"I shouldn’t have done it, it was a bad mistake." That was what Harry Redknapp said about his decision to take the Saints job, following his re-appointment at Pompey.
A year after moving to St Mary's, Redknapp defected back to Fratton Park, having been unable to keep Saints in the Premier League.
Among the highlights from his first press conference as Pompey manager were Redknapp saying:
- "I made a massive mistake leaving here."
- "I shouldn’t have (gone to Saints) for the sake of the (Pompey) fans.
- The Saints fans "treated me well, but I never felt that wanted there."
- "I haven’t murdered anyone."
- "This is my sort of club. They’re working class people, they’re football mad, they’re fanatics and the way they get behind their team is second to none."
- "I really am sure it is (my last job)."
Ahead of his return to St Mary's as QPR manager tomorrow, the Daily Echo re-prints the full transcript from the press conference. You can compare it with his first press conference as Saints manager here.
What are your feelings right now?
I’m delighted to be back here. Milan’s taken a big gamble, there’s no doubt about that, but I’m the first to admit I made a massive mistake leaving here. This is a massive challenge, you only have to look where we are, but if we work hard and give it a real go hopefully we can turn it round. It took a lot of hard work to get us in the Premier in the first place and it will take a lot of hard work for us to stay there, but we’ll give it a go.
What was the biggest factor that persuaded you to return to Fratton Park?
Milan wanted me to come back and that was the key. The two years I had here were the best of my footballing life. The day I left I never thought I would go to Southampton and never thought they would ask me to go there. Ten days later I got a phone call and I took it, for whatever reason, but I shouldn’t have done it, it was a bad mistake and that’s not being disrespectful to Southampton because they’re a terrific football club as well with good support.
But I shouldn’t have done it for the sake of the [Portsmouth] fans. I didn’t realise how much it meant to people. I fully understand some people still not being happy but I want to try and put right what I put wrong.
What does it feel like to be involved in what has been described as a ‘soap opera’?
It hasn’t been easy, I knew it would cause a problem and so did Milan, but he was big enough to say he wanted me back here. This club means so much to him and he’s looking to build a club that is going to become bigger and better over the years and he feels I can help keep the club up. When he gave me the opportunity I couldn’t say no. I think he’s shown fantastic courage to make that decision.
How long have you committed yourself to Portsmouth FC this time around?
We’ve spoken about it and I said ‘look, I’ll give it everything I’ve got until the end of the season and we’ll see what happens’. If at the end of the year we can stay up we’ll sit down and talk about the future which obviously wouldn’t be a problem. That’s as far as it’s gone. It’s not a money situation where I’ve been given a massive long contract. I wanted to come back here, that’s the top and bottom of it all.
Are Jim Smith and Kevin Bond coming back too?
No. Jim was fantastic for me when he was here and so was Kevin but at the moment Kevin still has a job at Southampton. I’ve only really discussed my situation. I even signed a contract with no figures in it and Milan will back that. Milan said ‘don’t worry, I’ll look after you’. I’ve not made any demands or anything.
How does the squad you’re inheriting compare with the one you left?
It’s difficult to say, I honestly don’t know half the players that are here now. I’ve got to get to know them quickly. The ones that are here when I was here are still good lads and I’ve got to know the new ones as quick as I can and see if we can get some results as quick as we can. It’s not easy. The transfer window is not open until January and we’ve got some big games before then as I found last year when I went to Southampton. From January onwards we ended up with more points than games played, which was fine. It’s the damage that is done before then so the next five or six games are going to be very important for us.
Do you have anything to say to the Southampton fans?
They treated me well when I was there, they were fantastic to me – but I never felt that wanted there. There were things going on that I found very difficult to live with as a football man so I decided to move on when the chance to come back to Portsmouth came up. I had it in mind to finish with Southampton a month or so ago anyway but to come back here was too good a chance to turn down. Pompey will always be special to me because of the time I had here.
How do the two clubs compare?
They’re both terrific clubs. The Southampton fans were great to me but there was always something going on. I got on great with Clive Woodward and I really mean that, he was a nice guy but it was never going to work. People were always going to say ‘Harry’s fallen out with Clive’ and that Clive was going to be the manager in a few weeks. Lots of things were going on that I found difficult to deal with. I just want to get on with football and try and keep Portsmouth up. If I can’t it won’t be for the lack of trying, same as I tried up the road for my life. I tried for my life to keep them up as well.
Have you had flak from any Southampton fans?
In what way? I don’t live in Southampton and what’s it about? I haven’t murdered anyone or raped someone.
Can you see how unlikely this whole story is?
Of course I can. It didn’t seem possible to me two weeks ago, it came out of the blue. I acted in haste last year, it happened almost overnight. When I sat down I thought ‘what have I done?’ But I was in a job and I tried for my life in that job. Unfortunately I was in a difficult situation there (at Southampton) and I couldn’t pull it off. But I’m back here now and I just want to be successful here. I want to walk round that pitch at the end of the season having kept them up. That’s my dream.
The last time you were sat next to Milan here he threatened to strangle you. Do you think that will happen again?
I don’t think so. As I say, 99.9 per cent of the time we were together we had a fantastic relationship. I hold my hand up and take responsibility for the bad days but that’s behind us. We all make mistakes in life. Show me someone in this room who has never made a mistake and I’ll show you a liar. But I’m back here now and I hope the fans can get behind the team, that’s the key. They love their team as much as anyone I’ve ever seen. You’ve never seen more fanatical supporters than Portsmouth supporters. We’ve got to get this place jumping again, we’ve got to make it a place where teams don’t want to come and play. We’ve got to get after teams, be physical, close them down and pick up some results. We need to get the best out of what we’ve got.
Last year the problem was caused by the arrival of a director of football. Who is to say that will not happen again?
I haven’t discussed that with Milan and I don’t think he’s going to go down that road again anyway. He knows he doesn’t need one with me here.
Is Portsmouth the club where you have felt most comfortable?
This place here is my sort of club. They’re working class people, they’re football mad, they’re fanatics and the way they get behind their team is second to none.
Are you saying Southampton wasn’t as passionate?
In a different way they were passionate, they love their football as well. But this is a small ground, there’s a great atmosphere and I had great success here so obviously the times I had here were much better than at Southampton. It’s like any manager, you enjoy a place more when you’re successful there. I left here on the back of a bad day or two and have obviously regretted it.
How does this challenge compare to last year with Southampton?
It’s every bit as difficult, there’s no doubt about that. Portsmouth have a similar record to Southampton last year but we’ll give it our best shot. Some people never take a challenge on and at the end of the day no one can say I haven’t had a go. I could retire and do nothing with my life except play golf every day. I’m getting a bit of grief, but I’m up for it. So what? It’s fish and chip paper next week. Fish and chip paper! People are doing far more important things in the world than me managing Southampton or Portsmouth. The man (Mandaric) next to me has shown more bottle than anybody in bringing me back and I thank him for ever for giving me that chance. Whatever happens, if I fail it won’t be for the lack of trying. I’m a trier and I’ll have a go. Last January, I signed five players, four loans and Nigel Quashie, who’s the best player at Southampton.
Are you going to go back for him now?
I don’t know about that! He’d cost a lot of money.
Would it hurt more than it did last season if Portsmouth went down?
No, that wouldn’t be fair to Southampton to say that. My pride was hurt badly last year. I’d still have been hurt if I’d taken over with them 20 points adrift.
How do you think Southampton will do now?
They’ll make the plays offs, no danger. They’re four points off and I haven’t seen a better team in the division. We’ve outplayed every team, we murdered every team we played, but have just been short of goals. I don’t live my life with grudges against anyone. The people at Southampton treated me well.
When did you first realise that Milan wanted you back?
This is how it all started. Frank Lampard snr came to the Chelsea game to watch his boy play and Milan and Peter [Storrie] got him a couple of box tickets and Frank rang me after the game saying he’d just had a cup of tea with Milan and that he thought he’d have me back. I said ‘no chance Frank’ but he said he thought Milan would and that he spoke really well of me. It went on from there but that was the first inkling that I had of it. Once he said that to me I was keen. Dead keen.
What’s your family’s reaction to you coming back?
They think it’s a great move for me. They knew how happy I was when I was here and they know I haven’t been happy for the last few months.
When did you actually believe the move would happen?
During the week, when Milan asked for permission to speak to me. Once I told Rupert Lowe that I would like to, I was big enough to know I couldn’t go back to Southampton. I said that if I didn’t get the job I could not go back to Southampton but that I would love to go back to Portsmouth. That was how I felt.
Is this your last job?
I really am sure it is, yeah. I want to be here for the next three or four years, that is my dream and I want to keep them up if I can and stay here and work. I went out for dinner with my wife last night and she said she thought I’d do it this time. She’s positive and I’m positive.
People say it’s never quite the same when you go back. You must agree you’re taking a risk?
Of course I’m taking a risk, we all are. We’re in the risk business, but if you don’t take any chances what do you do with your life? It’s not as if we’re in the top half, we’re scrapping for our lives. It’s going to need a massive turn around but I’m going to give it a go and put everything I’ve got into it.
What are you looking forward to most?
Going to Tottenham for a big Premier League game on Monday night. And then making this place a difficult place to come and play for West Brom a week on Saturday. This place used to jump like nowhere you’ve ever seen, the atmosphere was second to none. Sky were here for every game because it was so good. They loved coming here. We beat Man United twice, two years running, we beat Liverpool twice in a season. Everyone who came here knew they were going to get a real game and that’s what we’ve got to start doing again.
What will be your first task?
I need Joe Jordan to tell me about the team, he knows the players much better than I do and I’ll start by recalling Vincent Pericard [from Sheffield United]. I saw Toddy (Svetoslav Todorov] play in the reserves at Southampton but I haven’t seen half these players play. But I know Laurent Robert, he’s a real talent and I need to get him on side and try and get the best out of him, because he’s a match winner.