club until 2001. During his time at West Ham United, players such as Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, and Redknapp’s nephew, Frank Lampard, came through the youth system.

Appointed as Director of Football at Portsmouth in 2001, Redknapp took over as manager the following year. Redknapp left the club in November 2004 over disagreements with the Chairman, Milan Mandaric. Controversially, Redknapp joined Portsmouth’s south coast rivals Southampton the following month. However, Redknapp could not prevent Southampton’s relegation from the EPL at the end of the 2004-05 season. In December 2005, almost the day to a year after he took over at Southampton, Redknapp rejoined Portsmouth, which raised eyebrows at the time.

Redknapp was also named in both BBC Panorama programme in September 2006, and the Stevens inquiry report published in June 2007, which investigated corruption and other illegal activity in the football transfer market in England, although he vigorously refuted the allegations in Panorama, and no serious allegations were made against him by the Stevens inquiry.

However, despite the cloud that has been hanging over him, Redknapp has used his ability to wheel and deal to the benefit of Portsmouth. Unlike last season, when his major signings were experienced professionals, his signings this year have largely been players in their early to mid twenties (apart from the experienced defenders, Distin and Hreidarsson). Nugent in particular, is one for the future. The player, who made his England debut earlier this year, and scored (albeit against Andorra), is 22, as are Mvuemba and Muntari.

Last season, a lack of squad depth, as well as a lack of self-belief, led to Pompey falling away to finish ninth, missing out even on a UEFA Cup place. Redknapp’s transfer activity this summer will strengthen the squad. Finding self-belief will be a test of Redknapp’s motivation powers.

The spectacular goals of Matthew Taylor, and the spectacular celebrations of Lomana LuaLua in themselves will give Pompey fans much to cheer next season. Pompey fans are widely regarded as among the best in England, with their never-ending chanting and singing, earning the praise of even Thierry Henry after an FA Cup tie in March 2004. The famous Pompey Chimes, sung to the tune of Westminster Chimes, regularly ring across Fratton Park.

Qualification for the UEFA Cup would be a realistic goal for next season. A trophy within the next couple of seasons, and in any event, before the club moves to a new stadium in 2011, would be the perfect way to seal the colourful relationship between Redknapp and Portsmouth.

Years that south coast clubs have spent in each tier of English football

Club Year of joining league Years in the first tier Years in the second tier Years in the third tier Years in the fourth tier
Portsmouth 1920 1927 to 1959*, 1987 to 1988, 2003 to date 1924 to 1927, 1959 to 1961, 1962 to 1976, 1983 to 1987, 1988 to 2003 1920 to 1924, 1961 to 1962, 1976 to 1978, 1980 to 1983 1978 to 1980
Southampton 1920 1966 to 1974, 1978 to 2005 1922 to 1953*, 1960 to 1966, 1974 to 1978, 2005 to date 1920 to 1922, 1953 to 1960
Bournemouth 1923 1987 to 1990 1923 to 1970*, 1971 to 1975, 1982 to 1987, 1990 to 2002, 2003 to date 1970 to 1971, 1975 to 1982, 2002 to 2003
Brighton 1920 1979 to 1983 1958 to 1962, 1972 to 1973, 1977 to 1979, 1983 to 1987, 1988 to 1992, 2002 to 2003, 2004 to 2006 1920 to 1958*, 1962 to 1963, 1965 to 1972, 1973 to 1977, 1987 to 1988, 1992 to 1996, 2001 to 2002, 2003 to 2004, 2006 to date 1963 to 1965, 1996 to 2001

* : League interrupted from 1939 to 1946.

Major titles and trophies won by south coast clubs

Portsmouth – English Champions: 1949, 1950, FA Cup Winners: 1939
Southampton – FA Cup Winners: 1976

(The article as appeared in the Weekend Today on 21 July 2007)

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