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Redknapp is a golden oldie

Harry Redknapp struck the latest blow for English management's older generation by completing the transformation of Tottenham Hotspur from fallen giant flirting with relegation to Champions League qualifiers.

Fulham's 62-year-old Roy Hodgson had already demonstrated there is life in the old dogs yet by guiding the Cottagers to a Europa League final against Atletico Madrid. Now Redknapp, another elder statesmen, is celebrating spectacular success.

The sprightly 63-year-old walked into White Hart Lane in late October 2008 as Juande Ramos left behind him a team anchored firmly to the foot of the Premier League.

Today, Spurs are back among Europe's elite after beating Manchester City at Eastlands in what effectively amounted to a fourth place play-off.

And Redknapp, as the main strategist, takes most of the credit.

The former Portsmouth and West Ham boss, suit still dripping from the soaking he received from his joyous players, initially couched his delight behind such bland soundbites as: "It's nice. It's good."

Judging by the wild scenes in a small corner of Eastlands, Spurs fans pitched it slightly higher than that, while chairman Daniel Levy is likely to feel similarly euphoric as a potential jackpot of at least £30m looms into view.

Redknapp is so often damned with faint praise, labelled a "wheeler dealer" rather than a shrewd tactician. Yet he got the better of Manchester City when it really mattered.

While the home side too often looked wrapped in a cloak of caution, Spurs, fielding a team packed with attacking intent, went on the offensive in the knowledge three points would win the season-long battle with City, Aston Villa and Liverpool for fourth place.

"I thought people might think I was mad to come here and play with two up top, but we did and it's worked," admitted Redknapp. "We were talking before the game and I said 'we've got Aaron Lennon, Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe and Gareth Bale - let's go for it'."

Crouch's late goal was a long overdue reward for Spurs, who dominated the second half and were by far the more accomplished team as Roberto Mancini's City became devoid of ideas long before referee Steve Bennett officially ushered Redknapp and his team back into the big time.

Spurs had gone back to basics - and to what some purists may regard as an old-fashioned and outdated managerial set-up - when they dispensed with Ramos and much-maligned sporting director Damien Comolli in exchange for one of the game's most enduring figures.

And the return to a traditional style of management yielded dividends. Redknapp transmitted his own enthusiasm and know-how to a talented squad that had lost its way, augmenting it with shrewd signings that brought stability before moving the club forward into the top four.

Now, inspired even further by claiming the Champions League prize, he is fit and firing for the new challenges ahead. "I know I'm good at my job," he insisted. "You don't last 1,100 games in management if you're a mug. People didn't keep me just because the chairman liked me. Most of them actually probably didn't like me."

The new territory Spurs are about to enter holds no terrors for a man with such enthusiasm and who insists the end of his long career is nowhere in sight.

"I don't see any reason why I should pack in. I'm still driving in at 5.30am every day and I drive home every night because I like to go home," he said. "If I felt like an old man, I would walk the dogs on the beach every day. But if I got out of this, I'd still go and manage a kids' team on a Sunday."

No need for that yet, Harry. Not now you're set to become only the sixth Englishman to manage a team in the Champions League.

Spurs illustrated exactly why they deserve fourth place as City were reduced to second best. Ledley King and Michael Dawson were virtually faultless, demonstrating why the watching Engand coach Fabio Capello may be tempted to take both to the World Cup in South Africa this summer.

For City, their Abu Dhabi hierarchy and manager Mancini, it is hardly back to the drawing board after ensuring a return to European competition, albeit in the less salubrious surroundings of the Europa League. The season has marked progress, of sorts.

But lessons must be learned - and perhaps Redknapp's success can provide one of them. City unceremoniously dumped Mark Hughes back in December because they were not on course to achieve a pre-agreed target of 70 points.

No thought appeared to be given to allowing Hughes more time - and it is unlikely any thought was devoted to the idea of giving a British coach his chance.

City went for former Inter Milan coach Mancini, perhaps someone they thought of as a more high-profile and glamorous European figure, when maybe a glance at Redknapp's work at White Hart Lane might have suggested British is not such a bad idea.

They will still miss that 70-point target and the top four has proved beyond them. It is questionable whether Mancini has done any better than Hughes would have done had he remained in charge.

Mancini was defiant when questioned about his position - and City insisted he will not be sacked - but behind the polite applause among the power brokers in the Eastlands directors' box, there were some grim faces.

City's fans took the disappointment with typical good grace, although the PA announcer's decision to play The Smiths' 'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now' after the final whistle was borderline black humour.

From the moment City decided to evoke memories of Gazza and Italia 90 by employing celebrated tenor Martin Toal to regale Eastlands with 'Nessum Dorma' prior to kick-off, there was every chance this would end in tears.

City's assault on the summit of world football will continue, but sights may have to be adjusted. Had they reached the Champions League, it was possible their spending this summer would have altered the game's landscape in this country and beyond.

The spending will continue but they will have to try a little bit harder to attract their top targets and may find that some, such as Liverpool's Fernando Torres, have been pushed beyond their reach by this setback.

Some who took offence at City's attempt to shake up the game may revel in Wednesday's result, although, of course, many of the same people would love their own club to be in the same position. It is a simple case of jealousy.

For Spurs, however, this result marked a return to what they regard as a place that befits their status - and a case of finally putting behind them their "Lasagnagate" final-day failure to reach the Champions League four years ago.

And for Redknapp, like his Fulham counterpart Hodgson, he has proved age is no barrier to finding new football territory to conquer.

Posted on Thursday 6th May 2010

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