Managerial Methods: Harry Redknapp gambles on Manchester City mind games
There comes a time in any title race when performances alone aren’t enough to steal a march on a rival and a manager must try something else in order to gain an edge. That moment clearly arrived for Harry Redknapp last week when he served notice of Tottenham’s intentions with some barbed comments in the direction of Manchester City after his team had closed to within three points of the Premier League leaders with victory in their long-awaited game in hand against Everton.
Redknapp’s remarks about the mounting pressure on City were disguised in the form of pride at the team he has built at White Hart Lane – in his words: “without someone walking through the door and slapping a bundle of money on my desk” – but a man of his vast experience obviously understood how those comments would be picked up and reported the following day.
Therefore, we should assume his speech was carefully scripted for the purpose of getting under City’s skin, especially when you consider that Rafael van der Vaart, arguably Tottenham’s most senior player, followed up on Friday with quotes to the effect that Spurs had a better team ethic and the mind games were becoming too much for Roberto Mancini’s men.
With the Toure brothers on international duty at the African Cup of Nations, Vincent Kompany suspended for four matches and a handful of other key players struggling with minor injuries, there’s no doubt City are at their most vulnerable right now, so we shouldn’t raise any real concerns about the timing of this offensive. The big question is whether it was necessary at all.
You see, the move represents something of a gamble with Spurs set to visit the Etihad Stadium this weekend and some might argue it has already shown signs of backfiring with the Lilywhites dropping unexpected points at home to Wolves at the weekend. By sticking his head above the parapet and willingly entering into the title race psychology, Redknapp has, in essence, drawn a line under Tottenham’s journey beneath the radar.
Clearly, he senses there is an advantage to be gained, whereby the risk of increasing the focus on his own team, and thus upping the ante for his own players, is worth the potential rewards of turning the heat up on City. Whether it’s a wise move or not, only time will tell. However, the contrasting danger is that Redknapp’s remarks might actually serve as motivation for the leaders.
The two clubs have charted similar paths over the past three years but this is new territory for both in terms of what’s at stake and whereas Tottenham have only just walked into the glare of the title spotlight over the past few weeks, City have been there all season fighting against a much more accomplished distraction than Redknapp.
Indeed, following the disappointment of their recent FA Cup defeat to Manchester United, you suspect the Sky Blues might even welcome the excuse to avert the gaze of Sir Alex Ferguson for a short while and take up a different psychological battle that is more under their control and more in their favour. In this instance, City get to play at being United, albeit with the benefit of 20 weeks’ worth of experience rather than 20 years.
Now this might all seem a bit convoluted for some, but those who question whether we should be reading so much into Redknapp’s remarks should consider that it’s largely out of character for the Spurs boss to pass even the slightest comment about another team that isn’t purely reverential. It’s just not his style.
As a manager who has built a career around reviving players who have been written-off or under-rated by others – Emmannuel Adebayor providing a fine example – he clearly recognises the fuel to be found beneath dismissive words and actions. As such, he regularly waxes lyrical about forthcoming opponents, prefixing all of his praise with the much-impersonated “triffic” superlative.
He has done that with City before and no doubt he will be doing the same again in his press conference directly relating to this weekend’s game. Nonetheless, we should understand that Redknapp’s mind has shifted in the wider context of the title race and now it will be interesting to see how his own players respond on the back of it.
Had Redknapp (and van der Vaart) said nothing last week, City might have been slightly unnerved by Tottenham’s dissociation from the pressure they are feeling and distracted more by their own shortcomings. But the words have clearly angered sections of the City support and while we should expect the players to be slightly less emotional about these things, we can only assume those digs have registered in the collective mindset of the dressing room.
Whatever your interpretation, it certainly heightens the intrigue ahead of Sunday. In each of the past two seasons, this fixture has been played much later in the season and the outcome was much more final. In May 2010, Tottenham triumphed 1-0 with a Peter Crouch goal to clinch fourth spot and a place in the Champions League. In May last year, City did likewise when Crouch put through his own net at the same end of the ground.
In both instances, the decisive goal was highly preventable but the right team won, which isn’t to say the team that dominated possession or created the most chances, rather the team that held its nerve better under the weight of the occasion. This weekend, another tense encounter lies in store and the mental condition of the two teams is liable to be decisive once again.
Redknapp has called City with his comments, now it’s time for City to show their hand.Harry Redknapp, Manchester City, Premier League, Tottenham
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