As West Ham ready themselves for QPR’s visit to Upton Park, the Hammers will be mindful of an all too familiar face in the away dugout.
Harry Redknapp took charge of the Hoops following Mark Hughes’ dismissal from the manager’s post in November. And, despite being hailed as a hero in the past, the 65-year-old manager has become a notorious villain in West Ham’s story. There used to be a time when Redknapp could do no wrong in the eyes of the Claret and Blue Army, partly because that army used to be his. The Londoner started his professional playing career at West Ham having risen through the ranks of the club’s famous Academy.
He continued playing for the Hammers for seven years, rubbing shoulders with legends such as Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters in the meantime. Later in life, Redknapp went on to take charge of West Ham and oversaw some of the best times the club has enjoyed in the modern era during his reign from 1994 to 2001.
Redknapp was instrumental in establishing West Ham as a club that belongs in the Premier League and his tenure included leading the Hammers to finishing 5th in the top flight in 1998/1999 – the Hammers’ highest finish since the Boys Of ’86 reached 3rd place in the old Division One, and a height they have not surpassed since. However, in more recent times, Redknapp has taken to tormenting the club he served with distinction, seemingly going out of his way to rock the West Ham boat at any given opportunity.
This was especially the case during his time as manager of London rivals Tottenham from 2008 until he was sacked last summer. In the piece I wrote for Blowing Bubbles leading up to West Ham’s 3-1 defeat to Spurs on 25 November (ironically the day after Redknapp was appointed as QPR gaffer), I highlighted a few of the things ‘Arry had done in his personal vendetta while in charge of Spurs. That included scuppering West Ham’s deal to sign Eidur Gudjohnsen on loan from Monaco at the 11th hour in January 2011, and pulling out all the stops to prise Scott Parker away from the Boleyn Ground last season.
He has not changed his ways either. The ink had barely dried on his contract with QPR when Redknapp started sniffing around Mohamed Diame – one of West Ham’s star performers in 2012 – especially because he caught the slightest whiff of the £3.5m release clause in the Senegalese midfielder’s own terms and conditions. Perhaps Redknapp’s quarrel with the Hammers was caused by bitterness about the events surrounding his exit from Upton Park over 12 years ago. When he left, the club said Redknapp departed ‘by mutual consent’. But reports suggested at the time that Harry left as a very unhappy former Hammer because the board disagreed with his belief that he should have been let loose in the transfer market with Rio Ferdinand’s £18m transfer fee burning holes in his pockets.
Redknapp said: “I said we need to spend £12 to 14 million on three or four quality players just to avoid standing still.” But he also admitted that a heated exchange with Terence Brown, then West Ham Chairman, led to the manager being unemployed: “When I went into the club I had no intention of leaving, but the chat I had with the chairman got out of hand and now I’m out of a job.”
Whatever happened, Redknapp has appeared to use it as an excuse to pick apart West Ham’s plans since he left and will probably continue to do so. It cannot be doubted that this former hero of the East End has strayed away from the light and turned into a villain acting out dastardly deeds. But perhaps he was always evil and we just looked at him through claret-tinted glasses?
After all, if you ask Southampton and Portsmouth fans about Redknapp you will receive an unhealthy portion of the most severe vitriol in response. Hating Harry is the only thing the two south coast clubs can agree on. Southampton loathe him for leaving them for Portsmouth and Portsmouth despise him for his leading role in the club’s near annihilation.
And, although West Ham are Harry’s favourite victims, he proved by snatching Loic Remy from beneath Newcastle noses this week that he will not hesitate to abuse other clubs who get in his way. It is a shame that Redknapp chose to forsake his relationship with West Ham and those associated with the club he once loved, especially because that love used to be requited. It will make victory against QPR so much sweeter though.