Last Monday, the Premier League transfer window closed. The whole of the January window was relatively quiet for Premier League clubs, and transfer deadline day, which gets hyped as a huge event by the English media, was largely uneventful.
In years gone by, teams towards the bottom of the Premier League have been very active in the transfer market, as they have tried to upgrade their squads in order to avoid relegation, or to find replacements for players.
That didn’t really happen this year. Crystal Palace brought in a few players, but most of the other clubs currently in a relegation battle didn’t make many significant moves, and instead chose to stick with the players they had. One of those clubs was QPR, who’s only significant January transfer was the loan signing of Mauro Zarate from West Ham.
On Tuesday, QPR announced that manager Harry Redknapp had resigned, citing upcoming knee surgery as the reason.
Now, I don’t know Harry Redknapp, or even anyone who does know him, so I’ve no idea if his impending knee surgery would genuinely have prevented him from managing, or if it was his face-saving excuse to leave as a result of QPR not managing to make any deadline day moves, despite Redknapp’s efforts to sign Emmanuel Adebayor, Rickie Lambert and Matt Jarvis.
On the face of it, and without knowing the extent of Redknapp’s problems with his knees, it’s difficult to see why he wouldn’t have been able to carry on managing the team had he really wanted to, and you also have to bear in mind that Redknapp can sometimes be economical with the truth. It’s also easy to imagine a scenario of QPR signing a few players on deadline day and Redknapp still being in charge.
Make no mistake; had QPR fired Redknapp, it wouldn’t have been a surprise. QPR are in a relegation battle, largely due to their abysmal away form which has seen them fail to pick up a single point on the road this season and look to be woefully lacking in quality throughout the team.
Fans are starting to get fed up too, as is nicely summed up here.
Having said that, their home record is better than anyone else in the bottom half of the Premier League, and they are still within a few points of getting out of the relegation zone. The hope will be that QPR’s new manager, likely to be former Spurs manager Tim Sherwood, will be able to organise the team a little better and get them to safety this season.
Now, Harry Redknapp has left jobs before, and has never been out of work for too long, but this time it’s really hard to see him coming back. There’s something different about his exit this time, there’s almost an air of finality about it, as if he’s admitted to himself that he’s no longer suited to managing at the sharp end of English football.
Job roles change with the times. They can change in terms of new technology coming in to be used, they change in terms of the ideology behind a job and how that job and they can change in terms of the skills required to be successful.
Football has also changed. In the past few years, English football has undergone something of a quiet revolution, as the traditional ways of coaching, and the traditional personality and makeup of a manager has also changed. In fact, the role of the football manager has changed to the point where there are fewer managers and an increasing number of head coaches.
Maybe I’m doing Redknapp a disservice here, but I’ve always thought of him as an old-school manager who believes that if you put eleven good players on the pitch, motivate them to give a high amount of effort and instil a ton of self-belief into them, then that’s enough to get a result. And, to be fair, for most of Redknapp’s managerial career, that was the case.
Redknapp is a great motivator of players (though he’s equally capable of falling out spectacularly or just losing interest with others); certain players have absolutely thrived under his leadership. He’s also excellent at dealing with the media, which is something that many ‘more modern’ managers struggle with, and goes a long way to explaining why he got a relatively easy ride from the media compared to some other managers.
But players and fans now expect more. They expect their managers to be knowledgeable about several different formations and tactical approaches, and to be comfortable enough to switch between them effortlessly, both on a game-to-game basis, and during games.
That’s not Redknapp’s strength. He just doesn’t have a sufficient grasp on tactics to match wits with some of the other Premier League managers. He struggles to explain tactics when he’s an analyst on TV and just gives an overall impression of bewilderment when others start discussing them.
Harry Redknapp has a reputation, albeit one he hates, for being a wheeler-dealer in the transfer market. He loves the cut-and-thrust of signing players and selling others. In fact, there are some players he likes signing so much he’s done so again and again. Last summer, he signed Croatian Niko Kranjcar for the fourth time in his career.
Redknapp loves making deals for players, and if they don’t work out, then he’ll happily make a deal for that player to leave and then make a deal for someone else to come. On transfer deadline day, he tried to send Mauro Zarate, who had only arrived on loan three weeks earlier, back to West Ham so he could then sign winger Matt Jarvis on loan instead, only to be told that would be against league rules.
Such transfer manoeuvrings aren’t really compatible with modern football. Financial Fair Play means that transfers have to be better thought out than ever before, so having huge turnovers of players isn’t the way most clubs do things anymore.
Redknapp has a propensity for signing experienced players. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with that, as you know you’re signing a proven player, who should be able to come in and do a job for the team straight away.
However, this transfer strategy goes against FFP, as teams are looking to sign younger players who not only are paid less than an established player, but have much greater resale value than players in their late 20’s or early 30’s.
Plus, with increased TV money in the Premier League, teams are more likely to hang onto their star players rather than cashing in. For example, Burnley’s star striker Danny Ings is out of contract this summer, and several clubs are interested in him. Liverpool made a bid that a few years ago a club like Burnley would have accepted, but now they rationalise that although they may get less money for him in the summer (Ings’ age means Burnley will get a fee for him despite his contract expiring), his value to Burnley here and now, in terms of their battle to survive in the Premier League means he’s worth keeping for as long as possible.
You also have to remember that QPR have been burnt in the past. In the 2013 January transfer window, and not longer after Harry Redknapp was appointed manager, QPR spent a lot of money both in transfer fees and wages, in what turned out to be an unsuccessful bid to stay in the Premier League. QPR were relegated with a £78m wage bill and lost £68m that season.
At the end of the season QPR owner Tony Fernandes bemoaned the attitude of some of the players signed, who didn’t seem to care at all about the team, and had treated QPR as a retirement tour.
QPR are also facing a hefty fine from the Football League for breaching their FFP rules last season, a fine which QPR are likely to contest. In theory, should QPR not pay this fine and get relegated from the Premier League this season, the Football League may not admit them for next season.
So, in this transfer window Fernandes was being a bit more cautious, as evidenced by this tweet.
A few months into the season, QPR appointed Les Ferdinand as Director of Football Operations, which has morphed into the role of Director of Football since Redknapp resigned. This brings QPR in line with most Premier League clubs. The Director of Football/Head Coach setup is not quite the same as a General Manager/Head Coach setup most American sports franchises have, but it’s not too far removed either.
What it means is that where a manager used to be responsible for transfers, contracts and coaching, that responsibility is now divided. When they first started appearing, Directors of Football were treated with suspicion by managers, who felt that they were there to undermine them and ultimately take their jobs, but now most head coaches are used to working with a Director of Football and no longer see them as a threat.
That’s not the case with Harry Redknapp, who recently called Directors of Football “a joke”.
The modern football coach needs to be extremely tactically astute and adaptable; they can’t tinker in the transfer market too much, and probably won’t have total control over transfers. One person cannot have total control over a club anymore. All of these things are contrary to what Harry Redknapp likes to do.
Unless an opportunity arises with a club on the south coast of England, where Redknapp lives, it’s hard to see him getting back into football management. He’s just been left behind as the game has moved on.