Belfast Telegraph

Atkinson gaffe gives Redknapp a bitter taste of England life

By Glenn Moore

Fresh coffee on the brew? Cut flowers on show? Clutter put in storage to make the place look big? It is to be assumed the Football Association used all the traditional methods of selling a home to Harry Redknapp when he came to look around Wembley last night. But for the authentic experience of being an England manager they had to rely on the certainty of Martin Atkinson.

The Yorkshire official has had a mixed season, and a poor couple of weeks, but neither the rash dismissal of Everton's Jack Rodwell against Liverpool earlier in the season, or the curious failure to send off City striker Mario Balotelli for going over the top on Alex Song last week, were as bewildering an error as his swift decision to award Chelsea's second goal yesterday.

With a mêlée of bodies on the line blocking his linesman's view, it appears it was Atkinson, close at hand but with a bad angle, who decided Juan Mata's shot had crossed the goal-line. Television cameras showed the ball struck the fluorescent orange boots of Benoît Assou-Ekotto and stayed out.

Even Chelsea's captain John Terry tended to agree. "I honestly don't think it was over the line," he said. "I thought it hit me, to be honest, but the linesman's seen it and given it."

So, just like the recently departed England manager Fabio Capello, Redknapp found himself wishing video goal-line technology was available, though in this case the problem was that the officials believed the ball was over when it was not.

Not that Capello was the first England manager to be undone by poor officiating. Remember 1998, when Glenn Hoddle's England found themselves a man short after Diego Simeone fooled Kim Milton Nielsen into believing David Beckham had viciously kicked him? How about Karl-Josef Assenmacher, whose failure to dismiss Ronald Koeman five years earlier helped cost England's place at World Cup '94 and Graham Taylor his job? Then again, Sir Alf Ramsey probably did not mind the absence of goal-line technology in this stadium's predecessor in 1966.

Back then a teenaged Redknapp was breaking into the first team at West Ham and must have fancied his chances of playing on this stage as the Hammers had won the FA Cup here two years before. In the event Redknapp never played at Wembley. Indeed, for a man who has spent his life in football the 65-year-old manager has surprisingly few associations with the national stadium, especially given how many games are played here these days.

Uncapped by England, he had left West Ham before they returned to Wembley in 1975. The closest he came to playing at the Empire Stadium was in 1971 when West Ham lost to Stoke City in the League Cup semi-final.

With his three promotions as manager, with Bournemouth, West Ham and Portsmouth, all achieved without the need of a play-off it was not until 2008, when Portsmouth played and won the semi-final and final, that he reached Wembley. He had subsequently lost the 2009 League Cup final and 2010 FA Cup semi-final there with Spurs prior to last night.

Soon, of course, it could be his home ground. Tottenham had the home dressing room yesterday, so he was able to get a sense of what might be, and it was not long before he found himself in the position familiar to all England managers of things not quite going to plan.

Many early ploys worked, though, as Gareth Bale exposed Jose Bosingwa's lack of pace, Scott Parker nullified Juan Mata and Ledley King appeared to have been patched sufficiently well to restrain Didier Drogba. But luck was not with Tottenham – Napoleon's requirement of his generals seems just as necessary in England managers – Drogba moved across to match himself against William Gallas who looked the reserve he now is and scored a scintillating goal.

Then came Atkinson's howler. Spurs chased the game bravely, but left themselves exposed at the back and paid a heavy price.

Belfast Telegraph


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