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Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009

PREMIER REPORT

Redknapp will face fury in Portsmouth return


LONDON — Harry Redknapp returns to Portsmouth on Saturday for the first time since his sudden departure to Tottenham Hotspur a year ago. The reception given to their former manager by most of the Fratton Park faithful will be red hot rather than warm, a significant difference.

Christopher Davies

What is undeniable is that during his two spells in charge at Portsmouth he led the club to success it could not have dreamed of. Redknapp took it from the foot of the Championship and made Portsmouth a respected Premier League club, winning the F.A. Cup and giving the supporters big-name players who previously only played at Fratton Park as opponents.

But for most Blues fans there remains a feeling of betrayal when, on Oct. 25, 2008, Redknapp announced his Pompey resignation — for the second time.

"I'll walk out there with my head held high [on Saturday] because I'm proud of what I achieved at Portsmouth," said Redknapp and so he should be. "If I'd been the worst manager Portsmouth had ever seen and got them relegated, turning out lousy teams, they should have the hump.

"They were bottom of the Championship when I went there and we became a top eight Premier League side, winning the F.A. Cup. The fans saw players there that they'll probably never see the likes of again."

True. But the unexpected farewell and the subsequent financial meltdown at the club which has seen it sell most of its crown jewels, and fail to pay the wages on one occasion, sees a collective finger pointed at Redknapp.

In fairness, it is the chairman who ultimately sanctions all transfer fees and contracts so Alexandre Gaydamak, who recently sold his control to Sulaiman Al-Fahim, who in turn handed over to Saudi Arabian billionaire Ali Al-Faraj, must take the lion's share of the blame.

Portsmouth fans also feel aggrieved that Redknapp has cherry-picked the cream of his former players and staff to take to White Hart Lane.

There is Jermain Defoe, the striker whose influenza at the turn of the year kept him from training, but who recovered sufficiently to take his Spurs medical and seal a £15 million return to White Hart Lane.

Peter Crouch completed the least surprising move of the summer when he linked up with Redknapp for the fourth time in his career. Plus Niko Kranjcar, though the Blues cashed in on the midfielder on deadline day after he had announced he would not be signing a new contract next summer and would be a free agent.

Portsmouth fans have every right to boo Redknapp and the returning "traitors" as long it does not cross the line of unacceptable behavior. We'll see.

* * * * *

AS THE ENGLAND coach made the journey to Wembley Stadium for Wednesday's World Cup qualifying tie against Belarus, Fabio Capello announced the England team for the final qualifying game.

Capello regards his England starting XI like a state secret and he is not alone in the 11th-hour revelation. I have never understood this.

How on earth can a team prepare properly for a game if the players don't know who is playing?

How can you practice set-pieces if the player taking them or the one on the end of them in training is a substitute?

Isn't it better for a player to go to bed the previous night already preparing mentally to represent his country?

Apparently not.

Most coaches (plus journalists and fans) have a pretty good idea of who will play. Coaches also tell us they are only worried about what their side does, not the opposition.

Really?

How many times do you see a major shock in a team selection?

Rarely going on never.

It seems madness to tell the 11 starting players a couple of hours before a match they are the chosen ones, but it is a puzzling tradition that is here to stay.

* * * * *

KEVIN KILBANE of Hull City is not a player immediately associated with world records but the left-back went into the history books when he played for the Republic of Ireland against Montenegro.

Not so much because it was his 100th cap, but it was also Kilbane's 58th consecutive competitive start for Ireland, beating former Leicester defender Theo Zagorakis' record of 57 for Greece before his retirement at Euro 2004.

Billy Wright played 70 consecutive matches for England between October 1951 and May 1959, but one of those games was against a Rest of Europe XI, plus 22 home internationals against Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Today, only the European Championship, Confederations Cup, World Cup or regional competitions such as the African Nations Cup would count as competitive internationals.

Kilbane, one of football's genuine nice guys, may not attract the headlines of the superstars but he has a record every professional should envy.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.


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