LONDON — Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp and chairman Milan Mandaric are like a married couple constantly quarreling but who find it difficult to live together, though, equally can’t live without each other.
Their public rows have been food and drink for the tabloids, two strong personalities standing their ground amid the war of words headlines.
Redknapp and Mandaric have had an uneasy truce since the end of last season when the chairman’s plans to expand the club’s coaching setup put the future of assistant manager Jim Smith in doubt.
In the end, Smith stayed but Joe Jordan was added to the coaching staff, but not at the expense of Smith, so both Mandaric and Redknapp believed they had won this particular battle. The pipe of peace was smoked but it proved a temporary truce.
Two weeks ago it emerged Mandaric was keen to bring in a director of football to give Portsmouth a more solid foundation. Redknapp reacted furiously, believing his own position would be undermined, saying this sort of set-up would never work in English football and threatening to leave if it happened.
‘Arry’ as his name is pronounced in his native Cockney, had told close friends he was going to resign as manager because of the insistence of Mandaric to bring in Velimir Zajec who was director of football at Panathinaikos.
Zajec will soon be in place at Fratton Park but as executive director rather than director of football.
“Harry Redknapp remains manager of the club which was never in doubt,” said a statement on Portsmouth’s Web site and one can only assume everyone at the club has been on holiday somewhere where there were no newspapers or televisions for the previous week.
“The board will continue the expansion of the club with the appointment of a new executive director who will be Velimir Zajec. Speculation that he was joining as a director of football was ill founded and he will become a main board member.”
Zajec, a Croat, is a close friend of Portsmouth’s Serbian chairman — he was a former Panathinaikos player and coach who played 57 times for Yugoslavia.
Redknapp and Mandaric seem to have agreed to a another ceasefire (albeit no doubt temporary) after the chairman explained Zajec’s role at the club.
Zajec’s brief is to build up the youth academy and improve the scouting system, especially abroad.
Redknapp was assured he was the boss and would still be in charge of all transfers which placated the manager. We shall see.
After a series of disagreements at Panathinaikos, coach Itzhak Shum, who had led the club to the Greek double last season, left as the new campaign was getting under way.
There are those who believe a big hitter like Zajec will not be content to merely organize the youth academy and scouting system and will soon look for a more hands-on role. There may be trouble ahead . . .
For his part Mandaric does not want Portsmouth to merely survive in the Premiership each year and feels the current situation of having so many players on loan is too short-term.
Only two of the Portsmouth first-team squad is “home grown.”
Redknapp, meanwhile, believes his record as Portsmouth manager is evidence he knows what he is doing. When he took over in 2001-2002 the club was 17th in the old first division. Now, Portsmouth, punching above its weight and over-achieving, is enjoying its second season in the Premiership, a success Redknapp will tell you has been achieved on a shoestring budget.
Picking up free transfers and loan players the wheeler-dealer supreme Redknapp has come up with a winning formula that almost defies belief.
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it is Redknapp’s view, but Mandaric wants to lay foundations for life after Redknapp departs.
Redknapp spoke of his relief at patching things up with Mandaric. “I accept what Milan says about the structure of the club,” he said which was rather different from what he was saying a week ago.
“If you want to do that you’ve got to build a youth academy and everything else, and find the players somewhere to train like Southampton have done. It takes years to do. It’s a big investment, but that’s the way forward for every football club. I accept that.
“I think you know I’m a football manager, though. And if I’m not in control, I’m not here, am I?”
Redknapp has 18 months to run on his contract and just as Mandaric knows he could not find a better manager for his club, ‘Arry’ would not want to start again at another club.
It is unlikely that we have heard the last of the Portsmouth power struggle and it may only be a matter of time before Fratton Park becomes Factious Park again.
WHEN LIVERPOOL signed Emlyn Hughes from Blackpool in 1967, Reds manager Bill Shankly drove the player to the Football League’s headquarters in Lytham St. Anne’s so he could be registered in time to be eligible for the next game.
The late Shankly was, in Hughes’ words “the worst driver in the world.” And going through a set of traffic lights his car hit another vehicle, smashing the lights of the Liverpool manager’s Corsair.
After the pair had exchanged details for insurance purposes Shankly drove off but he was soon flagged down by a police car.
“What is it officer?” asked Shankly.
“I’m sorry sir, you can’t continue your journey in that car, it has no lights,” said the policeman.
“Do you know who’s in this car?” asked Shankly.
“No, I don’t recognize you,” said the policeman.
“Not me you fool. I’ve got the future captain of England alongside me.”
The young lad who had made only 29 appearances for Blackpool at the time did indeed go on to lead his country, winning 62 England caps and being awarded the OBE.
Hughes, who died last week after losing his battle against a brain tumor, was nicknamed Crazy Horse because of his energy and powerful, surging runs from defense.
He became the first Liverpool captain to get his hands on the European Cup in 1977 (the Reds also won the trophy in 1978), while collecting five League Championship medals, two UEFA Cup medals plus an F.A. Cup medal.
After retiring as a player, he had an unsuccessful spell at Rotherham as manager before turning to television where he won a host of new admirers as a captain on the BBC’s Question of Sport program.
His grin and infectious laugh became a trademark of the show and Hughes made the front pages after he memorably put an arm around guest Princess Anne when she was on his team.
It was typical of Hughes who treated everyone with the same affection and respect.
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