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Spurs should be wary of distracted boss

Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp is the favorite for the England job.
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James Horncastle

James Horncastle is a contributing writer for FOXSoccer.com who specializes in coverage of the European game. His work has been prominently featured in The Guardian, FourFourTwo, and The Blizzard.

   
 

LONDON, ENGLAND

How Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp handles being the frontrunner for the England job provides this season with one of its most interesting storylines.

Cleared of tax evasion on the same day Fabio Capello resigned from his post with the FA (February 8), the timing could hardly have been scripted better had it been penned for a movie. Except, of course, for the small detail that there is still almost a third of the current Premier League campaign remaining, and Redknapp has a contract with Tottenham until 2013.

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While Redknapp has done little to discourage the speculation - claiming “it’s flattering” to be considered the people’s choice for the England post - he has still tried to be a ringmaster in this circus, expressing a desire that the prospect of serving his country does not become a distraction from the work he is doing with his club.

“I can’t take my eye off the ball at Tottenham at the moment,” he said, “because we’re looking to get Champions League football, we’re still in the FA Cup and I owe it to them to continue to keep completely focused on the job I’m doing here. It wouldn’t be fair to anybody here if I started to let my thoughts wander elsewhere.”

Last week’s stunning 5-2 defeat by Arsenal in the north London derby has led to more questions about whether speculation regarding Redknapp’s future is having a negative impact on Tottenham's performances.

This scenario is not without precedent. Just ask Laurent Blanc. Two years ago, his Bordeaux side were on course for the treble. The French champions had a commanding nine-point lead at the top of Ligue 1, were in the Coupe de la Ligue final and had booked their place in the last eight of the Champions League too.

It was around about that time that the then president of the French Football Federation, Jean-Pierre Escalettes, went public with his belief that, as an “exemplary man”, Blanc would “certainly be a good candidate” to replace the unpopular Raymond Domenech as coach of France after the 2010 World Cup.

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There was nothing official, but, as with Redknapp, everyone knew that Blanc was the chosen one.

Naturally, the knowledge that the person most responsible for Bordeaux’s success was now considering his options created insecurity. Star players Marouane Chamakh and Yoann Gourcuff began to do the same.

Bordeaux went into freefall. They lost to Marseille in the Coupe de la Ligue final, were knocked out by Lyon in the Champions League and fell outside the Europa League places in Ligue 1, finishing sixth following an abysmal run in which they won only five of their remaining 20 games.

It’s a cautionary tale for Tottenham, and the level of scrutiny is only set to increase. England’s 3-2 defeat by the Netherlands at Wembley on Wednesday prompted some to claim the FA must not wait any longer in appointing Fabio Capello’s successor.

As of yet, no talks have been held. “We haven’t spoken to any individual or club at this stage,” Club England managing director Adrian Bevington told reporters. “We’re just ensuring we go about it in the right way and we’re certainly not going to knee-jerk into anything.”

Persuading Tottenham to let their manager do the job even on a part-time basis in the build-up to Euro 2012 will not be easy, although Redknapp has intimated that “in the short-term maybe it’s possible.” Perhaps Sir Alex Ferguson can offer him some advice based on his own personal experience over a glass of red wine after Sunday’s game against Manchester United at White Hart Lane.

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It’s often forgotten that Ferguson combined the Aberdeen and Scotland jobs from September 1985 to June 1986, stepping in for his mentor, the late Jock Stein, who had died of a heart attack at the end of a 1-1 draw with Wales, a result which secured his country a play-off match against Australia.

Win it and they would reach the World Cup in Mexico. Ferguson grasped the nettle and went about delegating his duties at Aberdeen to his assistant Archie Knox while ensuring he completed Stein’s work. He qualified Scotland for the tournament, oversaw their preparation for it and led his country until they were eliminated at the end of the group stages.

Aberdeen suffered throughout. They were top of the Scottish First Division for nine games when Ferguson initially accepted to fill in for Stein and looked capable of retaining their title. Once Ferguson began to divide his attention between club and country, Aberdeen slid away, ending the season in fourth place. “I found it very difficult,” Ferguson said.

It’s a fine balancing act. Sven-Göran Eriksson discovered as much too when he took the England job at the end of October 2000 while still in charge of Lazio. It was initially understood that he would see out the rest of the season at the then Italian champions, but prioritizing became a problem.

Eriksson tried to compensate at the outset for not knowing the English game in detail. He had been picked up on not knowing the identities of Sunderland’s left-back [Michael Gray] and Leicester’s goalkeeper [Tim Flowers] in his opening press conference and responded by reportedly watching as many as five taped Premier League matches a night.

In the meantime, Lazio struggled in Serie A. According to owner Sergio Cragnotti, “they played with panettone in their feet.” He started to wonder who was going to come first when England’s 2002 World Cup qualifiers with Finland and Albania fell between crucial games for Lazio against Juventus and Milan. Things eventually came to a head and he felt he had no option but to ask Eriksson to leave in January.

Now, of course, the situations with Ferguson and Eriksson are quite different to Redknapp’s. Their part-time stints started earlier in the season, and they were also burdened with the added responsibility of actually qualifying for a major tournament. That has already been taken care of ahead of Euro 2012. Everything, we’re told, is in place for Redknapp “to hit the ground running” even if, to use Sir Trevor Brooking’s phrase, he were to “parachute in” at the last minute.

But as the above examples (and in particular, Blanc’s) show it’s still more than likely that the speculation surrounding Redknapp will take a toll on Tottenham. One hopes that toll isn’t their entry to next season’s Champions League, yet amid so much uncertainty one can never be sure.

James Horncastle is a European soccer writer with articles published in The Blizzard, Champions magazine and FourFourTwo.

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