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Aug 14, 2006

Redknapp's chance of further redemption

'A poor man's Chelsea' is how Harry Redknapp's team have been described in recent months.

They may not have quite as much financial muscle as the London club, but the arrival of Alexandre Gaydamak, in the same mould as the well-heeled Abramovich, certainly made an impact at Fratton Park last season by boosting their league position through his finances to save them from the drop.

Since then a host of new players have been linked with the club, including Nicholas Anelka, Jermaine Defoe, Stilian Petrov and Gareth Barry.

With a reported £30 million transfer kitty, 'Harry Houdini', a shrewd operator in the lower reaches of the market in the past, has the budget to vastly improve the squad

The first item on the agenda for this season is to get some stability back at the club after a torrid time last term.

Charged with improving on the team's dismal 17th position, and exorcising Fratton Park of the demons of Allain Perrin, Harry will need to shore up a defence that conceded 62 goals and lost far too many important matches.

Things look off to a good start. The arrival of Sol Campbell on a free transfer can be seen as a coup for Redknapp, who will be happy to parade the England international before supporters after he originally claimed he'd be moving abroad.

Campbell's arrival has shocked Arsene Wenger after the player claimed to be seeking a new challenge and that he had 'nothing left to prove in England'.

After a disappointing final season with the Gunners, perhaps Campbell has more to prove than he first thought. Certainly, all eyes will be on him when he pulls on the Pompey shirt against Blackburn next week, including those of Steve McClaren.

Redknapp's priority remains another centre back and with Gaydamak's money in the public knowledge, they probably won't come cheap.

A consistent performer in the Premiership, Ryan Nelsen has been linked for around £5 million. While Robert Huth's collapsed move to Middlesbrough may open the door for a move to Fratton Park, where he would be virtually guaranteed a first team place.

Sylvain Distin has also caught Redknapp's eye, while David James, another potential signing for £2 million from Man City, may also be added.

Redknapp rates him as the best keeper in the country, although at 36-years old and in the twilight of his colourful career, it may be hard to see how he will be able to improve on Dean Kiely's showings last season.

Keen to improve his squad, Redknapp already has a good core to build on.

A shining light in the last campaign, and surprisingly cool penalty taker, Matt Taylor proved himself to be a real fixture at left back. He will be keen to show his worth in the team, after the arrival of £1.6 million Peruvian defender Juan Vargas.

If Redknapp's move for Stilian Petrov collapses, with the player reportedly looking to link up with ex-Celtic manager Martin O'Neill at Aston Villa, at least they have their own O'Neil, Gary, whose impressive displays in the Premiership last season will certainly help to cement his place in midfield.

However deep the Russian pockets are, Redknapp's best signings could yet prove to be the contract extensions signed by both Lomana LuaLua and Pedro Mendes.

The arrival of Glen Johnson, on loan from Chelsea, and David Thompson, a free transfer from Wigan, should add to the squad depth, as a fair few faces have left Fratton Park.

If any player is symbolic of the effect that Alain Perrin had on the club, it's Laurent Robert, now coming to an end of an amazingly short Benfica career. Redknapp has had to act quickly to make his own mark on the team, and offloading the players he doesn't want.

Defender Brian Priske, who played an important role in the finale of last season, has been deemed expendable and is on his way to Club Brugge. Andy O'Brien, another Perrin signing, has been told he has no place in the squad and could find himself heading out of the exit door despite injuring a hamstring. The deadweights of players like Vincent Pericard and Sander Westerveld have also been jettisoned.

Redknapp has already proved himself more than up for the challenge of his second stint at Fratton Park by keeping Pompey in the Premiership. Now the really hard work starts and last season's statistics make difficult reading.

If Pompey are to stay clear of the relegation fight, Redknapp will have to improve on the paltry 10 wins and 37 goals the team managed last season. Zimbabwean striker Benjani faces a make-or-break campaign and needs to find his feet (and his scoring touch) if he's to match his club-record fee.

Redknapp will desperately want to avoid being dragged into a relegation fight this time around, with Man Utd, Liverpool, Newcastle and Arsenal all difficult fixtures in the run up to the finish line in May.

Certainly they'll have to do better against the teams in a similar position than last season; Pompey's volatile fans may forgive the team a loss against Chelsea, but are almost certain to be unhappy if results against the likes of Reading and Sheffield United don't go their way.

Following a whole world of change on the south coast in the past year, Redknapp's first job is to bring about the kind of stability that can lift Pompey safe from relegation.

After that, with the kind of bankroll that a Russian billionaire brings, the sky (or Europe at a push) could be the limit.


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