"Players lose you games, not tactics. There's so much crap talked about tactics by people who barely know how to win at dominoes." - Brian Clough, on England's exit from Euro 2000
Brian Clough is almost as famous for his aversion to tactical analysis as he is for being a damn good football manager, which is a bit of a shame. He is, incredibly, even more famous for his aversion to tactical analysis as he is for being a bit of an asshole. The culture of football media in the English language has changed drastically from the time of Clough, and tactics are now at the forefront of most football discussions.
Harry Redknapp, like Clough, is also famous for his distaste for intensive tactical analysis and his belief that players, not tactics, win football matches. He's developed such a reputation for his minimalist approach to tactics that, during last season, a Sky Sports reporter implied that Harry Redknapp's success and the success of Tottenham Hotspur had a lot more to do with Harry's ability to sign good players on the cheap than it was about anything he did in other realms. You're all familiar with his response.
"No, I'm not a wheeler and dealer. F--k off. I'm not a wheeler and f--king dealer. Don't even say that. I'm a f--king football manager."
Redknapp, at least by accident, has had some tactical strokes of genius.
His decision in last season's 3-2 win over Arsenal to move Rafael Van der Vaart out to right midfield and make the game more narrow was an excellent one. He did a great job using the team's width to nick a goal against A.C. Milan, and then had his team sit on that one goal lead. When faced with a surplus of midfielders and no right winger, he played Van der Vaart, Gareth Bale and Emmanuel Adebayor along with three midfielders and told them to figure it out. What they figured out has been dubbed by the commenters here as the FRAAB 4-3-3.
"FRAAB" stands for "F--king run around a bit", another wonderful Harryism. Redknapp said those exact words to Roman Pavlyuchenko right before he came on as a substitute to indicate what the striker's role in the team was. Those were his tactical instructions. Really.
For the most part, this style of management has worked for Harry and Spurs. When you go back through the results from before Redknapp was hired and look at what he's brought the team through, it's obvious why.
When Redknapp was hired, Tottenham were in the midst of their second consecutive poor season. A year prior, well-liked manager Martin Jol got off to a terrible start that left Daniel Levy no choice but to make a change. The team was shockingly headed towards relegation when tactically astute rising star Juande Ramos was brought in to manage Spurs. He guided the team out of the drop zone and to a shocking Carling Cup win, but the team got off to a horrid start in the following season, leading to his sacking and the hiring of Harry Redknapp.
At this time, Tottenham was a team that was loaded with talent. They didn't have the talent to challenge the top four -- or at least it didn't appear so at the time -- but they were obviously a top-half team. They had no business anywhere near the relegation places. A couple of astute tacticians didn't have answers when the team was struggling, so Levy brought in a different kind of manager.
The players simply needed to believe in themselves. Things needed to be simplified. They needed a 4-4-2 with a right back, a left back, a left winger, a right winger, two central defenders, two central midfielders and two strikers. They needed a manager to tell those players that he believed in them and that they could go win games. They needed the poor man's Clough. It got them well out of the drop zone and into the top half before the end of the season.
The next season went even better. With Liverpool in free fall and Manchester City not yet anywhere near the team they are today, fourth place was there for the taking and Tottenham took it. They beat Arsenal and Chelsea in crucial games at the end of that season, and it was not because of an influx of world-class talent or brilliant tactics. They won those games because, for the first time in over a decade, they believed that they were supposed to. Spurs choked and played scared in big games for years. In those two big games, they believed.
Supposedly, this is the value of Harry Redknapp. Unlike other managers who put too much emphasis on x's and o's, scouting, training methods, or any other number of things, Harry Redknapp motivates players to play their best, allows them to be creative by keeping things simple, and gets players to believe in themselves. The reason I say 'supposedly' is because I am never in the locker room at White Hart Lane. Neither are you. And, because this is not the NFL, neither is the media.
We don't actually hear Harry Redknapp's team talks. We don't see how players react to those team talks. All we see are performances, and all we hear are players' comments to the media well after the fact. We assume he's a master motivator because, well, what is he if he's not a master motivator? He doesn't care much for everything else that goes along with being a football manager, and Tottenham are a good team, so surely he's good at that.
Except, everything that's supposedly good about Harry Redknapp is going wrong. Everything that he's good at, or supposedly good at, is not being executed. Nothing about what Tottenham has done in the last three games makes sense, and it has nothing to do with tactics or bad luck or a lack of talent. Tottenham is losing because they aren't doing the things that Harry is good at getting his teams to do.
This is not to incite panic, and I'm certainly not calling for the head of our most successful manager of the Premier League era. If Tottenham do some simple things right and get a couple of breaks, things can turn around in an instant. The team is still very talented, and the team's run-in is not terribly difficult. They could easily rip off a string of six or seven or eight or nine consecutive wins to capture third place.
But, they're not going to do any of those things unless Harry Redknapp pulls his head out of his ass, or we get really, really lucky. In two consecutive games, Redknapp has played Luka Modric as a wide player. He played Gareth Bale on the right against Everton. He benched the team's only good performer against Manchester United, Jake Livermore, for the Everton game.
And on top of this, the team didn't look like themselves for any of these three losses on the trot, independent of the fact that they were handicapped from the start in the last two losses by Harry's selections. In all three of the last three games, the team looked like they no longer believed in themselves when their opposition scored. They started playing jumpy. They struggled to create chances and gave the ball away easily in three straight games, in the exact same situations.
If Harry Redknapp isn't a tactician, and he isn't buying and selling players, and he isn't training set pieces and he isn't a f--king wheeler dealer, then he better damn well get this right. If he can't stop out-thinking himself and play Gareth Bale and Luka Modric where they belong, he has minimal value. If he can't just pick form players and drop out of form players, he has minimal value. If he can't motivate the players and get them to believe in themselves, he has minimal value.
It's possible that this is about the England job being a distraction for everyone, and it's possible that no manager could possibly give a team their belief back after a shattering derby loss against a team that put in their best performance of the season out of absolutely nowhere. It is more likely, at least in my judgment, that Redknapp is in the process of losing the plot.
Harry Redknapp is a competent manager and he has done great things for Tottenham, but everything that is going wrong at the moment is everything that should not go wrong under Harry Redknapp. Bale should never play anywhere but left wing unless there is a specific tactical plan for him in another role. The same goes for Modric. There will never be a specific tactical plan for either of them in another role under Redknapp, so why in god's name is Redknapp obsessed with playing them literally everywhere but their natural positions?
Tottenham need to beat Bolton this weekend. They need to get a result against Chelsea. And then they need to beat the ever-living piss out of every team remaining on their schedule afterwards. Let's hope Harry doesn't keep outsmarting himself and lets his class players go and play their games.