Lifting the FA Cup at Wembley next month would be an appropriate finale for a long and sprawling story which has had more twists and turns than a Tom Clancey thriller.
The Portsmouth manager was in a reflective mood after his first working visit to this famous arena, eager to delve into the recesses of his mind and remember how far Pompey have travelled, and how quickly.
A month before he first accepted the manager’s position at Fratton Park in March 2004, Portsmouth had been crushed 5-0 at West Bromwich Albion. Redknapp duly delivered the Championship title before falling out with the club owner Milan Mandaric and decamping to Southampton. When he returned along the south coast in December 2005, he was shocked at how far Pompey had fallen.
“When I came back, Dejan Stefanovic, who was the captain, said to me: ‘Gaffer, you’ve got no chance here. This is the worst team I have ever seen. You must be mad.’
“I thought: ‘Well, let’s see.’ After a morning’s training I realised he was right. I thought: ‘What am I going to do with this lot?’ I couldn’t tell you where they found some of them.”
Redknapp’s reward came in the form of Premier League survival and now, the chance of major silverware for the first time since the Second World War.
For Alexandre Gaydemak, the Portsmouth owner, Redknapp is the gifted manager that just keeps on giving. The Russian had texted Redknapp from Wembley following the Carling Cup final earlier this season, demanding he take the south coast club to the national stadium.
“I thought it was a punter,” Redknapp recalled. “It said: ‘My dream is to go to Wembley for a cup final, can you take your team to Wembley?’ I thought: ‘F*** me, someone else wants a ticket.’” Now, courtesy of Kanu’s close- range finish seven minutes into the second half which proved enough to kill off spirited West Brom, Redknapp and his boss will go twice in a month. They will also return as firm favourites, given they once again face Championship opponents.
“A lot of people weren’t happy about these semi-finals because they were not Chelsea, Manchester United or Liverpool but I don’t see what the problem is,” defender Sylvain Distin said. “Maybe we should play the FA Cup until the top four are out and then stop it?”
Kiely 6, Hoefkens 6, Albrechtsen 6, Clement 6, Robinson 7, Morrison 5 (Brunt 60, 6), Koren 6, Gera 6 (Do-Heon 75, 5), Greening 7, Bednar 5 (Miller 60, 5), Phillips 6.
James 6, Johnson 7, Campbell 7, Diop 7, Distin 8, Hreidarsson 6, Diarra 7, Muntari 7, Kranjcar 7, Kanu 6 (Davis 80, 6), Baros 7 (Nugent 72, 6).
Ashdown, Lauren, Mendes.
: Howard Webb (Yorkshire) 7: Safe enough and probably unsighted for Baros’ controversial hand-ball.
** Humdrum for long spells, despite both teams’ commitment.