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Dec 24, 2010

Premier League Coach of the Year

Only one Premier League manager can truly be considered as the boss of 2010: Harry Redknapp.

• Review of the Year 2010

Carlo Ancelotti may have won the Double with Chelsea, but the Blues' end to the year has hardly been successful. Across London at Tottenham Hotspur, however, Redknapp has enjoyed the best 12 months of his career. He may not have won any silverware, but in many ways the club's achievements outweighed anything the Carling Cup or FA Cup would have been worth.

Spurs did start the year slowly, winning only one league game by mid-February and scoring only four goals in the process. That made them outsiders to claim fourth place, with Manchester City and Aston Villa their challengers for the final Champions League berth, but after failing to beat Hull City, Bolton Wanderers and Birmingham City and losing at Wolverhampton, Redknapp's side found their form when it truly mattered.

Their confidence hit by a defeat to Championship-bound Portsmouth in the FA Cup semi-finals, Spurs then faced a season-defining run of three games in a week featuring the Premier League's top three back-to-back: Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United. Few expected them to get anything out of those fixtures, but 2-1 victories against Arsenal and Chelsea put them back in the hunt for fourth spot.

A defeat at Manchester United in the final gane of that trio no longer mattered so much as the White Hart Lane wins over their London rivals had already pocketed them six points from three crucial matches. But there was to be one more, make-or-break clash which would decide the final place in the Champions League.

Spurs travelled to Eastlands to take on Manchester City in what was essentially a winner-takes-all encounter just days before the end of the campaign. Redknapp got his tactics spot on against City, his side bossing the game and always looking the more likely to take the points. The only goal came just eight minutes from time as Peter Crouch settled what was dubbed the £50 million match when he was on hand to turn home the loose ball after Marton Fulop had only been able to push Younes Kaboul's cross straight to the striker.

Crouch's goal, and the three points that came with it, put Spurs four clear of City with just one game remaining and guaranteed them a first-ever season in the Champions League.

One of the catalysts for Spurs remarkable success was the transformation of Gareth Bale from a rabbit-in-the-headlights left-back to a marauding winger. After struggling to get a chance in the Spurs team in defence, he was thrown into a forward role against Blackburn Rovers in mid-March and his flying performances down the flank proved to be a revelation.

Redknapp's summer transfer dealings were few but significant. Adding the experience of William Gallas to the centre of defence was an astute free transfer signing, but the real steal came with the last-minute capture of Rafael van der Vaart from Real Madrid for just £8 million. The Dutch midfielder netted nine goals in his first 14 appearances for Spurs, instantly making him both a crowd favourite and the signing of the summer. It was another classic piece of Redknapp transfer business.

Spurs were not guaranteed a place in the Champions League by finishing fourth, though they looked to have been handed the pick of the play-off ties by being drawn against Swiss side Young Boys. They soon discovered they were in for a fight when Young Boys went three goals up within 28 minutes, but Redknapp would not be denied a place in the group stage of the Champions League as two second-half goals and a 3-0 second-leg victory turned the tie on its head.

It was about to get a whole lot harder as Spurs were drawn against European champions and Treble winners Inter Milan, plus Werder Bremen and Dutch title-winners FC Twente. Few could foresee Spurs winning the group, but they did so with just one defeat - a 4-3 loss in Milan when Bale scored a hat-trick. The high point of the group stage campaign was a 3-1 home win over Rafael Benitez's Inter.

Redknapp attempted not to place too much emphasis on their European campaign as he insisted Tottenham had the tools to win the Premier League. This Redknapp team had become the perfect example of spirit and attacking flair, both of which many teams lack. An ability to fight back from behind was evident time and again the first half of 2010-11, most notably in the 3-2 victory at North London rivals Arsenal when Spurs came back from two down at the break to take all three points.

Despite the rigours and demands of the Champions League, Redknapp kept Spurs in the hunt for an immediate return by sitting in fifth as Christmas approached. And after such an amazing season, he was once again being heavily touted as a successor to England coach Fabio Capello, when the Italian steps down in 2012. Another year like this one and the Football Association will certainly be knocking on his door.

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