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Oct 30, 2008

Redknapp worth more than £5m to Pompey

"It was a lot of money - £5 million, crazy money really. Pompey couldn't sell a player in the transfer window so we sell the manager."

Nothing becomes a man quite like the manner of his departure, and Harry Redknapp, all too predictably, exited Portsmouth talking about transfers. While his account of proceedings, not for the first time, can be disputed - Redknapp had a clause in his contract and wasn't sold - he highlighted two issues: the worth of managers and Portsmouth's financial difficulties.

Tony Adams may have to replicate his trademark on-pitch defiance to retain the services of his most valuable quartet, Lassana Diarra, Niko Kranjcar, Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe, especially as Redknapp is a known admirer of all. Yet the loss of a player, no matter how talented, is surmountable; the departure of the manager can send a club into a downward spiral.

Portsmouth already know this. But for Redknapp's return to Fratton Park in 2005, they would have been relegated. First Velimir Zajec and then Alain Perrin proved inadequate replacements. Yet the end of the second act in his Pompey life should cause concern. The parallels involving similarly sized clubs who have punched above their weight are not auspicious.

Leicester City, arguably, have still not recovered from Martin O'Neill's exit. Micky Adams briefly returned them to the Premiership, but restoring them to the heights of the top 10 and the League Cup wins of the O'Neill era was altogether harder. They languish in League One, where they may be joined next season by Southampton.

This, for Portsmouth, is a warning closer to home. Saints survived in the top flight for 27 years but a comparative peak - an eighth-place finish in 2003 when they were FA Cup finalists - precipitated a swift decline which dates from Gordon Strachan's resignation.

Charlton made the rapid transition from the stability of Alan Curbishley's long reign to absolute chaos when three managers were appointed in a matter of months, in a season that culminated in relegation. Bolton managed four successive top-eight finishes under Sam Allardyce; now they would settle for a final berth anywhere in the top 17, and the chances are that they will fail to accomplish that.

None qualify, by Premier League standards, as a big club. Each, for a short spell, outperformed clubs with greater resources, whether Aston Villa, Everton, Manchester City, Newcastle, Tottenham or West Ham. Each failed to negotiate 'the next step'. In the cases of Leicester, Charlton and Southampton, they were demoted when they came to view themselves as permanent fixtures among the elite. Staying up by one point may have been deemed disappointing, yet far worse ensued.

As befits a former England captain, Adams has a greater presence than former assistants elevated to the top job, such as Sammy Lee, Chris Hutchings and Steve Wigley, but promoting from within cannot be deemed the sole cause of decline. O'Neill was replaced by Peter Taylor, Strachan succeeded by Paul Sturrock and Curbishley followed by Iain Dowie; none were rookies, but none could emulate their predecessor.

In part, that was because such idiosyncratic individuals as O'Neill, Allardyce and Strachan shaped a side in their own image. Unable to pay sizeable transfer fees, each displayed his creativity.

O'Neill loved a larrikin, from Steve Claridge to Robbie Savage, but his parting gift to Taylor was Stan Collymore, who required the Ulsterman's man-management skills. Strachan assembled a side of senior professionals while Allardyce amassed an eclectic assortment of cast-offs, many on free transfers.

There are obvious parallels with Redknapp and his recruits at Fratton Park. With the blend of the mavericks, the veterans and the unwanted, the men he had coveted for years or borrowed on a whim on deadline day, this is very much his team. That does not equip them to shine for anyone else, however.

The internal appointment presumes that continuity entails further excellence from the players who performed for Redknapp. The recent precedents suggest that is difficult to achieve: James Beattie and Darren Bent, for instance, were match-winners under Strachan and Curbishley, but rarely for their many successors, even those who had served at lesser levels at the club.

Nor does it bode well for Portsmouth that both Charlton and Bolton actually spent more in the transfer market after the departure of their most successful manager of recent times, and without averting a slump. Such largesse, it appears, will not be available to Adams.

But footballers are aware when an era ends. In some cases, their loyalty is to a specific manager, rather than the club. Neil Lennon, for example, followed O'Neill to Celtic.

Redknapp's powers of persuasion, allied with the generous salaries that were on offer at Fratton Park, enabled him to lure players to Portsmouth. Should they go, replacing them with footballers of the same calibre is still harder. Portsmouth finished eighth last season, but that place in the pecking order is far from secure.

The sad reality is that overachievement is temporary. Yet as it can blind many into expecting it, anything else feels like failure. Clubs can then behave like previously successful gamblers, chasing their winnings in ever more desperate fashion and incurring greater and greater losses.

Southampton and Leicester were relegated two years after coming eighth and competing in cup finals. With the benefit of hindsight, it is apparent that Strachan and O'Neill were priceless to their respective clubs. So whether or not Redknapp is worth £5 million to Tottenham, he was worth far more to Portsmouth.

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