Autobiographies always tell a story. Just like the newest John Grisham lawyer drama, an autobiography is an attempt to weave a story out of common human experience and present the reader with a linear series of events meant to entertain and impress. Whereas fiction relies on real elements to sell an imagined tale, autobiographies and their cousins – biographies – rely on facts that have been or can be experienced by the reader, just through a different viewpoint. A good autobiography, just like The Firm, weaves a narrative that leaves the reader wanting more and becoming engaged in events, except these are events often they’ve experienced themselves (or at least read about prior).
So how can we judge Harry Redknapp’s autobiography, which was released around the same time as the more-discussed Sir Alex autobiography? ‘Arry Redknapp, the loveable Englishman who stands for the common folk and relies not on tactics but emotion, instinct and cunning to win games. This is a slight exaggeration but in truth that is how he presents himself: an old school chum who wins because he knows talent. Yet there is a vastly different tale out there in the media – a man who buys the big-name players and depends on others for tactical knowledge, a pompous man who commits all manner of financial impropriety but hides behind his (as Americans would say) “aw shucks charm”, a man who uses the newspapers as a weapon to get what he wants and trash his enemies. These contradictory narratives exist, and a quality autobiography would either firmly fall into one camp or the other while explaining sufficiently why the other narrative is incorrect. If this is our standard for a good story in this case, this book falls well short as it presents Redknapp as the former without explaining away the latter.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am an Arsenal fan, one that took exceptional joy in Redknapp’s Spurs teams finishing behind Arsenal every year he was there in the league. Despite this, I can assure you that I read this book as neutrally as possible and my critiques are based on his style of writing as well as his factual recollections of events.
The purpose of the autobiography is apparent from the beginning, as the first two chapters are not about the beginning of his life or career (you get that beginning in Chapter 4) but about his trial for financial improprieties and the rumors about the England job. Again, for a man who cannot work a computer (as he claimed at his trial and again in the book) and someone who has trouble operating his smartphone (as he writes in the book), this book has a distinctly working-class London diction, again to emphasize his everyman appeal.
But let’s get to the meat of the book – the two controversies. Regarding his financial trial, he goes out of his way to emphasize that he has no idea how to manage money, at one point writing “when a bill comes in that I might not like, Sandra probably pays it, then tears it up. What Harry doesn’t know won’t hurt him – that seems to be the policy”. Setting aside whether this is a good quality in a football manager, after this incredible ignorance over his basic finances, his defense of his financial dealings with Milan Mandaric was conceivable and fairly well laid out. I could buy his explanations on their own.
The England national team job controversy, on the other hand, was a muddled attempted to maintain this image of good old ‘Arry. He begins by of course explaining that he was very happy with Spurs (his public line) and that he did not want the England job. Then he muses out loud whether he could have even gotten the job (“no disrespect to Roy [Hodgson], but I think we can all see that he is more of an FA man”) because of the type of manager they were looking to hire – upper-class stereotypical early 1990s soccer star. But that’s not enough. He then discusses how he would have approached the position, how he would have roped in Brendan Rodgers, then managing at Swansea, to be the de facto gaffer while he finished the current season with Tottenham (denied subsequently by Rodgers) and how he allegedly discussed it with him after a match! Of course, he also defended his statements to the press about the desire all English managers should have to manage the national team, and even goes so far to diagnose the team’s problems (identity, not necessarily tactical but style of play). This chapter encapsulates the entire book and Redknapp’s view of his life – a shifting group of different perspectives that he tries to arrange as his public image (good ol’ ‘Arry) but more often than not comes across as befuddling contradictions. He tries to paint a picture of his life almost as a Van Gogh post-impressionist landscape, but instead you get a Pablo Picasso neoclassical jumble of shapes that you need to strain to make sense of.
That’s not to say this is not an intriguing read. Harry Redknapp’s life is an interesting story, and his successes are very noteworthy, as are his stories about some of the compatriots he played against and worked with. In particular, his defense of Bobby Moore’s legacy is admirable and maybe the most honest chapter in this book. The media has focused on some of the more controversial elements (and maybe rightly so) but simply as a man who has managed in multiple leagues and found success in all of them, this story is a worthwhile read. If you had to choose one ex-Premier League manager’s autobiography published in 2013, this is not the one I would pick. But despite his absolute adherence to his image of loveable Harry Redknapp (at times to a befuddling degree), the entire story is one that should be read if only to understand why people can admire and despise this simple man.
Always Managing: My Autobiography is available from Amazon and all fine booksellers.