clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

On Harry Redknapp, Leadership And Toxic Work Environments: Part I

Manager Paul Lambert of Norwich City gives instructions during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Norwich City at White Hart Lane in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Manager Paul Lambert of Norwich City gives instructions during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Norwich City at White Hart Lane in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Look at the above picture. It's a perfect microcosm of what happened on Monday, as well as what's happened to both Tottenham Hotspur and Norwich City this season. We'll talk about Paul Lambert, but let's start with Spurs' gaffer.

Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp, except for the one instance in which he screamed at Ledley King for almost getting sent off, kind of just looked like he expected things to work for most of the game. He got up to yell an instruction once in a while, but he never seemed enthusiastic. He never looked like a leader.

This isn't some kind of mind-bending revelation, I know. On Monday night, Harry acted just like he always does. He always looks grumpy on the sidelines. He's never up yelling and jumping and clapping. For a man who claims to love his job, he's never looked or sounded like he's loved any of the jobs he's ever had. He was a grumpy old man when he was 45-years-old. This is just who he is. Tottenham has won a lot of games with this man as manager, so he can't be all bad.

Redknapp has the philosophy that players win games, not managers. In his view, tactics and motivation can only take you so far. Eventually, at some point, players have to be self-motivated and they have to execute. If your players don't want to be motivated and they don't play to the best of their ability, tactics won't matter.

For the most part, I agree with this philosophy. Pep Guardiola is one of the best managers in the world, but Harry Redknapp could probably guide Barcelona to a second place finish in La Liga with the talent that exists on that team. Even though Barcelona does have a clear strategy in most of their games and their team is very tactically astute, they're a side that would probably perform well if their manager picked a generic 4-3-3 lineup and told them to fuckin' run around a bit.

Tottenham aren't Barcelona, but a lot of the principles are the same. You have talented players like Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Rafael Van der Vaart, you tell them to make it work, and most of the time they do. They make it work because they're really good at football. At best, Tottenham are the second most talented team in the league in my view. At absolute worst, they're fifth. They could slip to sixth place with poor performances, but it's hard to argue that they actually have less talent than Newcastle, as much as I'd kill to have Papiss Cisse on Spurs.

Sometimes, having a manager like Harry Redknapp is a good thing. When Tottenham got off to their terrible start under Juande Ramos in 2008, they needed someone like Harry. All they needed was a manager to keep things simple, make the players feel good about themselves and get things back to basics. They surged up the table with Harry, and then qualified for Champions League the next year. Not because of some sort of genius on the part of Harry, but because the team's timing was perfect. With Manchester City not yet together and Liverpool falling off a cliff, Tottenham just needed their good players to play well. They didn't need anyone to motivate their mediocre players to play out of their minds, and they didn't need an astute tactician to outsmart superior sides. They just needed Harry.

You may be asking yourself, can't anyone do that? Can't anyone be Harry Redknapp? The answer is more complicated than a simple yes or no. Sure, just about anyone can be Redknapp, but most people who get into football management have an ego. When you have a big ego, you better produce results or you're going to piss people off.

Juande Ramos pissed people off. Tottenham brought in Harry to make everyone feel better and it worked, but Harry Redknapp is not a world class manager and has a ceiling. Roy Hodgson pissed people off, so Liverpool brought in Kenny Dalglish to make everyone feel better. It worked, but Kenny has a ceiling and now Liverpool are playing poorly. Andre Villas-Boas was pissing people off and Roberto Di Matteo is making people feel better. Roman Abramovich is an astute businessman, probably sees the next step a mile away, and plans to hire someone with a better pedigree than Roberto Di Matteo to run his team come mid-May.

Harry Redknapp was a good hire when he was hired because he had a completely different attitude than the guy who was getting bad results and pissing people off. However, Harry has a ceiling, he has reached that ceiling, and Tottenham need to recognize this. He's a good manager for a low morale team that is performing below their talent level, but he is not Sir Alex Ferguson. He is not going to take the third or fourth most talented team in the league and turn them into a title contender. That's fine, no one expects him to be. Being inferior to Alex Ferguson does not make you a failure.


Now that we've reached this point, look at the above photo again. Look at Paul Lambert. That was him, all game long. That's him in almost all of Norwich's games. Norwich are arguably the least talented team in the Premier League and they're in 10th place. They outplayed Tottenham on Monday with inferior talent. They worked their asses off for 90 minutes, they executed what appeared to be a coherent plan, and they deservedly walked out of White Hart Lane with three points. This was more down to what they did than what Tottenham didn't do.

Spurs should never lose at home to Norwich when they play to the best of their abilities, but Norwich is good enough to beat Tottenham while on their B game. Spurs (or any other very good team) don't have to be bad for Norwich to upset them, as the Canaries have demonstrated all year. They look like a team that loves their manager, who strikes the right balance between having a tactical plan and letting them play the way they want to play. He yells without being negative. He looks like a true motivator on the sidelines in every game.

Maybe Lambert is a guy like Roy Hodgson or Mark Hughes, a great mid-table manager who doesn't know what to do with big money, big talent and big egos. Maybe Norwich is his ceiling; I'm not saying that Tottenham Hotspur need Paul Lambert. What I'm saying is that Tottenham need something. A motivator, a tactician, a loudmouth, an expert in fitness and nutrition, an expert in set pieces, anything. Anything but what Harry Redknapp is.


As most of the regular readers of this site know, I am also a fan of the Green Bay Packers and I run the Packers blog here at SB Nation. In 1999, after Mike Holmgren departed, the Packers hired Ray Rhodes. Even though the former Philadelphia Eagles coach was coming off of a 3-13 season, general manager Ron Wolf was a fan of Rhodes, who had previously served as a defensive coordinator for the Packers. In his first and only season as Packers coach, Rhodes "guided" the team to an 8-8 record.

Shortly after Rhodes was fired, before Mike Sherman was named his successor, a parody job application for the head coach position with the Packers popped up on the internet. The application outlined a number of scenarios that might pop up in an American Football game where a coach will have to make a big decision. There were four potential multiple choice answers to each question. Three of them were a plausible decision that a coach might make. The fourth option was the same on each question, and that option was to emulate Rhodes' signature: Stand on the sidelines, stare blankly, and chew your bubble gum.

At the moment, this is how I feel about Harry Redknapp. He is a manager who gets players to play at their perceived talent level, rarely above it or below it. When Plan A fails, there is no Plan B, mostly because Plan A wasn't exactly carefully choreographed in the first place. He puts 11 names on a team sheet, gives them a basic formation, and tells them to go play. When they don't play well, he says it just wasn't their day.

There is, of course, a giant elephant in the room: The England job. Tottenham have played poorly since Fabio Capello resigned his post and Harry was anointed as the favorite for the job. That's just as relevant to Tottenham's current position as Harry's pre-England rumor mill limitations, and that's a completely different post in and of itself, which is exactly why this post is labeled 'Part I'.

Update: Here's Part II