Every week Lawrence Gray-Hodson, a man who made his name in the upper reaches of Division 2 in the 1970s and 80s as well as being a former Scotland and England international, writes a column exclusively for Three and in.
This week he looks at Harry Redknapp’s obsession with small players
Jermaine Defoe opined, having seen Everton’s Steven Pienaar turn down a move to Chelsea to join him at Tottenham, that it marked a shift in power. And he’s right, I suppose. No player in their right mind would have chosen Spurs over Chelsea 12 months ago.
Now it doesn’t seem so utterly mental. It speaks to the improvement that Spurs have made but also to the way Chelsea have imploded. I keep hearing stories about a serious rift between Drogba and John Terry and how they’ve had to be separated a number of times in training. It’s rumoured that when practicing set-pieces Drogba spat on Terry’s neck like Frank Rijkaard did to Rudi Voeller. Terry was having none of it and laid out the big African American with an elbow straight to the temple.
So things are not right at Chelsea and things are better than they were at White Hart Lane. However, I do wonder if Harry Redknapp might just be going down the wrong path. Since he took over from Christian Gross he’s got the players motivated, playing well and definitely in the fight for a Champions League spot. Personally I think ambitions of winning the league are akin to my ambitions of a threesome between Angelina Jolie and Fern Britton. It’d be great if it happened but you’d never get Fern to agree.
The signing of Pienaar is a curious one and it makes me think that Redknapp is looking at the best team in world football and trying to emulate that. We know how good Barcelona are, the football they play is unmatched and they do it all with the smallest team I’ve ever seen. Ok, they would be giants in China but Spain is not China. Their diminutive dynamos are small in stature but they wear the stilts of skills and the platforms of power.
Watching Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro and Villa do their stuff is breathtaking and who wouldn’t want their team to play like that? However, Barcelona’s manager Pep Guardiola, was brought up in the Barcelona way. This is how they are taught to play football, they are engulfed in the Barcelona way from an early age. Harry Redknapp is grifter, brought up on jellied-eels, who played for West Ham and Bournemouth and is yet to manage a really big club.
He simply doesn’t have the footballing know-how to Barcelona-ise this Spurs team. What he’s trying to do is obvious, fill his team with small players and hope they can click. Rafael van der Vaart, Modric, Defoe, Keane, Krancjar, Lennon, Palacios and now Pienaar. Sure, he’s got a couple of weirdly big lads like Crouch and Kabul to beef things up but they’re sideshow freaks and not at all integral to how Spurs play.
I remember when I was playing we signed a little fella from Dundee called Craig Dougan. He was 5’8, quite tall by today’s standards, but in the dressing room we called him ‘Titch’ and ‘Wee Tiny Boots’. He didn’t like it at all and when he got out on the pitch he gave as good as he got but the bottom line was he was small and got pushed around. Obviously this affected him for many years and after his retirement I read about him going to prison for killing a basketball player in a bar fight.
These are the pitfalls faced by a small player. Modric, for example, has wonderful skill on the ball but how many years can a footballer with progeria really expect to play at the highest level. All credit to him for getting this far but he’s hardly a good long-term investment. It’s yet to be proved if van der Vaart is having anything more than a bit of Premier League beginner’s luck while Aaron Lennon’s sole contribution to the football is being the only man in the game with go-faster stripes on his eyebrows.
The tongues will wag over the Pienaar signing, suggestions that it’s a way for Harry to funnel cash through a corrupt South African bank-run slush fund are probably wide of the mark, but I just can’t help thinking that in order to progress they could do with a bit more height and British height at that. Less Pienaar, more David Howells, less Modric more tough goalscoring bustle like Chris Armstrong.
I like Harry, he was very good to me when my third wife passed away and I’ll never forget him for that, but if we were having a pint I’d tell him ‘You’ve got this one more wrong than Jamie’s tight pants, H’ and he’d laugh and tell me to ‘Fack off!’.
That’s his problem, he always thinks he’s right, especially when he’s wrong.