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Nov 13, 2013

'Always Managing': Harry Redknapp autobiography

Rating:

First the disclaimer. A couple of years ago, my publisher asked me to write a biography of Harry Redknapp. His court case for tax evasion was due to begin and Fabio Capello had just announced he would be leaving the England job after Euro 2012. It seemed that Redknapp would either go to prison or become the next England manager. Both outcomes were equally fascinating for a writer and a Tottenham fan.

In the event, neither happened. Redknapp was acquitted and didn't get the England job. Worse still from my publishers' viewpoint, who could see potential book sales slipping away, he was sacked by Spurs and ended up managing QPR. For me, though, there was a silver lining to Redknapp's fall, as his failure to get the England job, for which he had seemed a nailed-on certainty, made his story even more fascinating.

The Redknapp story had always been presented, both by himself and the media, as a simple one of the working-class cheeky chappy who done good in football. His very public rejection by the FA and Spurs offered the ideal prism through which to re-examine his career. Was it possible that the very qualities that had made him a success also contributed to his downfall? Was it possible that Redknapp had been misread by everyone who should have known better? My book, "Harry's Games: Inside the Mind of Harry Redknapp," was published in May this year.

Redknapp has now published his own autobiography, "Always Managing." To no great surprise, Redknapp is far keener on presenting the working-class cheeky chappy in football narrative, and the Harry on offer here is the one with which anyone who has followed his career and read his newspaper columns will be instantly familiar. He's funny and tells a good story. If the standard, undemanding football autobiography is your thing, then Harry has more than enough anecdotes to keep you reading.

Yet there's more than a sense of opportunities missed. Anyone wanting a sense of the real Harry Redknapp will be left disappointed. More crucially, anyone wondering just how well Redknapp knows himself will also be left none the wiser.

Here are a few examples.

He is adamant that he didn't take his eye off the ball after his court case ended, that Spurs' decline was a total coincidence and that the FA's decision not to appoint him England manager was purely a matter of class bias; that his face did not fit. Possibly. But more probably not. And by choosing to regard everything as a total coincidence and abdicating any sense of personal responsibility in his own life, he closes down any genuine insight into himself or his career.

There are similar oversights throughout the book. Redknapp claims not to be able to understand why his former best friend, Billy Bonds, has refused to speak to him since he was ousted as West Ham manager in favour of Harry. Bonds and several other members of the West Ham board have been rather more vocal about Redknapp's part in Bonds' sacking. Harry's account inevitably sounds partial and self-serving. Nor does he recognise a pattern when he sees one. Within a year of being given the job of assistant manager at Bournemouth by another old mate, David Webb, Harry had got the top job. Webb hasn't had a good word to say about Harry since. At Portsmouth, Harry managed to displace Graham Rix as manager within a year. If Redknapp can't see history repeating itself, then others surely can. And Redknapp must have some subconscious awareness of how he operates; he's always made a point of appointing less talented yes men who won't take his job as his second in command.

Then there's the Portsmouth question. One of the enduring questions I found myself asking during the trial was just how well Redknapp and Milan Mandaric knew each other, what triggered their falling out and why they were briefly reunited before Mandaric sold the club. In my book, I was left to speculate on this, using the testimonies of other people who were involved. Readers of "Always Managing" will be left guessing without the benefit of any analysis. For Harry, his relationship with Mandaric is still an almost completely closed book. Nor can Redknapp seem to understand why his leaving Portsmouth for rivals Southampton only to return a year later should have caused such ill feeling.

And so it goes. Redknapp often claims to have limited recall of events and facts; he famously told the court "I can't read or write" during his trial. For someone with so few skills, his ability to remember whole conversations is astonishing. Time and again he reports lengthy dialogues he has had with people while having lapses of amnesia over the conversations you wish he had remembered. The suspicion lingers that he has been economical with the facts when it suits him.

It is any footballer's or manager's right to write the autobiography that they choose. What you get with "Always Managing" is about 75 percent of the Harry Redknapp story. For those who like to keep their footballing myths intact, this will be more than enough. Those who like to think a little harder about footballers who have played at and managed at the top level will feel short-changed. The most interesting bits of Harry are to be found in the 25 percent of the story that has been left blank.