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Redknapp's Scrapheap Challenge, Or: There's Two Kinds Of 'Buying British'


As an Englishman on a site which boasts a fairly sizeable American contingent, I'm acutely aware that very few people will know what I'm talking about when I start to draw sporting analogies with classic UK daytime TV fare Scrapheap Challenge. I hear the same concept has been explored in the US on the show Junkyard Wars, but for those out there who have no idea what I'm talking about, the premise of the show essentially follows that two teams have to enter a huge scrap metal compound and attempt to construct some kind of formidable structure out of what they can find. Below is a clip illustrating the magnificence that occasionally emerges from hard graft and, erm, a huge power tool budget.

Anyway, the point of this intro is that while regaling myself on Youtube with some of the show's finest fare this afternoon, the images before my eyes began to synthesize with some of thoughts I'd been having about a comment Bryan Ashlock had made in a post this afternoon about Harry Redknapp's ‘buy British' propensity, and the raised point about how disappointing it can sometimes be to see how introspective our manager can be when searching for new players to fill the books at a time when the Man Cities and (more pervasively) the Newcastles of the League had been reaping the benefits of a more cosmopolitan attitude. What I came to think at that moment is that there's two ways to buy British: you can go the Kenny Dalglish way, of going for the prospects, the national stars of the future, or you can take a dip into Harry Redknapp's Scrapyard, and find a very particular kind of player with a very unique kind of mentality.

My point is this: when you think about the kind of player that fits the Harry Redknapp ideal, the first attribute that usually springs to mind is that they're usually entering the peak of their careers. Taking the double transfer of the Kyles from Sheffield United during the 2009-10 summer transfer window out of the equation, the average age of the British players signed by Harry Redknapp during his time at Spurs is 28. All of the players who can be included in this bracket could be considered in some sense veterans for clubs and country, with Robbie Keane and Scott Parker being amongst the most prominent. Now obviously, it's tempting to trot out the argument based on this evidence that Harry plumps for experience over raw talent when choosing his players; his infamous failed pursuits of characters such as David Beckham and Joe Cole would also speak to this idea. Harry also likes his deals; he never seems to go for British players that are in the limelight at the time of their sale. So essentially, the generic argument argues that he looks for a strong CV and value out of his British transfers, going for caution ahead of the exciting and invigorating risk of young blood.

However, I think there's a more subtle point to be teased out from this evidence. Glancing another look at the chronology and details of Harry's signings since 2008, I submit that the specific timing of every one of them is intrinsically important to understanding why he keeps revisiting the British Scrapheap. The point is that said Scrapheap is populated largely by players who, in one way or another, have recently inherited a chip on their shoulder.

Case in point: at the time of his signing in 2009, Robbie Keane had had a considerably inauspicious start to his Liverpool career, considering the size of the price tag that brought him to Anfield. His first goals had taken a long time to come, and after only spending half a season under Rafael Benitez rumours were circulating that he had already been slotted in right down the pecking order of forwards in the manager's favour. Robbie Keane was firmly heading into the Scrapheap, and considering the peak he'd hit at the time of his sale, it's understandable that he wouldn't want to stay there.

Now compare to Scotty Parker. Signed at a tender age to play for Chelsea, he was constantly underused, maligned and wasted at Stamford Bridge. By the age of 29, during what should have been the golden years of his life, he was pouring all his strength and will into trying to keep a dismal West Ham side up, to no avail. A Football Writer's Player of the Year Award followed, but the fact remains that he hardly looked a lock for an England call up at the time; hence the scepticism that followed him from some quarters into his Spurs career. It was entirely foreseeable, in fact, that he would stay in the Championship with the Hammers. Another year where the Gareth Barrys of the world look set to deny him the chance to represent his country again right when he was in the prime of his abilities.

Then there's David Beckham and Joe Cole. By 2010, the former was making noises about wanting to play for his country one more time; the manager of the time told him that unless he could find a way play in England and prove himself in the Premier League, he'd remain on the British Scrapheap too, consigned to see Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon make his favoured position their own whilst he endured the jeers of the LA Riot Squad contingent of his club's own fans for his ‘treacherous' move to AC Milan on loan. Cole, similarly, had gone from being England's Golden Boy to a joke at Liverpool, failing to even win a starting role in the first team in his first season despite having been branded an essential part of the national team's setup by Wayne Rooney only months before.

What links all these players together? It's not just that they're all grizzled players hardened by years of first team action at the top level of English football. Arguably, all of them by the time Harry came calling had started their descent into the Scrapheap of maligned, overlooked talent, and all of them wanted to and certainly deserved to get out. Just before signing for Spurs, Parker told an interviewer that "throughout my career I've noticed that when I get a chance I need to take it. Some players I've seen over the years, get time to breathe a bit. I can't explain why but I don't think I've ever been afforded that luxury". Surely Beckham, Cole and Keane would all chime in to second that point. When a club of Spurs' caliber comes calling, and you have a manager as patient as Redknapp who knows what you can do, you'll take the chance to show the national press, the British public, and your national coach how you deserve to have another turn in the limelight.

When Redknapp buys British, he doesn't just look for experience and value. He goes specifically to the Scrapheap of maligned talent because he knows no-one wants to be there. Why does anything end up in a junkyard anyway? Because no-one's paying it any attention any more. It's the young talent signed by managers such as Dalglish that force these players into that place; it's Harry who makes his challenge to find and construct something out of what he finds there. He's attuned not just to which British players can do a job for him, but who wants to upstage the younger generation of talent- whose value is based not just on ability, but on the importance that these players themselves attach to the opportunity to play for Spurs. It is from this approach, rather than from a necessarily misplaced British bias, that Redknapp has built a squad that will give everything for him; anything to stave off another spell on the Scrapheap.