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Redknapp happy with decision to remain at Portsmouth

by Christopher Davies

LONDON — The trouble with the English is that we want it all ways.

We are shouting from the rooftops that the Premier League is the best in Europe after Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United made history by becoming the first four teams from one country to reach the Champions League quarterfinals.

At the same time there is a sense of relief in some quarters that the heavyweights of English football are not in the semifinals of the F.A. Cup.

However, now the initial delight of seeing the big boys cut down to size by cup minnows is wearing off, the reality of Cardiff vs. Barnsley and Portsmouth vs. West Bromwich is settling in.

Cardiff vs. West Bromwich in the F.A. Cup final does not necessarily conjure up the magic of the competition because interest will disappear.

Ideally we want David vs. Goliath not David vs. David.

Chelsea vs. Barnsley would make a sexier Cup final than Barnsley vs. Portsmouth or West Bromwich.

While it is welcome that the usual suspects grip on the cup has been loosened, the media will find the semifinalists a hard sell.

Zoltan Gera, Paul Parry and Jamal Campbell-Ryce do not quite have the stature of Frank Lampard, Cesc Fabregas or Fernando Torres.

With the exception of Southampton fans and those who hope it is Underdog Day Afternoon in the F.A. Cup final at Wembley, Portsmouth will have the majority of the neutral vote.

In January, Harry Redknapp opted not to take up an offer from Newcastle and stay at Portsmouth. As decisions go that one is up there with the best.

There can be a fine dividing line between being seen to lack ambition and knowing when you are well off and Redknapp’s head and heart told him Portsmouth was going places, even if Wembley probably seemed an unlikely destination.

Kevin Keegan has had a torrid time since returning to Newcastle. The club has won only two points in 2008, the fewest of any team in the four divisions of English football.

We will never know how Redknapp would have fared at one of England’s leading clubs. Instead, he will be remembered as a remarkable wheeler-dealer who has done exceptionally well with middle-class clubs.

Redknapp had nine mostly successful years as manager of West Ham before joining Portsmouth in 2001, initially as director of football.

He managed the club to the First Division title in 2003, gaining promotion to the Premier League, ironically replacing West Ham.

A dispute with Portsmouth chairman Milan Mandaric saw Redknapp resign in November 2004, and a week later he was appointed manager of Southampton, whose rivalry with Portsmouth is one of the most bitter in English football.

Portsmouth fans forgave Redknapp for defecting to the enemy as Southampton was relegated while he was in charge, before he returned to Fratton Park in December of 2005.

He has made Portsmouth a Premier League force to be reckoned with, extending the careers of war horses such as David James, Sol Campbell and Kanu, his multinational side playing positive, attacking football.

Portsmouth is the favorite to win the cup for the first time since 1939, and Redknapp said: “To win the F.A. Cup would be fantastic for this club. It was a difficult decision not to go to Newcastle. It’s easy for people to say I should have taken the challenge on. If I was 40, I might have done, but I didn’t want to be away from my wife and grandchildren and I’m happy with my decision.”

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AS ENGLAND’S quartet of Champions League quarterfinalists digest Friday’s draw, the debate rages about the Englishness of the Premier League’s four representatives.

Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United have foreign owners.

Of the 44 players who were in the starting lineups for the last round of Champions League matches only 10 were English. Only 17 of the 72 on the four squads were English.

Arsenal had not a single English starter against AC Milan, but Liverpool (Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher), Chelsea (John Terry, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole), plus United (Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand) continue to fly the flag for English players.

The purists may not like it, but the fans don’t give a hoot where their idols come from.

Arsenal and Liverpool followers are not concerned by the Spanish passports of Cesc Fabregas and Fernando Torres, while the fact that Carlos Tevez is from Argentina is a geographical irrelevance to the United faithful.

Christopher Davies writes about the Premier League for the London Daily Telegraph.