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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 November, 2004, 15:53 GMT
A clash of football philosophies
By John May

Harry Redknapp and Milan Mandaric
Portsmouth Football Club continues to be a soap opera based upon an Aesop fable.

Before chairman Milan Mandaric and Harry Redknapp kissed and made up after their break up, they had played out a kicking and biting drama over a footballing moral tale.

It was the Ant and Grasshopper played out on the big screen as they wrested for moral control of a football club.

On the one hand, there is Mandaric: the sensible, prudent ant, striving to ensure something was put by for a rainy day.

Then there was Redknapp the grasshopper, with his live-for-today attitude.

At heart was a philosophical rift over how to run a football club.

In his 32 month reign as manager Redknapp presided over a total of 144 player transactions: 36 permanent transfers in, 49 permanent transfers out, 15 loan players brought in, and 44 loaned out.

His gross of transactions works out at roughly one per week.

Pompey chairman Milan Mandaric (left) with Harry Redknapp at the news conference
Mandaric and Redknapp try to patch up their differences

Without doubt, Redknapp's policy paid off for Pompey especially in getting them out of the Football League.

In the aftermath of ITV Digital's collapse, Redknapp sniffed the air like an African Hunting Dog, scenting a one-off opportunity to get Pompey up by splashing the chairman's cash in a season when no other clubs could operate in the transfer market.

Redknapp went out and conjured up a whole new team, built around veterans like Paul Merson and Gianluca Festa, out of whom he could coax a few last tunes.

Having romped to the Championship, Redknapp licked his lips at the prospect of dismantling one purpose-built team and replacing it with another designed to stay in the Premiership.

In came the likes of Sheringham, Berger and Smertin and again the ends justified the means as Pompey comfortably stayed up.

But while it is hard to criticise Redknapp's results on the pitch, Mandaric disliked the short-termism of his kit-form team methods built around the swansongs of veterans.

Mandaric was looking for something more long-term, more value for his money.

REDKNAPP'S GROSS OF DEALS
Permanent deals in: 36
Permanent deal out: 49
Loan players in: 15
Loan players out: 44

Since buying a club languishing dangerously in adminstration, Mandaric has ploughed around 30m of his fortune into Pompey and while it has Premiership status, nothing else about Portsmouth FC says 'top flight club.'

Mandaric is keen to change a ramshackle infrastructure which has an outdated stadium (a key weapon, though, as other Premiership teams hate playing there), trains at Southampton University and has no long-term programme for developing its own players.

Whisper it, but Mandaric has cast eyes up the M27 where Southampton have a new stadium, well-appointed training set-up, its own mini media empire, and most importantly in his eyes, an academy which is starting to produce players for the first team.

But this is where the pair sat at philosophical odds.

Redknapp's view is that is that all resources should be spent on the first-team, any diversion of funds elsewhere as simply a waste.

Paul Merson in his Portsmouth days
Signing Merson was a Redknapp master-stroke

Privately, Redknapp begrudged every penny of the close on 2m spent on the land acquisition, legal fees and lengthy planning process that provides Pompey with the means to develop Fratton Park and the surrounding Pompey Village.

There have even been informal talks and a tentative offer of help from Southampton to help set up an academy.

Slowly, but surely, Mandaric won the tiny battles with Redknapp, and eventually the war when he brought in Velimir Zajec as director of football.

Just as crucially, while supporters revelled in the excitement of Redknapp's quick turnover of players, they were starting to subscribe to Mandaric's view.

However it pans out, the Ant has triumphed over the Grasshopper. But there are still plenty of legs left in this story.




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