Anyone can manage Manchester City to title, says Harry Redknapp
To make his point about Manchester City and the advantage given to them by the extraordinary wealth of their Abu Dhabi owners as clearly as possible, Harry Redknapp singled out a member of the press yesterday morning at Tottenham's training ground at Chigwell. "I'd fancy you to manage them," he said. "You'd have a chance, wouldn't you?"
He was not joking. Redknapp devoted the next 10 minutes to reducing the manager's craft to one thing in particular: being able to sign good players. What was the core of City's rise to prominence?
"It is not rocket science, this game," he said. "Good players give you a chance. If you have not got good players you don't have a chance, I don't care who you are. I might be knocking my own job or whatever but if I have not got Gareth Bale, I am not half as clever."
Redknapp talked about how he revived Portsmouth with the signings from Spurs of Pedro Mendes, Sean Davis and Noe Pamarot six years ago. He said that Queen's Park Rangers were already a better team under Mark Hughes simply because of the players he had bought. He sympathised with Roberto Martinez, at the bottom of the Premier League with Wigan Athletic.
"I'm one of the lucky ones. I'm sitting in the top six. I'm no cleverer than Roberto Martinez. He's probably cleverer than me. He's sitting at the bottom of the league because he hasn't got the players. He can't afford to buy the players."
This is what Redknapp genuinely believes. Granted, it is a slightly cynical, hard-bitten truth, albeit one learned over 29 years in management, starting at Bournemouth. But he also knows that continually mentioning the effect their owner's wealth has had on City annoys the hell out of tomorrow's opponents and that is a good reason, he thinks, for saying it over and over again.
Another manager whose best striker happens to be on loan from City might have thought twice about winding up the club who loaned him but this is Redknapp. He does not care to modify his words. Did he think that City may now regret having loaned him Emmanuel Adebayor, who is not permitted to play in tomorrow's game at the Etihad Stadium?
"I am sure they do but I suppose they wanted to get him out of there in the end. It is like everything else. They want to get [Carlos] Tevez out of there now – he is a problem. They beat us 5-1 that day [28 August]. They probably never saw us as a threat anyway. But let's hope by the end of the season we are a threat still. There is a long way to go.
"We don't pay the wages they pay. We haven't got the players. We have one of their players [Adebayor] here but we pay him probably a third of what he earns there. So it's a different game when you can go and buy players and pay them £250,000 a week."
And thus it was that Redknapp lit the fuse for tomorrow's match. It is indicative of how English football has changed when, on the day that Sir Alex Ferguson faces Arsène Wenger, it is the tension between the managers of Tottenham and Manchester City, not to mention their clubs' potential for deciding the title race, that takes precedence. For a man who faces the biggest test of his club's title credentials tomorrow, followed by a significant court case that begins on Monday morning, Redknapp was relaxed yesterday. Most of his key players are fit, including Scott Parker. He has to make a decision on Ledley King this morning although the chances are that the Spurs captain will work his usual miracle and play tomorrow.
By the calculations of The Independent, Redknapp has a squad that cost £153m in transfer fees and which includes Jermaine Jenas and David Bentley and factors in the value of the likes of Michael Dawson and Kyle Naughton, bought in deals that included other players. By comparison, City's squad cost them £294m, including Adebayor and Tevez, and that's before the relative value of the players' contracts.
So, yes, if the title race was weighted in favour of the team who has spent the least for the points they have earned then it would be Spurs who lead the way. Although Mancini makes a good point when he says that it has become impossible for his club to buy players at the market rate. "The difference is that every time City go to buy a player who maybe cost £8m or £9m, we get asked to pay £20m," he said. "This is the problem."
By contrast, Daniel Levy, the Tottenham chairman, has cultivated such a reputation for parsimony that there is an acceptance, even among the agent fraternity in English football, that player contracts at Spurs simply will not be as lucrative as they are elsewhere. It means that the most expensive, sought-after, established stars such as Sergio Aguero will never go to Spurs when they still have the option of more money and a bigger platform. But that does not preclude Spurs from signing good players.
That much will be evident in tomorrow's game, which should be much closer than the 5-1 demolition of Spurs at White Hart Lane in August when they were yet to sign Parker and Adebayor and Luka Modric's future was still uncertain. Come tomorrow, Spurs will have every first-team player available apart from the injured William Gallas and Sandro. King was at Spurs training ground later yesterday afternoon.
In attack, Redknapp said he liked the idea of playing Jermain Defoe with Rafael van der Vaart, a combination he has not opted for often. He is well aware that without the suspended Vincent Kompany and the absent Touré brothers, Kolo and Yaya, City are not quite as formidable. When it was suggested to Redknapp that Kompany has much the same presence for City as King does for Spurs, he did not disagree.
For all his effort to be earnest and project an air of realism when it comes to Spurs' chances in the title race this season, Redknapp knows that the expectation is creeping upwards. His is a squad that includes just one previous title winner, Gallas, and by and large has no experience of coping with the pressure of the run-in. If they win tomorrow then that will become all the more acute.
It will be intriguing to see how Redknapp and his team deal with that situation. Currently he praises the quality of his squad reluctantly and only after he has told everyone how good the other title contenders are. As for his approach tomorrow, he said he would take the game to City, as his team did when they won there to clinch the a Champions League place in May 2010.
He finished by telling us a story about how he had lost a sizeable amount of money with the owner of an Italian restaurant in Wanstead who had bet with him, in the 1995-96 season, that Newcastle United would throw away a lead that, at one stage, stood at 12 points. It was, he said, the "dearest night I've ever had in an Italian restaurant".
Beat City tomorrow, however, and it will not be the money City have spent that everyone will be talking about. It will be whether Spurs have the nerve to close the remaining gap to City of two points, overhaul the leaders and have a run at the title. Redknapp created another glorious diversion yesterday but he will not be able to protect his team with faint praise forever.
Total spent since taking over in December 2009: £233m
Biggest signing: Sergio Aguero (from Atletico Madrid, July 2011) £38m
Total spent since taking over in October 2008: £105m
Biggest signing: Jermain Defoe (from Portsmouth, January 2009) £15.75m
Last time out: When Dzeko ruled the lane
* Manchester City's embarrassed Tottenham earlier this season at White Hart Lane, Roberto Mancini's side winning 5-1 in August. Edin Dzeko put the visitors 2-0 ahead by the interval before doubling his tally after the break. Sergio Aguero also scored.
* Tottenham have a fine recent record at Manchester City, winning eight of their last 12 trips to the Etihad Stadium, including a 1-0 success there in May 2010 through a Peter Crouch goal that secured a top-four finish.
The Adebayor effect: His Spurs record
* Spurs have lost just one League match since Emmanuel Adebayor joined – and that was a harsh defeat at Stoke last month. Spurs' other reverses this season, against Manchesters United and City, were before the forward arrived. He has scored nine League goals (including two against Aston Villa) – two more than Jermain Defoe – with six assists.