Harry Redknapp and Portsmouth will both return to Wembley for an FA Cup semi-final two years on from their success together in 2008, but this time under very different circumstances. Since those fateful dates at Wembley, plenty has happened to both parties, largely in distinctly opposite directions.
No-one needs informing of Pompey’s woes since their biggest high in over 50 years, while Redknapp, since landing the Spurs job, is on the verge of not only the most coveted of spots in the Champions League but his Tottenham side will be overwhelming favourites to secure an FA Cup final berth. Redknapp won’t be the only one to face his former club, with the likes of Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch and Niko Kranjcar all in line to upset their former employers while Younes Kaboul (Cup-tied for his new club) will be an interested onlooker following his move to north London in January. All have left Pompey during the south coast club’s on-going saga – and all under different circumstances – some will be remembered very fondly indeed, while others showed their true colours and respect for a club that did as much for them as they did for the club.
But that will be forgotten come April 11 as Pompey supporters, players and staff travel to Wembley in hope that their season can continue for another game. Make no mistake, their FA Cup run has been the major factor behind the team’s rigid belief and spirit which has been so widely acclaimed in recent weeks, since the inevitable nine-point deduction and pending relegation. If this FA Cup run had not come about, fans would just be counting down the days until August and their first fixture in the Championship. But the FA Cup run has revitalised a downtrodden club and the excitement around that day has reverberated around Fratton Park since this month’s win over Birmingham. The fact that it is now against former boss Redknapp only adds to the excitement and in a way it will be a defining day – where the past, the present and the future will all come to the fore.
Seeing players of the quality of Defoe, Crouch and Kranjcar will only serve as a timely reminder as to what Pompey used to possess and what their club was striving for when they were on the books. But the current Pompey squad is a very different bunch altogether. Focussed largely towards endeavour, tenacity and commitment, they are streaks behind the aforementioned trio in terms of quality but are fondly looked upon for their efforts during such a turbulent season. However, out of many of the players currently on show in Pompey blue, only a minority will be present come August as loan players will go back to parent clubs and any saleable assets will be off-loaded in yet another fire-sale, as Pompey’s future looks likely to continue its recent rocky path before it gains smoother ground.
Indeed, this week saw the club’s administrator, Andrew Andronikou, somehow over-ride one of the Premier League’s most hardened rules, by securing special dispensation to sell players outside of the transfer window. It is a strange decision in many ways – not only on the Premier League’s behalf – but also for Pompey and exactly how it benefits their situation. The ruling means Pompey can sell players now, and obtain the money from the transfer fee, but the player will continue playing for the club – officially on loan – while the buying club will not see the player until July 1, when the transfer window opens. Firstly, just how many clubs will be chomping at the bit in order to get any of Pompey’s already depleted squad remains to be seen, and whether anyone wants to get embroiled in the politics any deal will also work against the Blues. Overall, it seems unlikely this move will generate too much immediate funds.
Andronikou even stated this week he expects the squad to fetch around the £30m mark but quite where he got that figure from is a mystery. The likes of Nadir Belhadj, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Tal Ben-Haim and Papa Bouba Diop are the only players capable of pulling in any real money, and even the sales of all four would be unlikely to pull in much more than £10m. David Nugent and John Utaka could perhaps be added to that list but their values are relatively unknown at the present time, and they would be unlikely to bring in a great deal of money either. And let’s not beat around the bush here, no buying club is going to conveniently forget Pompey’s desperation for funds when buying.
That all remains to be seen and for now we can only speculate. For now Pompey must get back to their battles on the pitch and after Avram Grant had an unhappy reunion with his former side Chelsea on Wednesday night, Pompey will be hoping for a much happier one when they meet Redknapp at White Hart Lane on Saturday for what is now, a dress rehearsal for Wembley’s mouth-watering semi-final.