LONDON – From the dock to the dugout. The quip was irresistible to many in the English media as Harry Redknapp journeyed to take charge of Tottenham for their FA Cup meeting with Watford. The Spurs manager is currently in the middle of a trial for tax evasion charges, and on a daily basis information is emerging about his private business affairs, with a Monaco bank account (opened in the name of his dog, Rosie) and his relationship with his accountant making more headlines than his team's scorelines.
On Friday afternoon at 3 p.m., Redknapp left a South London courtroom and travelled to the team hotel in Hertfordshire to see his players for the first time since they left Manchester City on the back of heartbraking and frustrating defeat last weekend. His coaching staff, who had taken care of the players during the week in training, had been meeting up with Redknapp for a confab over dinner to keep the gaffer up to date on news from camp.
Delighted to be back in the thick of it, he had a chat with the squad, picked the team for the game, and went out to give a pre-match television interview as he usually does. When it was put to Reknapp that all this was not his normal preparation for a match he laughed, saying, "Haven't been working with the players that's for sure." He was his usual chirpy self, but it was very much a case of trying to present a business-as-usual demeanor, even under very unusual conditions.
Redknapp picked a strong team. Although Bale was injured, there was more than enough quality, with Luka Modric, Rafael van der Vaart, Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe all starting. As it turned out, though, Modric was not feeling very well and was substituted at half time, while Adebayor and Defoe barely got a kick of the ball.
Tottenham were indebted to their stylish Dutchman, van der Vaart, who won the match with an opportunist long range shot which skipped over Watford's disappointed goalkeeper - his expression revealed how he ought to have done better.
That touch of fortune benefitted a below par Tottenham who were some way short of their brightest. Watford came close to equalizing with a clever shot against the post and created a flurry of late chances. Spurs left the pitch knowing it could have been a lot worse against a team ranked 36 places below them in the English football hierarchy. Convincing it was not.
The onus was on Spurs to provide a response to the circumstances with Redknapp's absence and to prove they would not be disturbed or distracted. But more important was their response to the Man City defeat. As a performance, it didn't deliver. But as a result, no complaints. They are in the next round of the cup and can forget about it for a while as they switch their thoughts back to the Premier League.
In midweek, Tottenham play Wigan at home, a match they will expect to hurdle fairly smoothly, but then the challenge suddenly intensifies. Liverpool, Newcastle, Arsenal and Manchester United are coming their way in a grueling succession of matches. That Premier League sequence will define their season. If they can continue to flourish, they will have every reason for hope along the home straight. If they flounder, the pressure will be on as the chase for Champions League places will become much less secure.
They will certainly have to play with a lot more purpose than they managed against lowly Watford. "It's better to be lucky than good," admitted Redknapp afterwards. "We are normally good, but that was not the Tottenham team that I see every week. We were off color. Sometimes you need a bit of luck. Last week we played well at Man City and got beat in the last minute. Here we didn't play well and we nicked the game. It could be our year. I've got a good feeling about the cup."
Now, with the FA Cup job done, Redknapp heads back to the courtroom on Monday with different things on his mind for another week of deliberations.