PORTSMOUTH manager Harry Redknapp hopes to complete the transformation of the south coast club from paupers to princes in today’s FA Cup final at Wembley.
When they leave their plush pre-match hotel, a stone’s throw from Windsor Castle, for the short trip to the new national stadium to face Cardiff, the team, the manager, his staff and all the club’s officials will be able to reflect that the bad old days of struggle and strife are firmly behind them.
Key to that improvement is Redknapp’s shrewd stewardship, and at 61 he is still the energy that drives Portsmouth and demands the right to do it his way.
His way has proved a massive success during his two stints at the club, but Redknapp remains adamant that there is nothing magical about his footballing alchemy.
“I can’t come into clubs and put my hand on players like I’m God and say ‘I’ll make you a genius’,” he said.
“I’m not clever enough for that. Nobody is, but what I can do is replace players who are not good enough with ones that can take us where we want to go.
“I’m always trying to improve the squad and I’m sorry you have to move players on and get ones that are better. It’s a continuing process.
“That’s all that management is about — signing the right players and recognising when their time has come.
“These lads we have now are a great bunch, a pleasure to work with, but they need to win this trophy on Saturday and make themselves heroes in history.
“Whatever happens it has been a great season despite losing four matches in a row (in the Premier League) right at the end. That was disappointing but it won’t matter a bit if we win the cup. Not even Europe will matter then — not until later. It will be great to get into the UEFA Cup just for the sake of it but right now I’m concentrating on just this one game.”
Jermain Defoe, is cup-tied having played 70 minutes for Tottenham in the competition before his move in January.
But despite the absence of his £7.5million (9.4m) striker, Redknapp knows he has some tough decisions ahead.
“I might have to disappoint one or two lads who have played in previous rounds when I pick the team. That will be hard,” he admitted.
“But I know what I’m going to do, it’s just that I don’t want to tell anybody just yet, don’t want to show my hand too early to Cardiff’s Dave Jones — a smashing manager and a smashing man.”
He added: “It’s great for the players and great for me. I go to the cup final nearly every year. Now at last I’m part of it.
“But it will only be a good day if we win. That’s what I want so I can look forward to a good summer after what’s been a tough year personally for me and my family.
“But they will all be there at Wembley, including six grandchildren all in their Pompey shirts. I think it will lift my wife Sandra (who has recently lost her twin sister, Pat Lampard) as well if we can win it.”
Meanwhile, Dave Jones insists the tantalising prospect of European football will be the last thing on his mind when he leads his Cardiff side out at Wembley today.
The City manager revealed he is “not even thinking” about the European expeditions which potentially lie ahead next term.
Asked whether it was important, he replied: “No, winning the FA Cup is, and then what follows after that will be the next stage. But we’re not even thinking about that. What we are thinking about is trying to beat a very good side.”
Jones is keen to treat the build-up for the game like any other in a bid to keep his team focused on what for most will be the biggest game of their careers.
And he revealed his superstitious side have been desperate to steer clear of the trophy for fear of jinxing themselves.
“We had the opportunity to go to Wembley on the Friday but I don’t think anyone wanted to go after the semi final,” Jones added. “It hasn’t changed.
“We’ve had opportunities to have the FA Cup down here and nobody wanted it.
“We’ve just carried on with normal business.”
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