On 24th November 2012, Queen’s Park Rangers appointed Harry Redknapp as their manager following the sacking of Mark Hughes. This decision was met with mixed responses from fans; on the one hand, Redknapp’s ability near the relegation zone was proven. On the other, last season had seen his Tottenham team inexplicably let slip a 10-point lead over North London rivals Arsenal. Rangers’ start to the season had been diabolical, but Hughes had kept them up on the final day of the previous one, and his record before taking over at Loftus Road suggested he was a capable manager.
The reasons for Hughes’ sacking were apparent – all one needed to do was glance at the league table. He arrived at the club with an excellent CV, having overseen the Wales national team for five years, kept Blackburn Rovers clear of relegation, signed many of the players that eventually made up Manchester City’s title-winning squad and led Fulham to qualify for the Europa League. No matter how good you look on paper, though, it is results alone that matter in the harsh climate of the Premier League. On the day of his dismissal Rangers were rooted firmly to the bottom of the league, having managed to accumulate only four points and without a win. They had been drubbed 5-0 by Swansea on the opening day of the season, and had not taken a point away from home in three months. To make it worse, there was no indication of results improving; Rangers’ large and expensively assembled squad looked disjointed, demotivated and unfit. There was a marked weariness to their play; an almost subconscious resignation to defeat that crept into every pass, every mistimed challenge, and every wayward shot. Hughes believed in the players he had and stuck with them, but it was failing miserably. The same disorganised back four trotted out every week and with no leadership from the goalkeeper, no gumption in midfield and no scoring form up front, it was difficult to see how they could rescue their season.
Then along came ‘Arry. If Rangers were a sinking ship, Harry Redknapp was a plane fallen from the sky to the sea. Just months ago it had all looked rosy: he was at the helm of an in-form Spurs team that occupied third place in the league, relishing the prospect of playing Champions League football again, even emerging as the leading candidate for the vacant position as manager of the England national team. It was not to be, though. A humbling 5-2 defeat to Arsenal set in motion a downward spiral of results, and Tottenham finished fourth, a place that would normally have ensured a qualifying slot for Europe’s elite competition but for Chelsea, who lifted the trophy and took the spot for themselves. Then England appointed Roy Hodgson as their coach, the Spurs chairman Daniel Levy fired Redknapp anyway, and nothing was heard from him again ‘till the day he appeared in the press room at Loftus Road.
It was clear from the off that Redknapp was going to change things. He is not one to stand for such lacklustre performances as the team he inherited was dishing out. He has form in the relegation scrap: in his first proper managerial role he saved Bournemouth from slipping out of the football league; he later survived the drop zone battle twice with Portsmouth. He had guided Tottenham to the top of their Champions League group and all the way to semi-finals, gaining universal praise for their adventurous style even against teams such as Inter and AC Milan. It would have been absurd to think he was the wrong man for the job, yet fans and pundits alike questioned his ability. Newspapers questioned his motives. Is he just in it for the money?
Redknapp’s first game in charge was a 0-0 draw away at Sunderland. Uninspiring a scoreline as it was, the change was immediate. Where the backline had been fumbling, it was resilient. The holding midfielders dropped deeper, worked harder to collect the ball. They had presence in the centre of the park where there had been none. The cutting edge that wins games was not yet there, but he had plans for that.
Cue January, and the infamous transfer window. Redknapp is notorious for his dealings in this month, particularly on the last day, and rightly so. With a large squad already sapping the club’s financial resources, he had to find bargains and he did not disappoint. Redknapp secured two huge coups; first the arrival of French international striker Loic Remy, as well as the shock return of Anji Makhachkala’s hulking Congolese centre-back Chris Samba. He pulled strings at his former club, getting Jermaine Jenas and Andros Townsend on board. He cleared out whatever dead wood he could to reduce the wage bill and the size of the squad. In short, he did everything right.
Performances have picked up, as everyone should have known they would. Remy and Jenas look to be inspired signings, having scored five goals between them in the last six fixtures. Julio Cesar is earning his money between the sticks. The game at home to Sunderland last Saturday shows how far they’ve come under Redknapp’s tutelage. Rangers are in the dogfight of their lives yet they came out against a consistent Sunderland side and played with the freedom and vibrancy often associated with the top half of the table. They conceded against the run of play, early on, but what would once have been a confidence-shattering blow only served to spur them on. Goals from Remy, Jenas and Townsend, three new signings, highlight the point. Queen’s Park Rangers may not stay up come the end of the season, but no-one is more likely to save them than Harry Redknapp.