Harry Redknapp’s done an interesting job at Portsmouth, allying his usual penchant for tricky dribblers to a tough, disciplined defence to finish 8th (and win the FA Cup) last season. I wonder how much credit Tony Adams deserves for coaching that defensive quality, because it’s not been a Redknapp hallmark with previous teams. Anyway, the very solid trio of Sol Campbell (who is slowing up, but still serviceable), Sylvain Distin (quick and powerful) and David James (England’s best keeper) are the core of the defence, and Lauren and Glen Johnson are decent athletes, at least, even if neither is really a proper defender. Their centre midfield usually has some physical size from Diop or Davis, or useful aggression from Mendes, Diarra (who seems a little bit over-rated to me, he gave the ball away a fair amount in the Cup Final, for all that he did good things that day) or Hughes. And then onto that frame is grafted Redknapp’s usual panoply of dribblers – having had players like Di Canio, Joe Cole, Titi Camara and Fredi Kanoute at West Ham, he’s following a similar path on the South Coast with Kranjcar (who reminds me of Pires a lot, only without as many goals), Kanu, Utaka, Mvuemba and Defoe, all of whom can beat a man. I think (defender!) Hermann Hreidarsson must have sealed his fate as a future Redknapp player when he scored a brilliant goal against Man United that involved beating several players a few years back. Their elusive quality means that Pompey have a chance in any game, something they proved in their cup run when they won at Old Trafford. It also means that they’re often fun to watch. At the moment, with their defence reliable, it means they’re a dangerous side on the break, too, with Utaka’s pace especially threatening.
And the signing of Crouch this summer looks an excellent one. His freakish build sometimes makes people overlook his excellent link play, but besides his aerial presence he is genuinely one of the best in-the-hole strikers in the league, and his display against Portugal in the last World Cup when England were down was 10 was extraordinary for how well he shepherded possession as a lone striker. He’s also, for all that his finishing is quite erratic, a decent goal threat, and if he starts every league game he’s likely to get something like 15+ goals this season. People criticise his heading at goal (fairly, because he’s not a great powerful header of the ball) but his knockdowns are terrific and if Portsmouth have players joining him from midfield they will get goals. He and Defoe ought to be a fine partnership.
So next season should be bright for the blues, but I worry a bit about Redknapp’s approach to building a team, because there really seems to be some compulsive element to his transfer dealings, constantly recruiting new players whether they’re needed or not. David Nugent is a classic example of the manager’s approach –he’s a useful lower-division striker, unproven in the Premiership, that Redknapp brought in last summer for (reportedly) £6m despite having no real need of him. Nugent barely played, and there was talk of him being sold on before his first season had even started. And then towards the end of last season, Milan Baros was brought in on loan in Nugent's position. If Harry Redknapp was managing a magically perfect squad of all-time greats, all of whom were under 25, he’d still be on the phone to Porto to ask about a new left-back to replace Maldini, and trying to get Louis Saha in on loan to give Pele, Ronaldo, Gerd Muller and Gary Lineker some competition. When a club’s on the up (as Portsmouth have been until now) it’s a useful tendency, because his buys tend to improve the team, but when he’s got a useful squad (as now) I can’t help but wonder if the tinkering is just as likely to destabilise things.