Redknapp's right to block Roman road out of Tottenham
MANAGERS often allow themselves a self-satisfied smile when their substitutions come up trumps, so it was no surprise to see Harry Redknapp smirking in the dugout on Sunday. However, the look on the manager's face was not one of pride...
By Ben Pearce
MANAGERS often allow themselves a self-satisfied smile when their substitutions come up trumps, so it was no surprise to see Harry Redknapp smirking in the dugout on Sunday.
However, the look on the manager's face was not one of pride - it was amusement. A picture can speak 1,000 words, but Redknapp's expression said just five: "It's a funny old game."
To say that Roman Pavlyuchenko was the unlikely hero at the DW Stadium is a serious understatement, given the latest round of verbal sparring that had preceded the match (see below).
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Pavlyuchenko once again voiced his frustration at his lack of playing time, and Tottenham's apparent refusal to sell him - since the Russian transfer window remains open until mid-March, the 28-year-old could still return to his home country, and Lokomotiv Moscow have made at least one bid.
Meanwhile, Redknapp again hinted that Pavlyuchenko has effectively been on strike, faking an injury after a brief goalscoring appearance against Leeds on January 23.
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Recently asked when the �13.8million forward might be fit, Redknapp joked: "When does the Russian window close?" and mused "that seems to be the problem."
This time the manager scoffed: "He came on against Leeds and scored a terrific goal...but he picked up an injury in that 15 minutes he was on the pitch and wasn't available."
The similarities with Dimitar Berbatov's departure saga in the summer of 2008 are startling - the Bulgarian striker also refused to play for Tottenham in the final days of the transfer window to force through his move to Manchester United.
Then, as now, it was an unenviable decision for Spurs' chairman and manager. Why pay tens of thousands of pounds per week to a player who refuses to play, and might disrupt the team from the inside? Surely it is better to replace him with someone who actually wants to play for the club?
Ultimately, that was the decision that Daniel Levy and Juande Ramos made. Berbatov went to Old Trafford at the last minute, and Spurs quickly turned to Pavlyuchenko.
Faced with such an impasse, the resolution in 2008 was totally understandable. However, it contributed to Spurs' worst ever start in the a league, crippling the campaign before it had even begun.
That sequence of events led directly to Redknapp's arrival and, having rectified many of the mistakes that Ramos made on the pitch, it seems that the 62-year-old has a different view on player power, strikes and enforced sales as well.
Tottenham fans may often have wondered what would have happened if Spurs had refused to sell Berbatov, and Redknapp's handling of Pavlyuchenko provides a fascinating glipse of that alternative reality.
According to Lokomotiv Moscow's president it is Redknapp who is blocking Pavlyuchenko's exit: "It's our understanding that the view within Tottenham is split," he said. "The directors have no objection to selling the player, but the coach wants to keep him until at least the summer. We'll talk about the transfer at the end of the season."
Levy, it seems, is willing to wash his hands of another wantaway striker. But he has always acted on his manager's judgment and Redknapp has instructed his chairman to hold onto Pavlyuchenko, and keep paying him, whether he is willing to play or not.
That decision bore fruit on Sunday, just four days after Lokomotiv's president apparently gave up the chase.
Left with no exit, Pavlyuchenko's desperation to play first-team football suddenly left him with only one option - play for Tottenham. The response was immediate - two goals, and the celebrations were notable as well.
There was no sign of a disruptive influence with a chip on his shoulder. This was a real, emotional celebration among team-mates who rushed to congratulate a clearly popular team-mate, while the visiting Spurs fans gleefully chanted his name - all scenes that seemed impossible this time last week.
There is undoubtedly a long way to go in this story, but Redknapp's plans have suddenly come to fruition. The Spurs boss 'allowed' Robbie Keane to leave for Celtic because he wanted to promote Pavlyuchenko to third in the pecking order without humiliating the misfiring Irishman.
Ironically, Pavlyuchenko chose that moment to make his stand and refuse to play. But on Sunday, three weeks after Keane's departure, everything finally came together.
Writing ahead of the FA Cup replay with Bolton, Pavlyuchenko has scored three goals in a total of 36 minutes of playing time, against Leeds and Wigan. Despite all the drama and verbal sparring, Spurs have a deadly string to their bow.
If he 'stays fit' and plays to his potential again, Redknapp's refusal to bow to player power may prove to be one his finest hours at Spurs. Managers across the world take note - including Ramos.