Should Harry be cheered or jeered on Fratton Park return?

HARRY Redknapp was a great manager at Portsmouth football club between 2005 and 2008. Discuss. It is an essay question which could easily be set to any football historian, and a debate which has probably sparked many a row in pubs...

By Ben Pearce

HARRY Redknapp was a great manager at Portsmouth football club between 2005 and 2008. Discuss.

It is an essay question which could easily be set to any football historian, and a debate which has probably sparked many a row in pubs all along the south coast in recent months.

Pompey fans are sure to have an opinion on the subject and, while he insists that "life goes on", Redknapp seems to care how his time at Fratton Park is viewed, both by the fans and the wider public.

Only last week the 62-year-old revealed that he had been hunting for a buyer for the struggling club, trying to persuade wealthy friends that they should invest, as Portsmouth struggled to pay their players and fought the looming darkness of administration.

This week the club have new owners, but Redknapp's claim came just days after a thoughtful explanation of the problems at the club and an attack on recent owners.

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"It's just sad, they keep finding these people unfortunately," he said. "You need owners at the club who are interested in the football club, that want to go to all the games, that want to support the team.

"I don't know why people get involved when they're not really that interested in the football club, and that seems to be what's happened at Portsmouth a little bit."

Uninterested, stingy owners may well be part of the problem, but some fans and analysts are quick to highlight the influence of an ambitious manager who persuaded his chairman to live beyond the club's means for more than two years.

As Redknapp said in May, "I used to get good players to Portsmouth because you pay them good money."

That approach allowed Pompey to capture the likes of Jermain Defoe, David James, Sol Campbell, Niko Kranjcar, Kanu and Milan Baros, while unearthed gems like Sulley Muntari and Lassana Diarra were also earning big money.

It is a tale which is very reminiscent of Leeds United's boom and bust, when a massive multi-million pound spending spree produced a Champions League semi-final in 2001, and then relegation in 2004 and administration in 2007.

Initially saving a club that looked doomed to relegation in 2005/06, Redknapp's led Portsmouth to FA Cup glory in 2008, eliminating Manchester United in the quarter-final and taking the club into Europe for the first time.

However, Pompey's glamorous necklace of stars quickly became a suffocating noose, and they are still recovering from their heavyweight wage bill, despite whole-sale departures.

So should Redknapp shoulder part of the blame? Should he apologise for trying to take lowly Pompey to the stars? Well, according to the boss, it was his dealings in the transfer market which kept the Fratton Park outfit afloat.

"The only thing that kept us going was that we bought so well in the transfer market, and we made incredible profits on players," he insists.

"People say 'well you bought people like Diarra'. Yes we did, we paid �5million for Diarra. I don't know what Peter [Storrie] would have paid him, but probably �50,000 to 55,000 a week maybe, so �7.5million in total. He was there less than a year and they sold him for �22m.

"Glen Johnson was �4m, he was sold for �18m. Sylvain Distain was a free transfer, sold him for �6m. Benjani - �4m, sold him for �9m. Without the players who we brought in and worked out, the club would have been in trouble a long time ago I think."

The debate will rage on, but if Redknapp is roundly booed on Saturday, it probably won't be because he encouraged his chairman, Storrie, to splash out and help to deliver the FA Cup and a Uefa Cup spot. It will be because he was the first to leave, starting the rush for the exit door and later taking Joe Jordan, Defoe, Crouch and Kranjcar with him to White Hart Lane.

Pompey may have been well compensated in each case, but that matters little to football fans. What they see is a previously revered ex-manager leading more former heroes, each one now intent on kicking Pompey when they are down - at the very bottom.

"Of course I'm sad about it, I absolutely loved my time there. Even when I decided to come to Tottenham, it was a difficult decision for me to leave Portsmouth," said the Spurs boss.

"My life was perfect for me. I turned the Newcastle job down, which was a fantastic opportunity for me, because I didn't really want to leave.

"This was the only club that really excited me. The opportunity to come to Tottenham was too good in the end, but also I feel it was a good move for both parties. Life moves on but I hope it all works out for them, because a lot of the lads that I signed are still there.

"Harty [manager Paul Hart], the coaching staff, I gave them all jobs. They're all people who I took to the club. Peter Storrie's a friend of mine and he's trying to get things sorted out, so I wish them every success, because they deserve that.

"But that's how it goes and I'm delighted to be at Tottenham. I absolutely love my time here, it couldn't have gone better for me.