With two ill-timed tackles and two sweeps of the referee’s yellow card clasping hand, Peter Crouch was gone. Crouch had, seemingly, shot himself and his team-mates in the foot. The one man advantage allowed Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid side to dominate possession, to dominate the game and to head for London with a four-goal advantage.
The assumption made by most commentators was that the gun was in the England striker’s hands when he was fired. “The magical journey is over [for Tottenham Hotspur], sadly. Crouchy, what have done?” wrote Martin Lipton in the Daily Mirror, echoing the thoughts of many post-match reports. But Crouch was just the face to the crime. The brains of the disaster was lurking on the touchline.
It is an unusual relationship that Harry Redknapp enjoys with the English media. It’s certainly not the biting vitriol that defines Alex Ferguson’s approach; nor is it patronising one afforded to Ian Holloway. It’s a wink-of-eye, hold-of-the-elbow, you’re-my-mate one that ensures criticism of the Tottenham manager is rare by the English media. Indeed, the headline in the Observer (online) before last week’s match read, “Harry Redknapp can turn into one of the masters of the European stage”. Admittedly, the subs, not the journalists, write the headlines but the work of the subs can only reflect what the journalist has written. In this case, Paul Hayward called Redknapp “England’s best club manager”. Even after the Madrid match, with his side well and truly beaten, excuses were made for Redknapp: “everything conspired against him” wrote Jason Burt in the Telegraph.
The everything conspiring against theory holds about as much weight as a runway model. Redknapp, simply, got it wrong. It started with his selection of Aaron Lennon. The winger, as it later transpired, had been on antibiotics for a number of days preceding the match. It would be obvious to anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of medicine that this would mean a player is not in the optimum condition to play in a Champions League quarter-final. So how did Harry only realise this when the teams were in the tunnel waiting to go out? Had he not been checking up on Lennon? Had he not been regularly consulting the team doctors and medics? This was a inexplicable oversight by Redknapp.
Back to Crouch. “What was he thinking? How could such an experienced player have acted so foolishly?” wrote Burt. Well, one of the key roles of management is to keep the players calm before the match. They of course need to be motivated but no manager wants his player going out too fired up and doing something silly within the first few minutes of any big game. A few early strong challenges can let the opposition know you are there but if times wrong, they can have disastrous consequences for your team.
Two read cards and four yellow in the last four seasons is a disciplinary record which testifies that Crouch is really not ‘that type of player,’ yet something got to him that night in the Bernabéu. It is not unreasonable to suggest that Redknapp failed to calm his players sufficiently enough before the match. Crouch’s impetuous challenge and subsequent booking on Real Madrid full-back Sergio Ramos was a warning sign his manager failed to heed. A lack of discipline in tackles as well as a lack of discipline at the back – see Emmanuel Adebayor’s first goal for further details – are clear signs that the manager has failed to do his job properly.
It could be argued that last minute alterations to carefully laid plans can affect even the most confident and adaptable of professionals, regardless of the profession, but again, surely part of football management is to pre-empt these sort of events and have a necessary plan at the ready. But Redknapp failed to do so.
Crouch’s sending off undoubtedly altered the game but it could have been prevented. Years from now, Tottenham fans will look back at what could have been on that night in Madrid. They’ll remember the headlines about Crouch and think ‘If only he had not gotten himself sent off’. Gareth Bale may believe in miracles but for now, Tottenham are going out of the Champions League. Yet Tottenham fans should not blame Peter Crouch.