LONDON – A month ago, Queens Park Rangers manager Harry Redknapp said he would “soon” be signing a new two-year contract. “It’s all been drawn up, I just need to sign on the dotted line.”
Contradicting himself, Redknapp then said in his Sunday column on Oct. 5: “The truth is I told (owner) Tony Fernandes three or four weeks ago that I do not want a contract. We’ll see where QPR finish the season and take it from there. I may have had enough by then and so might the people who run the club. If we get relegated, I wouldn’t expect to stay and I wouldn’t want to.”
Redknapp’s departure may happen sooner rather than later. As Rangers prepare for Sunday’s game against Liverpool, Tony Pulis, Glenn Hoddle, who is on Rangers’ coaching staff, and Tim Sherwood have already been mentioned as Redknapp’s successor. Four weeks can be a long time in football.
Fernandes, who founded AirAsia, is one of the Premier League’s most likable, approachable and honest chairmen. He has the enthusiasm of a fan and the money of a multi-millionaire, which can be a dangerous combination. The Malaysian has invested heavily in QPR, unfortunately much of his cash has been spent with reckless abandon, allowing his managers to bring in aging and ordinary players on inflated salaries.
During Fernandes’ 3½ years in charge, almost 50 players have been brought in or signed on loan. One year, Rangers paid out almost £7 million in agents’ fees alone.
“I allowed myself to be exploited, but that’s my choice,” said Fernandes, though the summer signings of Rio Ferdinand, who is 36 next month, from Manchester United and Mauricio Isla from Juventus suggests lessons have still not been learned.
Redknapp is not just Fernandes’ manager, the pair are close friends, and while Rangers are bottom of the Premier League, sacking Redknapp is not on the chairman’s agenda. Yet.
Fernandes has a history of pulling the trigger when relegation looms large. In 2011-12, he fired Neil Warnock with Rangers one point above the relegation zone and replaced him with Mark Hughes. QPR survived by one point, but the following season, with four points from a possible 36, Hughes was dismissed and in came Redknapp, who had left Tottenham in mysterious circumstances after being the people’s favorite for the England job. Rangers were relegated in 2012-13, though they regained their Premier League status last May.
At the start of this season, Rangers played three at the back, bringing in Isla on a season’s loan specifically for that purpose. After two games, Redknapp went back to a more traditional four-man defense, a formation not suited to Isla who has not played for six weeks.
The impression is that Redknapp, 67, who is still troubled by knee replacement surgery earlier this year, will be relieved to give up a schedule that sees him leave his home in Poole at 5:30 most days for the 400 km round trip journey and become a TV pundit.
Redknapp would be reluctant to hand over the reins to anyone else, but does not want another relegation on his CV.
Fernandes may have to make his toughest call as Queens Park Rangers chairman unless Redknapp does it for him.
England beat Estonia 1-0 in a Euro 2016 qualifying tie last Sunday. It is worth pointing this out because coverage of the game and subsequent follow-up articles plus phone-ins were dominated by the controversy, real or perceived, involving Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling.
Roy Hodgson revealed Sterling told him he was “a little bit tired” so he did not start the match in Tallinn, instead he came on as a second-half substitute. The nation was split between those who could not understand how a 19-year-old could possibly be tired in October and those who appreciated that playing in every competitive game for club and country this season could take its toll on a teenage body.
Alan Shearer compared Sterling to a workman who has to get up at 6 a.m. and the former England captain “does not want to hear how tired a professional footballer is.” This is the same Alan Shearer who quit international football at 29 to prolong his club career, by the way.
Hodgson has been criticized for being too honest by journalists who moan when managers lie. In hindsight, maybe Sterling should have said he had a slight calf strain, though Hodgson’s honesty was probably prompted by the ongoing row between himself and Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers over the injury sustained by Daniel Sturridge when training 36 hours after the game against Norway last month. The striker has not played since.
Rodgers believed Sturridge, 25, needed 48-hours rest while Hodgson is of the view only players in their mid-30s require that amount recovery time. One day is par for the course.
“I don’t think there is a lot of medical evidence to support the two-day theory,” said Hodgson.
So Sterling was caught in the crossfire between Hodgson, who managed Liverpool for six months four seasons ago, and Rodgers with suggestions the player had pressure put on him by his club.
Sterling has emerged as England’s key player. Playing behind the main striker, his pace and power have become the main weapon in England’s attack and while Hodgson was right to listen to what the player told him, perhaps he could simply have said he was rotating the side to keep players fresh.
The moral of all this is that it is OK for a manager to rest a player, but not for a player to ask for rest.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.