“An apprentice learning from a master.”
Given Liverpool’s long-held reputation as as a club renowned for nurturing talent and succession planning, it would be fair to assume such a comment regarding one of the club’s most enigmatic players of the Premier League era – Jamie Redknapp – would be in the context of the football family he grew up in or the tutelage he had in his early Anfield years from the some of the Reds’ most iconic names.
It would be a wrong assumption. The above quote is actually from none other than Steven Gerrard’s first autobiography and makes abundantly clear the respect and esteem the man regarded as arguably Liverpool’s greatest ever midfielder has for one of his predecessors who history has not remembered as kindly.
For many, Redknapp will always be associated with the promising but ultimately unfulfilled era which defined the opening third of the club’s three decade-long league title drought which was finally brought to an end with Jurgen Klopp’s effervescent side winning the Premier League in 2020.
The Londoner accepts the trappings of the lifestyle he and his peers embraced during that period in the 90s when football was repackaging itself as entertainment – the ‘lad culture’ TV and magazine appearances, the pop star girlfriend, those white suits at Wembley and the ‘Spice Boys’ tag – led to a certain perception which will probably prove impossible to ever truly shake off.
But scratch beneath the surface and it becomes clear there is much more to Redknapp’s story than meets the eye which makes it impossible not to wonder how different things might have been for both him and Liverpool had the stars aligned in a more fortuitous way.
A life in football was always on the cards with his father being Harry Redknapp, a talented young player himself who was part of England’s 1964 European Under-18 Championship winning side and enjoyed a successful career with West Ham United alongside the likes of 1966 World Cup heroes Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst, as well Frank Lampard senior, who very much became part of the family after he and Harry married twin sisters Patricia and Sandra, meaning young Jamie and future Chelsea and England midfield star Frank junior grew up as cousins.
After finishing his playing career in England with AFC Bournemouth and then in the United States, Harry moved into management with the Cherries giving Jamie, once he was old enough to kick a ball, the perfect opportunity to absorb himself in football from a very early age, bunking off school to train on the school playing fields, eavesdropping in dressing rooms during his dad’s team talks, and learning quickly to keep his mouth shut if the team fared poorly.
A career in football was inevitable but even Jamie and Harry’s wildest dreams probably could not have imagined the youngster getting the chance to further his education in the game at the country’s pre-eminent club under a legend of the game like Kenny Dalglish after Liverpool paid a then-record fee of £350,000 (rising to £500,000) for a 17-year-old in January 1991.
Redknapp junior explained in an in-depth interview with the Athletic the role his father played in his move to Merseyside, which saw him become one of Dalglish’s final signings of his first spell as Reds boss before his shock resignation just a month later.
The seeds were sown on the dance floor at a League Managers’ Association annual dinner the previous year but Jamie cast some doubt as to who initially approached who.
“My dad says they were dancing with their wives when Kenny came up and said: ‘Listen, I really want to sign your boy’. I bet the truth is my dad sidled up to Kenny!
“I knew that Liverpool’s chief scout Ron Yeats and Kenny himself had been to see me play. I went up there for a few weeks initially to experience it and really enjoyed it. I just felt that I wanted to spend a bit more time at Bournemouth.
“A lot of other clubs were interested but I only wanted to go and play for Liverpool. Kenny had this aura about him. It was lovely to be wanted by such a hero of mine.
“Not many people can say they were sold by their dad!
“But I didn’t have any complaints. I think I was brave to make the move away from home so young because I was very close to my parents. I had a great situation learning my trade in the lower leagues at Bournemouth but it was Liverpool and Kenny Dalglish was my idol.”
It was to prove a baptism of fire for the teenager in more ways than one.
Firstly in terms of moving away from the quieter shores of the south coast to a big city like Liverpool with all that entailed, which rapidly became evident when Harry accompanied his son up to Merseyside and they stayed overnight in the old Moat House Hotel on Paradise Street.
“In the middle of the night we heard gunshots and police sirens. In the morning it was like a scene from Police Squad with an outline drawn in the shape of a body,” Jamie recalled.
“My dad looked at me and said: ‘Just don’t tell your mum about this!’ She was nervous about me moving away from home anyway.
“From the start, I was treated so well by the people up there. They were so good to me. I had a great relationship with the Scousers. I think it helped that there were a lot of Scousers living down in Bournemouth at the time.
“A lot of my brother’s mates and people I knew would come down from Liverpool to Bournemouth in the summer to work so I understood the Scouse mentality and sense of humour. I think that really helped me. At times they could be pretty brutal in their assessment of people. They were always quick to tell you how it was but I had no problem with that.”
And despite his familiarity with football and training ground culture, his desperation to succeed saw him fall, in his own words, ‘a**e over t*t’ on his ‘terrifying’ first day at Melwood training which immediately caused his new team-mates – only weeks earlier idols on posters on his bedroom wall – digging him out mercilessly.
Speaking years later on TV quiz show A League of Their Own, which Redknapp became a regular contestant on, he was asked by host Romesh Ranganathan what it was like to join a new club for the first time.
“My first day at Liverpool was terrifying,” he admitted.
“I signed as a 17-year-old, the most expensive teenager at the time in the country. Liverpool had John Barnes, Ian Rush, Steve McMahon, Ronnie Whelan – heroes of mine that were all on my wall in Bournemouth.
“It was a freezing cold day – snow everywhere, we couldn’t actually get onto the pitch. So we we went onto this cinder area. I remember the ball coming to me and I wanted to show I’ve got a little bit.
“When someone passed me the ball, I went to pass it back, went a**e over t*t, legs up in the air and everyone was shouting, ‘How much? How much are you costing?!'”
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Even with the naivety of youth, Redknapp must have been expecting it to take some time for him to settle in and acclimatise to the considerable step up he had made and would no doubt have been advised as such by his dad given his knowledge of the game.
But neither could have possibly expected the bombshell which would drop barely five weeks after his arrival on Merseyside when on 22 February 1991, the man who had brought him to the club announced his shock resignation as Liverpool manager.
“I don’t think anyone could see it coming,, ”Redknapp remembered to the Athletic.
“You never know quite what’s going on in someone’s mind and Kenny had been through an enormous amount with Hillsborough and the pressure he had to handle.
“I was 17 and the guy who signed me had left. I was devastated. I went back to my digs that day and Mrs Sainsbury who I used to stay with said there was a phone call for me.
“It was Kenny. I couldn’t believe that with everything going on in his life he still had the decency and the kindness to call and say: ‘Jamie, everything is going to be all right’. But when you know Kenny, you actually realise it’s the mark of the man. He’s a class act. It meant so much to me. It’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me.
“After he left, on a Friday night, if I didn’t have a game on a Saturday for the reserves, Kenny would invite me down to his house in Southport to watch a German or Italian game together. Marina would cook some dinner and I’d stay over. He looked out for me. It was quite a unique relationship and I still get on great with Kenny to this day.”
Dalglish’s replacement ultimately was former Liverpool European Cup winning captain Graeme Souness and, while his spell as manager at Anfield between 1991 and 1994 is looked upon very differently to his playing career with the Reds, arguably the most positive aspect of it was the opportunities given to a new breed of young players, some of whom would go on to establish themselves as club greats.
Redknapp was one of the first young bucks to be given their head in the first team, perhaps partly through the litany of injuries suffered during the Scot’s first full season in charge, and while it took some time to fully establish himself it proved a valuable grounding period.
His full debut against French side Auxerre in the UEFA Cup in October 1991 saw him became the youngest player to appear for Liverpool in European competition and his first goal arrived two months later when poaching an equaliser away at Southampton but he would make only 10 appearances in that first full campaign.
“Kenny leaving hit me hard,” he admitted.
“It took me time to get my confidence and win over people. Some thought I was a Cockney flash boy but that wasn’t true. I just got my head down and got on with it.
“Under Kenny, I went straight to the top of the list as he had signed me. But with Graeme, I was back to square one. He didn’t have any affection towards me and I had to earn the right again. I had no problem with that. The easy option would have been to give in and go back down south but I wanted to be a Liverpool player.
“Getting that rickety old bus from Anfield to Melwood for training each day was surreal. They were all players I had on my bedroom wall as a kid. You’d take a deep breath before walking into that dressing room. Some call it bullying, I wouldn’t. It was the way it was.
“A sock would hit you in the back of the neck or someone would give you stick. It was non-stop. Back then you showed respect for the senior players. If someone said to you, you’re not sitting there, that’s so and so’s seat, you just got up. I think now a young player would just go, ‘No, this is now my seat, unlucky’. It’s a different era now.”
1992/93 and 1993/94 did see Redknapp gain more regular game-time, making 40 and 41 appearances in all competitions respectively, but they were harrowing seasons for Liverpool, pockmarked with embarrassing cup defeats to lower-division opposition and unheard of league placings of sixth and eighth as the stark decline from the all-conquering 70s and 80s was put into painful context with Manchester United’s rise to dominance.
The latter campaign would see Souness sacked as manager after a humiliating FA Cup third-round replay defeat at home to Bristol City, which proved a painfully significant night for Redknapp also, suffering the knee injury which would cast a shadow over the rest of his playing career and played a major part in prevented it reaching its undoubted potential.
“Just before half-time I went to play a pass and I felt something go in my right knee,” he told the Athletic.
“I was in the dressing room and as I went to get up and go out for the second half my knee just locked. I’d torn my meniscus.
“They ended up taking all the meniscus out of my knee, which they should never have done. It was negligence really. I was 20 and it meant I was bone on bone for the rest of my life.
“I trained just 10 days after the op and then I came on at half-time in the Southampton game when Matt Le Tissier scored a hat-trick. As a kid all you want to do is play. You put your trust in others.
“With an injury like that, I should have been out for three to six months. They should have sown my meniscus back together and let me have that protection but instead, they took it all out. I do look back on that as a really pivotal moment in my life. I can’t explain why they did it. I never got a proper answer. I can’t go for a run these days because of it. I ended up having 12 or 13 knee operations by the end of my career.”
With Roy Evans now having graduated from the Boot Room to the manager’s office, Redknapp had got himself fit again by the start of the following campaign and would go on to enjoy arguably his most effective season in a red shirt.
He racked up his highest appearance tally missing only two of the 57 matches Liverpool played in all competitions, assisted the second of Steve McManaman’s dazzling double strike at Wembley which saw the Reds win the League Cup against Bolton Wanderers and notched arguably the finest goal of his career at the club in an important win over Manchester United.
The Reds took on their old rivals at Anfield in mid-March looking to hurt Alex Ferguson’s side’s chances of a third successive league title with Evans’s men having just suffered two surprise home defeats in a week – an FA Cup quarter-final against Tottenham and Premier League clash with Coventry City – and with their Wembley date against Bolton looming, still potentially needing a decent final league placing to qualify for Europe the following campaign.
The first goal in such games can be so critical and this day Redknapp made sure it went Liverpool’s way with a strike of sheer class.
After John Barnes cleverly kept possession while on the ground following the breakdown of an attack, Robbie Fowler fed Redknapp a few yards outside the left edge of the United penalty area and the midfielder dragged the ball away from defender Denis Irwin with his right foot before taking a further touch with his right and, as he approached the 18-yard box, rifling a low angled drive with his weaker left foot beyond a helpless Peter Schmeichel and into the bottom corner of the Kop end.
It set the tone for a confidence-restoring 2-0 victory and illustrated further Redknapp’s growing reputation as one of the best young midfielders in the country, with goals now being added to his range of passing and positional sense.
That was recognised by England boss Terry Venables awarding him a first full international cap early the following season in a friendly against Colombia, memorable for maverick goalkeeper Rene Higuita’s famous scorpion kick clearance which came from a Redknapp shot.
He started 1995/96 in excellent form as the Reds, now boosted by the British record £8.5m signing of forward Stan Collymore to add to the wealth of young talent at Anfield, looked to build on the previous campaign and mount a serious challenge to Manchester United and new champions, Dalglish’s Blackburn Rovers.
Redknapp again showed his long range shooting prowess with stunning early season strikes against Blackburn and Spartak Vladikavkaz in the UEFA Cup but suffered a hamstring injury when playing for England against Switzerland in mid-November which ruled him out for four months.
He returned for Liverpool in a defeat at Nottingham Forest in late March which ended the side’s 20-game unbeaten run and, although his free kicks led to the Reds’ first two goals in the FA Cup semi-final victory over Aston Villa at Old Trafford and he had a fine game in the unforgettable ‘Collymore closing in’ 4-3 win over Newcastle three days later, which temporarily put Evans’s side back in the title race, it was a campaign which would end in empty-handed heartbreak and ignominious embarrassment following the infamous ‘white suits’ FA Cup final.
It was not an experience Redknapp looked back on with any fondness although he was quick to dismiss Alex Ferguson’s claim he knew his side would win that day at Wembley once he saw the suits Liverpool had turned up in.
“They were shockers, weren’t they? Can you imagine that now?”, he told Paddy Power’s From the Horse’s Mouth podcast.
“When I think back to that, that was amazing really. I think I must have been 21-22 at the time. We had our normal club suits and I don’t – to this day – like Roy Evans is a great guy, super-bright. You had John Barnes, Ian Rush, leaders in that dressing room. They were quite quiet. Rushy was quite quiet, he’d just do his business and got on with his game.
“I still to this day don’t understand why no-one went: ‘Listen guys, why don’t we just wear our normal suits?’
“We’d drawn at Old Trafford that year in the league and battered them at Anfield, and that might have been something to do with it. Maybe we thought, oh, we’ve done them in the league, we can beat them again here.
“Subsequently, Alex Ferguson said he knew he’d won when we turned up in those suits. That was a load of b******s. Because in that game we were actually marginally better I’d say.
“There was obviously a mistake, Eric Cantona scores, and apart from that, there was nothing in the game.
“So, to say that you see someone in a white suit and that’s the difference – we just looked ridiculous, Let’s make no bones about it. We had a few good-looking lads in that team, but none of us can make that suit look good!”
He later told the Athletic about the frustration he and his team-mates of the time still feel about their ‘Spice Boy’ reputation and the idea their perceived lack of professionalism prevented them achieving more.
“Listen, I loved a night out, I’m not going to lie. But whenever I went out I’d see Ryan Giggs and David Beckham.
“We were no worse than United. Going out a night or two nights before a game was never even contemplated. But yeah on a Saturday after a game I’d sometimes go down to London.
“I was going out with a pop star at the time. That leaves you open, don’t get me wrong, I get that. But I know how I behaved. Having a girlfriend was actually a good thing because it kept me out of trouble.
“Without doubt that team we had under Roy should have won more than just the League Cup. I get so many people now say they loved that era but it was missing trophies and that was the disappointment.
“We talk now about our full-backs pushing on but that was happening a long time ago with Jason McAteer and Stig Inge Bjornebye. Steve McManaman was such an incredible player. Robbie Fowler was a genius. John Barnes and the job he did… we had a lovely balance in midfield. We just weren’t able to get over the line. We were up against a very good United team.”
The month after the Wembley disappointment against United, Redknapp was back at the national stadium as part of the England squad trying to win the European Championships on home soil during Euro 96 and if ever a game summed up the misfortune of Redknapp’s career, it was the second group against the ‘Auld Enemy’, Scotland.
Venables’s side had been held to an unsatisfactory draw against Switzerland in the opening match and, with their third group game being against fancied Holland, a win against Scotland was vital to their chances of qualification for the quarter-finals.
After a dour and uninspiring first 45 minutes, Redknapp was introduced from the bench at half-time and made an immediate impact, his use of the ball setting a better tempo for the home side – ‘Redknapp’s slick passing greased some slow-moving wheels’, said the Guardian – and playing a part in the opening goal scored by Alan Shearer.
But he suffered what would prove to be a hairline fracture of the ankle later in the half and would be substituted himself before the match was over, playing no further part in the tournament.
A series of niggling injuries prevented him playing more than 32 and 26 games for Liverpool in the following two campaigns although the arrival of Gerard Houllier at Anfield and a burgeoning partnership with Paul Ince in the centre of midfield ushered in another brief period of consistency, with Redknapp playing 40 games and scoring 10 times in 1998/99.
He had initially got a grounding in football’s dark arts thanks to former Goodison great Jimmy Gabriel during a try-out at Everton in his youth.
“He taught me how to go over the top of the ball,” said Redknapp.
“How to hurt someone. It’s not about being vindictive, it’s about protecting yourself from what others will definitely try to do to you.
“You’ve got to have an edge in professional football – people have to respect you, or they’ll walk all over you. You don’t have to be horrible, you can be fair and honest and nice, but you need an edge.”
And the arrival of former Manchester United and Inter Milan midfielder Ince, the self-styled ‘Guv’nor’, furthered that side of Redknapp’s game alongside his own growing maturity.
“Incey was really good for me”, he admitted.
“Five minutes into a game he’d turn to me and say: ‘Have you smashed anyone yet?’ That part of my game wasn’t natural. I just wanted to get my passing going but he brought out a different side.
“I was flying. The following summer Gerard gave me the captaincy. I was in my hotel room when he told me. It was an incredible feeling. I was 26. I honestly thought, ‘This is it now’. This is the start of something really big with Liverpool and England. I felt strong. All I had to do was stay fit.”
But he was sadly simply unable to.
Yet another injury on international duty for England, against Scotland in the November 1999 play-offs to qualify for Euro 2000, saw him ruled out for four months and his reaction to a late headed winner having come off the bench for Liverpool against Newcastle in March 2000 showed just how much of a toll the injuries were taking on him.
“I remember recovering from a long injury lay-off and sitting stewing on the bench for Liverpool, not getting as much match action as I thought I deserved,” he said.
“We were playing Newcastle and when I was finally sent on, I rose above Duncan Ferguson to score a rare header and win the game.
“I ran as fast as I could towards the manager, my own manager, Gérard Houllier. I screamed every expletive imaginable in his direction. It was an explosion of emotion.”
But two days later playing for the reserves against Sheffield Wednesday, he got injured again. It was discovered the same knee he had been suffering with for years had now developed a hole in the bone with numerous operations with trips to top specialist Richard Steadman in America being required to get to the heart of the problem.
He missed Liverpool’s unforgettable 2000/01 Treble season in its entirety but the respect and admiration he was still held in as club captain was demonstrated when Fowler and Sami Hyypia insisted he lift the FA Cup with them after the epic late fightback against Arsenal in Cardiff despite the skipper wearing a shirt and tie.
He later explained on a ‘A League of Their Own’: “Before the game, I wasn‘t going to do it. I had missed out all year and Robbie Fowler said: ‘You are the club captain and we want you to do it if we win it’.
“I went: ‘Don‘t be stupid, no chance. It‘s not my time’.
“Sami Hyypia was going to be captain on the day. Robbie came on the pitch after we had won the game 2-1.
“Robbie said: ‘Come on, you can do this!’ I said: ‘No, no. Honestly, I don’t want to do it’.
“Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Gérard Houllier going to Sami Hyypia: ‘You go. ‘You are the captain.’ ‘You go up there’.
“I thought: ‘Oh, really?’ I think I will do this!’ That‘s a true story. I thought, ‘Houllier, you w*****!’ ‘Have some of that!'”
He later however paid tribute to Houllier and what he did for Liverpool, telling the Athletic, “I’ll always be indebted to Gerard. Things didn’t work out as I would have liked towards the end.
“There are things I think we both would have changed. But he did a great job at Liverpool. Look at the young players who came through and the education he gave them.”
The Frenchman gave Redknapp his final eight Liverpool appearances when he returned to fitness in 2001/02, with the-then 28-year-old scoring the 41st and final goal of his 308-game Reds career in a 2-0 win at Charlton but the emergence of Gerrard alongside Dietmar Hamann at the heart of the Liverpool midfield meant the writing was on the wall.
He turned down the offer of a Liverpool testimonial (‘I just didn’t feel right taking it… I hadn’t won enough and was quite sensitive to the fact that I’d missed a lot of football’) and joined Tottenham on a free transfer towards the end of that season and made 49 appearances over two-and-a-half years at White Hart Lane before finishing his playing career under his dad Harry at Southampton at the age of only 31, getting the news from Dr Steadman he should hang up his boots on the same day as Liverpool’s miraculous Champions League win over AC Milan in Istanbul.
He would go on to admit some frustration over how his playing career turned out but also said how that was superseded with pride at what he was able to achieve.
“Of course I could have done more and some always dwell on the negative stuff,” said Redknapp.
“But every now and again someone will send me a goal I scored for Liverpool or England and it makes me think: ‘You know what? You should be proud’. I put that armband on for Liverpool. I played for one of the greatest clubs in the world with some of my best mates.
“How many people can say that? On the wall at Anfield, they have a list of the captains. Whenever I see my name there I just think ‘wow’.
And his influence was borne out in the man who would go on to eventually succeed him in wearing the captain’s armband at Anfield and fulfil many of the dreams Redknapp may well have had for himself.
Just five days before Gerrard made his Liverpool debut against Blackburn in November 1998, Houllier pulled the youngster aside upon arriving at the team hotel for an away game against Celta Vigo in the UEFA Cup and gestured towards Redknapp.
“Watch him,” the manager instructed. “Watch how Jamie behaves around the place. How he eats, trains, conducts himself, how he plays. You can learn off him.”
Redknapp often played alongside the club’s best prospects in the A and B teams as he was recovering from injury and Gerrard admitted in his first autobiography: “I felt like a king being named on the same teamsheet as Jamie Redknapp.
“In games, he explained which positions I should take up, when to make runs. I was an apprentice learning from a master.”
And Gerrard’s fellow Istanbul hero Jamie Carragher paid tribute to Redknapp’s dedication to the game in his own memoirs, while seeking to correct the perception some supporters may still hold of a player seen as some to be a talisman of an wasted Anfield era.
“Jamie is one of the few players I’ve met who shares with me an absolute devotion to football,” said Carragher.
“There was no better professional at the club at the time, no-one who took more pride in his performance or worked harder to improve his game. Anyone who tried to lump him in with a few others who were at the club at that time is seriously mistaken.”