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Saturday, Nov. 1, 2008


Redknapp's magic transforms Spurs overnight

LONDON — Just when you think there is nothing left in football to surprise you, along comes Harry Redknapp.

Christopher Davies

When we went to bed last Saturday, Juande Ramos was the Tottenham manager.

Not for too long we suspected, but we didn't expect to wake up on Sunday morning and hear not only had the Spaniard said adios to White Hart Lane, but Spurs chairman Daniel Levy had even installed a replacement — Redknapp.

No, it wasn't a dream.

In a sport where few moves remain secret until they have happened Redknapp's midnight switch from Portsmouth to Spurs caught newspapers on the hop.

Redknapp has a column with a red-top tabloid and is the most press-friendly of managers but the move — Portsmouth collected £5 million in compensation — went through in media silence.

The 2-0 win over Bolton in Redknapp's first day in charge was almost inevitable. Wednesday's 4-4 draw at Arsenal was one of those matches that made you shake your head in bewilderment, wondering whether Redknapp is such a good manager or whether Ramos is so poor.

When Redknapp took over, Spurs had two points from eight games. In his two matches their tally for the season has doubled.

The draw at Emirates Stadium was one of the most memorable in the 16-year history of the Premier League. It's difficult to know which is more surprising, Arsenal conceding four or Tottenham scoring four.

If there is one team you would put your house on (you would be homeless now) to hold a two-goal lead with two minutes remaining it is Arsenal.

Gunners manager Arsene Wenger said there was no Redknapp factor, but the confidence and belief he has installed into his players even in a few days was there for all to see.

Wenger also said that at 4-2 "they had given up" and Arsenal handed them a point. The Spurs view is that the spirit and determination the players have rediscovered means their manager could easily be Harry Houdini.

The players had all but thrown the towel in with Ramos, who was unable to speak to them in English even after a year in the job. When you cannot understand your boss it can make things difficult, and Ramos did not have the language or personality to inspire the side.

It was embarrassing watching substitutes look toward Ramos for guidance — they may as well have asked someone in the crowd.

Ramos was obsessed by diet but as Redknapp pointed out: "It doesn't matter what you eat if you can't pass to your own team."

No player has benefited more from Redknapp's arrival than winger David Bentley, who was looking like a lost soul after his summer transfer from Blackburn. Now he is playing like the player he thinks he is.

Against Arsenal Bentley scored one of the truly great Premier League goals, a 40-meter half-volley that sailed over Manuel Almunia's head. Houdini as manager, Superman on the wing.

Though Luka Modric is not yet performing to the level he does with Croatia, the midfielder looks like he is finally coming out of his shell and adapting to life in the Premier League.

If the match said much about Redknapp's powers of inspiration he would look beyond the unlikely point Spurs won. He had worked with the players in training on set-pieces but they still conceded goals from a corner and a free kick.

Gomes is a goalkeeper who at times seems allergic to the ball.

Breathtaking saves are outnumbered by the Brazilian coming for but failing to collect crosses or corners. Come the January transfer window Gomes will be a goner.

Next in line for Tottenham is Premier League leader Liverpool. A week ago it was unthinkable that Ramos' Spurs could even take a point off the Reds.

With Harry Houdini in charge Tottenham believes anything and everything is possible.

* * * * *

A NEW MENACE has crept into English football — kissing the badge. Players do it to show how committed they are to the club.

It has all the sincerity of a Lyndon Johnson denial.

It is crass, provocative and means zip. Money buys players' loyalty. Kiss the badge and move to another badge.

If a player feels he has to prove his love for the club, it pre-supposes there are doubts. You don't see fans kissing the badge on their replica jersey when the team scores. They jump up and down, hug a friend, punch the air, high-five a stranger. They do not put a club's crest to their lips.

When Newcastle's Joey Barton warmed up in front of Sunderland fans last weekend, he was predictably booed. He responded by kissing the Newcastle badge. His action could only have been designed to incite the crowd and it succeeded.

Wayne Rooney, who used to wear a "Blue Till I Die" T-shirt when he was an Everton player, was jeered by the home fans at Goodison Park a week ago.

Rooney stood in front of Everton supporters and kissed the Manchester United badge.

Credit to Sir Alex Ferguson for immediately substituting the striker before he had another rush of blood.

A referee could consider kissing the badge in front of opposing supporters' unsporting behavior and caution the player. The reason he would be reluctant to do this is because of the resulting headlines.

I refuse to believe badge-kissing is spontaneous. The natural reaction after scoring is one of joy, arms in the air, waiting to be mobbed by teammates.

It is not to run to the crowd kissing a badge.

Christopher Davies covers the Premier League for the London Daily Telegraph.

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