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Dip in form makes it hard for Harry to quip while he's ahead

It's possible that the career of Harry Redknapp is about to take a surprising turn. Redknapp has always given the impression that he is so in control of his environment that nothing too extreme could happen. He is too self-aware, too contained and too eager to keep his eye on the main chance for his life to be viewed in poetic or tragic terms. By protecting himself from disaster, he has insulated himself from triumph too.

Redknapp, the great American sportswriter Brian Phillips wrote, "does not have a soul, but he has a sort of dead-eyed Cockney sparkle that's served him as a pretty adequate replacement".

The job of managing England can only be viewed in epic terms. There is no room for cynicism in a position that is so intent on destruction of the spirit that only a belief in the spirit's imperishability will save a man. We laughed at Sven's interest in Tibetan poetry, but maybe it was Tibetan poetry that kept him going -- that and a series of multi-million-pound pay-offs.

When Fabio Capello quit and Redknapp was cleared of tax evasion, it looked like Redknapp could take the England job on his terms. Certainly he would take the job on Daniel Levy's terms.

These terms, even in the abstract, terrified the FA. Their first press conference after Capello's departure was watched by millions but they appeared to be addressing one man: Daniel Levy.

If, as everyone agreed, there was only one candidate, then Levy was capable of anything. There have been stories that Spurs would end up at Wembley as part of the compensation package. Maybe Clive Allen would end up running whatever ten-year plan the FA were planning to counteract the intellectual and pastoral neglect of generations of English footballers.

In February, Redknapp appeared unstoppable. In April, he is so stoppable that Roy Hodgson is being suggested as a viable alternative.

In that time, Tottenham have gone from title challengers to a team fighting for fourth place. They have become the opposite of everything Redknapp's career has been about: they have failed to manage expectations.

They were never title challengers in Harry's eyes. In February, when Harry's worlds were aligned, Tottenham were five points off the top of the table and Harry was talking about finishing third.

Now they are 20 points behind Manchester United and Arsenal are third.

Harry's season will end in anti-climax unless he can beat Chelsea today and go on and win the FA Cup.

Perhaps this will lead to a re-assessment of England's chances. The FA have always appeared keen to lower expectations against the will of the people.

Leonard Cohen might have captured the innate optimism of the English football fan.

"Since then I've taken a lot of Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin, Ritalin

. . . I've also studied the philosophies and religions but cheerfulness kept breaking through."

The ideas of acceptance and man's powerlessness might have helped England cope with the crushing disappointments but optimism keeps breaking through.

"Can we win it?" they ask, often at the end of a post-mortem explaining all the reasons for not winning it the last time. "We have to go there thinking we can win it" was the point put to the FA when Capello left but you'd imagine even this endless optimism would be tempered if Roy Hodgson ended up as England manager.

Redknapp, too, might be about to lower expectations but this is most effective if it's the team rather than the manager dragging down the mood.

Redknapp might think he would be better off letting the team do their bit as well. He has little to gain by parachuting in for the European Championships, especially as England seem proud of their travel arrangements, speaking of them with a triumphalist glee not seen since Ally McLeod announced that Scotland were going to the 1978 World Cup to win it.

Redknapp would be better off avoiding the mess and allowing Stuart Pearce -- for whom the words 'useful idiot' might have been invented -- to deal with whatever calamity is coming England's way.

Tottenham's form has put him under pressure. The track record of a man who likes to get out before things take a turn for the worse is now being examined.

He retains the support of journalists but we are always impressed by the credentials of a man who remembers our names in a press conference.

The Redknapp who avoided life's pitfalls would be expected to apply a lifetime's worth of pragmatic values to this challenge.

Something might have changed even if they will never write a book like The Damned United about Redknapp. Clough was the greatest manager England never had but he fulfilled CLR James' criteria for genius. "A man of genius is what he is. He cannot be something else and remain a man of genius."

Clough might have liked a bung but he liked it the same way he liked a drink, as part of his capacity for self-destruction.

Redknapp may have been revealed as a man of chaotic personal finances at the trial which ended with him being cleared of all charges but he has never seemed like a man capable of destroying himself.

The inability to send a text message is, of itself, not the calling card of a self-destructive genius. Yet the trial may have played its part in his decline.

Lawyers say it is common for those who have been accused of serious charges to experience a post-trial slump. How much more severe would the slump be if it involved discovering that you had a spirit that could be shattered to begin with?

Harry had quipped his way through the trial -- "I don't like calling her a dog, she was better than that," he said of Rosie the dog but in dodging conviction he might have found something more elemental about himself.

Harry needs to reinvent himself if his England is to prosper. A philosophical Harry might not be plausible but the quips look played as well. You can't teach an old dog new tricks. But he's not an old dog. He's better than that.

dfanning@independent.ie

Sunday Indo Sport