Harry Redknapp started 2008 with a dilemma.
Having dragged Portsmouth to upper mid-table status in the Premier League, building arguably their best-ever squad with seemingly limitless money, Redknapp was sounded out for the Newcastle job recently vacated by Sam Allardyce.
Mike Ashley, not yet the bogeyman he’d become to the Toon Army, was still wearing replica shirts in Newcastle away ends. Transfer funds would have been plentiful. An experienced, talent squad was tailor-made for Redknapp.
Suitably, the Portsmouth boss spent days umming and ahing about it but ultimately decided to stay at Fratton Park.
In truth, it was hard to imagine Redknapp managing anywhere outside the south of England, where the Englishman could commute to Sandbanks and be in close proximity to a pie and mash shop.
To say it was a surprise when this staunch Cockney rocked up in Jordan to manage the national team in March 2016 would be to redefine the word ‘understatement’.
“He is a world-class manager and he has proven that throughout his career,” Prince Ali said at Redknapp’s unveiling.
“It very rare you have people of this class. I spoke to many people but immediately it became evident Harry is the man for the job.”
“I met him at Greenwich, I only had five minutes with him and I could tell he loved football,” Redknapp replied in the manner of an ITV viewer who is won over by roguish politicians appearing on I’m a Celebrity.
“When this opportunity came I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t ask: ‘How much are you going to pay me?’ I was so impressed and I was backing him all the way in the FIFA elections.”
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Jordan had never qualified for the World Cup, but the Asian Confederation was still perceived as the weakest in world football – all four of its competitors at Brazil 2014 (Australia, Iran, Japan & South Korea) failed to win a game and finished bottom of their group.
Still, Redknapp was quick to downplay his own ability to make a difference. “It comes down to the players,” he said while furiously soaping and drying his hands.
“I haven’t got a magic wand, I can’t come here and suddenly go: ‘We’re going to play like Brazil’. If I can get another 5% to make the difference I’ll be delighted.”
Redknapp was given a two-match deal, encompassing World Cup qualifiers against Bangladesh and Australia.
“The standard of the play was good and they have trained very hard for the last seven or eight days,” he said before his first match. “I slept much better last night having seen them. I’m very pleased with the group.”
And Redknapp would’ve gone to sleep with a smile wider than River Jordan after his new charges pummelled Bangladesh 8-0, dreaming of leading the Asian minnows to the Luzhniki for the World Cup final in 2018.
But the true highlight of Redknapp’s reign in Jordan was when the former Tottenham and West Ham boss was approached by an Arabic reporter after the match.
It is clearly evident that ‘Arry’s Arabic was not up to scratch, while the reporter’s grasp of English would’ve struggled to fill a pamphlet. The reporter welcomed Redknapp, only for Redknapp to in turn welcome him back.
He then switched into ‘foreigner abroad’ mode, speaking loudly and slowly as if he was placing an order for egg and chips in Benidorm, but also in pidgin English. The result would’ve made Alan Partridge cringe.
Alas, Redknapp’s brief Asian sojourn ended with a 5-1 hammering against Australia, ending their hopes of qualification for Russia 2018.
“I would help them, the Prince or anyone, free of charge,” Redknapp said after his tactical retreat was confirmed to the media. “I would meet them in London, have a chat and, if they want me to do anything any time, then I’m only too pleased to do it.
“I would do a little bit of stuff if they wanted me to. If I could help in any way, then I would give my time because they were fantastic people. I don’t know what full-time [manager] would be but I couldn’t go and live away. I would like to see them get one of their own lads in.
“I would have loved to have qualified for the Prince and all the people there. It was a great experience for me, something I’ll never forget and something I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.”
For a man who got a nosebleed north of the Watford Gap, managing Jordan felt like an out-of-character decision akin to a monosyllabic teenager signing up for the French Exchange.
While Redknapp’s two matches failed to facilitate a power shift in Asian football, and is best remembered for a Brent-ish interview, it was also indicative of a manager who was more open-minded than widely given credit for.
By Michael Lee