Jonathan Wilson in The Guardian has an excellent series on tactical questions in football. His latest is on Harry Redknapp, a subject dear to my heart, and asks: is he really a complete tactical novice? The background is that football writers and commentators have drifted toward depicting Redknapp as essentially tactically naive, a manager who simply picks his best 11 and sends them out to play as they will, regardless of the opposition. The contrast would be with managers like Jose Mourinho or Rafael Benitez, who plan each match meticulously, compiling dossiers on the opposition and changing formations and strategies often in order to gain slight advantages. People conclude that Redknapp has had success primarily by being a motivator: making underperforming players feel confident and proud and thus getting the best out of them.
The column pays Redknapp a huge compliment by comparing him to Brian Clough, winner of two European Cups with Nottingham Forest and another manager who stated publicly that he didn’t think much of “tactics.” However Clough seemed to be referring to “tactics” as practised by his great rival Don Revie: analysing upcoming opposition and setting up a team to nullify their strengths and exploit their weaknesses. However I think the main insight of the article is that this apparent disparity between managerial methods is more than it’s made out to be: the main difference is one of style. In recent interviews, Redknapp has in fact talked a fair amount about the tactical switches he has made, to counter an opposition who are exploiting the flanks well, or “playing through us” in the middle of the pitch. The changes he has made have included moving players away from their preferred positions (e.g. putting Rafael van der Vaart out on the right wing) in order to achieve tactical outcomes: this does not speak of “just sending them out to play.”
So Redknapp, while perhaps not being a footballing professor, is certainly tactically astute: it’s just that he puts a lot more emphasis on getting his team confident, motivated and committed to attacking the opposition than he does on drilling them on what to do in every specific match situation. This is probably why the support love him: the method harks back to Tottenham’s most successful years, when they were captained by Danny Blanchflower. He was the reason my Dad started supporting the club, and hence why I did, and his footballing philosophy ran something like:
“The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the kind. The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.”