Friday 27 April 2018

It's all down to one game for Harry and Blues

Harry Redknapp
Harry Redknapp

Colin Young

Two minutes into his 10-minute interview for the Birmingham City rescue bid Harry Redknapp had a feeling he would want the job full-time. Two weeks and two games later, and with 90 minutes left today to save the club from relegation from the Championship, one of the game's most colourful characters knows for certain he wants to stay at St Andrew's.

What is the alternative? On the day he took over, Redknapp talked through his average day. Walk, breakfast, papers, bet, walk, papers, more bets, walk, check the bets, home. The odd piece of TV punditry, occasional game of golf, the gardening, are not enough to keep him happy and active on a daily basis.

Some may have been surprised he answered the call when the desperate Birmingham board asked him to take over following Gianfranco Zola's disastrous run of two wins in 24 games which took the Midlands club from the fringe of the play-offs to the brink of relegation. But the reason is simple, and his wife Sandra has acknowledged it: He's bored.

Harry Redknapp is a football manager and although he has had just three games to keep the Blues out of the bottom three, which started with the second city derby against Aston Villa and must finish with victory at Bristol City this lunchtime, he has the bug again.

The club's owners are responsible for the mess Redknapp is trying to sort. They sacked Gary Rowett in December when Birmingham were fifth, and appointed Zola. It has left Birmingham one of three sleepy giants teetering over the third division. But if he can keep them up today, Redknapp is ready to talk about a future role as manager, or director of football, with his new coach Steve Cotterill in charge of first-team affairs.

"If the owners want to meet me and have a chat about me staying, then I'll have a chat with them, like I did first time around," said Redknapp. "I only met them for ten minutes. It would be up to the owners. They may have someone else in mind, you know. 'Harry kept them up, but let's go and get someone else.' That's their prerogative.

"I could fancy it. It's a possibility. I'm not one for putting myself up for a job. If they ask me and it's interesting, then great. I want to be playing a useful part. I'll go back to doing what I was before. I'm as busy as I want to be. It's not as if I'm chasing it. I'll do it if I enjoy doing it. But I never say 'No' to football. It's what I enjoy.

"Last Saturday was a great day. I loved every minute of it. Driving home, picking up my wife, having a plate of pasta and a glass of wine. I don't sleep on Saturday night, my head is buzzing. It's something you can't explain to people. It's fantastic. But the lows are horrendous. When you are getting beat, I get very low. There's no in-between for me."

Last Saturday was Redknapp's second game in charge following the debut derby draw at Villa Park. They beat promotion contenders and confirmed play-off qualifiers Huddersfield Town 2-0 at home to leave themselves two places and two points above the drop zone. So they still need a victory today to guarantee seeing off any late challenge from Blackburn Rovers and Nottingham Forest.

Should Birmingham lose at Bristol City, Cotterill's recently former club, and Forest and Blackburn win at home to Ipswich and at Brentford respectively, they would go down. Even a draw would not be enough if their two rivals win because Birmingham have the most inferior goal difference of the three.

It promises to be another tense and topsy-turvy afternoon and Redknapp has experience of such occasions. The worst, he recalled last week, was relegation as Southampton manager 12 years ago when Bryan Robson's West Brom pulled off a great escape on the last day of the season. They beat Portsmouth, who had sacked Redknapp earlier in the season, eventually sending the Saints on a spiral down the leagues which would lead them to the third tier.

Redknapp recalled: "That was a difficult day. West Brom had Portsmouth and there was only going to be one outcome there, wasn't there? The Portsmouth players would have been lynched if they'd beaten West Brom. That is a fierce, nasty rivalry between those two clubs, Portsmouth and Southampton. I don't know if moving between those two was the wisest move I've ever made . . . So Sunday is going to be the highest of the high or lowest of the low. A couple of years later we were at Wigan with Portsmouth, needing to win and we were losing 1-0 at half-time. Then we eventually won. It's fantastic when it goes your way.

"We need a win. It's that simple. Even if we'd got a point at Villa, we would still need a point at Ashton Gate. A draw is absolutely no use whatsoever. It doesn't mean anything. To be honest after 20 minutes last week, I thought: 'We are right in trouble here.' I thought we'd have no option but to win the last game and even that might not save us. To come away from that with a two-point advantage meant it is in our hands.

"I have told the players it is in our hands. We need to win the game. But they've been great. They hang on to every word. They want to train well. They seem good lads to me. I don't know why they had such a bad run and a horrendous time. I couldn't have asked any more from them.

"We have had to be basic with them. We need to get the ball forward quickly. We don't want to put ourselves in trouble, giving the ball away playing out from the back and looking at the videos, it's happened quite a bit. We are trying to simplify the game for them. They are still making the decisions, if someone is in 15 yards of space, it's up to them to spot it and execute the pass. We don't programme them. They've got the freedom to play."

Redknapp tried to stick with the cliché that today's game is the only important matter for him, and his sole purpose this week. But you can sense he had been working overtime, planning for next season if he gets the opportunity. Birmingham City is a big club with even bigger potential and it may suit Redknapp to have one last shot at promotion to the Premier League, providing he works his magic today.

"They've got to make an early decision," he said. "Someone has to organise a pre-season for them. Have a look around the market and see who's about. Is there a budget to bring a few in to strengthen? Someone has to do that and make a decision quickly.

"It seems a great fit with my knowledge and contacts. But, as I say, it's up to other people. I don't know who they are. I can get a team together. There are players to be picked up. Young players at clubs - I've already had one or two people ring me from big clubs saying: 'Harry, if you're involved we've already got one or two players who would be prepared to let go to help you out.' There are options to get a couple of good kids in.

"They want some success here. The training ground is nice. They are looking to improve the pitch at the stadium. It's going to be a fantastic surface. It's one of the better jobs about at the moment.

"There are some decent lads here. You just wonder how they have done so badly. It's a shame. But that's it, it's in the past - it comes down to one game. Let's see how it goes and we will take it from there."

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