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Even Harry Redknapp may have met match in bid to revive QPR's fortunes

He's had more narrow escapes than Houdini, but handcuffing himself to sinking Loftus Road club may have been foolhardy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 December, 2012, 2:47am

Harry Houdini was a Budapest-born, American stunt performer noted for his sensational escape acts. He first attracted notice as "Harry Handcuff Houdini" on a tour of Europe where he sensationally challenged different police forces to try to keep him locked up.

Harry Redknapp is a London-born EPL football manager, who is also noted for his sensational escape acts. He first attracted notice as a professional player and then manager of Bournemouth, West Ham United, Portsmouth (twice), Southampton and (as of this week) Queens Park Rangers.

Two men, two celebrated escape artists. And like Houdini, Redknapp has wriggled his way out of all manner of tight corners, and not all of them relegation dog fights.

During his colourful career, he has been cleared of tapping up players, taking bungs and being part of a conspiracy at Portsmouth FC over claims of false accounting. He even managed to escape the ownership of a lame nag - a race horse he bought in the hope of it winning him a fortune.

Now the specialist football escapologist faces his most daring challenge. He will attempt to spring QPR out of the dank tomb that is the bottom of the most cut-throat league in the world.

Sinking fast in the EPL ocean, QPR have lost touch with the shoal of fellow relegation candidates, which are thrashing several points above them and struggling for air.

Serial trouble-shooter Redknapp, who enjoys universal admiration for his amazing ability to conjure up wriggle room in the most acute angles, knows his latest stunt is not going to be an easy one to execute.

Only four clubs - Everton (94-95), Manchester City (95-96), Sheffield Wednesday (97-98) and Southampton (98-99) - managed to stay up after being bottom of the table after 13 games in the Premier League's 20-year history. And none of these clubs had as bad a record as QPR's four points in 13 games at the moment 65-year-old Redknapp entered Loftus Road last week.

However, the draw against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light midweek offered a slither of hope in the shape of a precious fifth point gained. Crucially, Redknapp believed he spotted the green shoots of recovery in the industrial wasteland left after the short, disastrous Mark Hughes era.

"I liked the look of us," he said after his first post-match interview in gainful employment since his inglorious sacking by Spurs six months ago.

He singled out praise for midfielders Samba Diakite and Stephane Mbia, and gave characteristic nods of general approval to the semblance of a team struggling together for a common cause.

While the arrival of the new gaffer has injected the much needed confidence obviously severely lacking under Hughes, the players can expect wholesale changes in future starting line-ups. Redknapp relies heavily on intuition and is at his ruthless best with underperforming players.

For his first game in charge, the new boss made three changes from the team that was soundly beaten by Man United last weekend, with Jose Bosingwa and midfielders Diakite and Esteban Granero replacing Kieron Dyer, Alejandro Faurlin and Shaun Derry.

Dyer did not even make the bench and there were mumbles of concern when fans' favourite Faurlin was also dropped. But "Old 'Arry' knows best" is the new mantra to soothe Loftus Road nerves.

Come the January transfer window, the squad can expect a trademark Redknapp fire sale and patch-up-and-mend buying spree. He will want to ditch players signed by Hughes so he can stamp his own imprint on the dressing room - even if his team selection and tactics are often viewed as highly suspect.

Few have Redknapp's ability and presence to motivate a demoralised squad.

His common touch also makes him the players' manager of choice and his walking into a depressed dressing room has been likened to Red Adair, the famous American oil-well firefighter, striding fearlessly into the heat to douse a blowout.

But surely in his heart of hearts, a betting man like Redknapp knows he is taking a wild punt on QPR and the odds are stacked against him.

As if on cue, he was this week positioning himself for some end-of-season wriggle room if he fails to stave off relegation. "We mustn't kid ourselves because it's going to be tough. The position we are in, it's going to be very difficult," he inserted hastily into his loveable rogue salesman patter.

Today, QPR will face fellow strugglers Aston Villa - a massive six-pointer. As good as Redknapp is at career comebacks and helping others evade disasters, he might have overreached in his desperate desire for employment.

He insisted he was keen on the Ukraine national team job, which he says he was poised to accept until QPR sent him their SOS. But was he really prepared to commute to Kiev - or was the wily old fox merely calling the bluff of QPR's owner Tony Fernandes?

There was a joke that had Redknapp taken the Ukraine hot seat and lost to England in the World Cup qualifiers, he would have been sent to the country's salt mines. Professional escapologists such as Houdini might wager that tunnelling out of a Stalinist labour camp might prove easier than jumping clear of the EPL trapdoor with QPR.