Harry Redknapp built a reputation as a wheeler-dealer with an eye for a deal but once ruthlessly rejected the chance to sign Ian Wright before he became an Arsenal legend.
Dugouts up and down the nation played home to Redknapp for 34 years between 1983 and 2017. But his start to life as a manager with AFC Bournemouth would bring about one of his greatest blunders. Some feat in a career that featured winning the FA Cup with Portsmouth.
The Premier League era also brought many encounters between Redknapp and Arsenal. He faced the Gunners 38 times across all competitions but only ever beat the north London side five times. Arsenal had Redknapp’s number in 21 games, including in their last three fixtures.
Spotting talent played a key role in Redknapp’s triumphs that also included taking West Ham United to Intertoto Cup glory. While the Sandbanks resident’s time with Tottenham Hotspur further saw Spurs qualify for the Champions League for the first time in their history in 2010.
Harry Redknapp rejected the chance to sign a young Ian Wright
If Redknapp liked what a player delivered during his time with a team, he often looked to re-sign them, too. Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch and Niko Kranjcar even played for the tactician with three clubs. Yet Redknapp turned down his chance to sign Wright in the striker’s youth.
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Bournemouth’s efforts to move out of the third-tier under Redknapp tempted the tactician to turn to the transfer of Carl Richards. He had caught the coach’s eye with his efforts as an up-and-coming talent at Enfield Town. But the transfer would prove to be a complete disaster.
But before Richards would flop on the south coast, the transfer saw Redknapp and Wright’s paths cross. The strikers’ relationship would also bring about a second chance for Redknapp to sign Wright. Yet, much to the manager’s mistake, it was a chance he let go begging again.
Redknapp explained in his book ‘Always Managing’: “I bought Carl for £10,000, went to pick him up from Enfield and while he went in to say goodbye to his manager, he left me with his mate. ‘What are you signing him for?’ said this kid. ‘I’m 10 times better than him’.
“‘I’ve got 26 goals this season, he’s only got 12. I’m different class than him. Why don’t you sign me?’ I was worried. ‘I can’t buy you, I’m buying him,’ I told Carl’s mate, ‘but I’ll keep an eye out for you, don’t worry.’”
The unfavoured forward went on to become an Arsenal legend
Redknapp continued: “So, we took Carl and he was absolutely useless. He could run but that was about it. We played about six games [but] couldn’t win one. Carl was terrible. After about four games of this, he came to see me.
“‘I’ve got a mate,’ he said. ‘He was asking if he could have a trial. He’s a striker, like me.’ ‘And is he as good as you, Carl?’ I asked, suspiciously. ‘No, he’s not as good as me,’ he said, ‘but he’s decent.’ ‘Well, tell him not to bother then,’ I snapped, and that was the end of it.
“The following Saturday, we went to play Crystal Palace. ‘My mate, the one who wanted a trial, he’s playing for Palace today,’ said Carl. ‘Oh good,’ I thought. ‘No problem there then.’
“Anyway, three goals later I realised Carl wasn’t much of a scout, either. His mate’s name? Ian Wright, who went on to score 238 league goals.”
Wright also went on to become one of the greatest Arsenal legends to date. He offered 185 goals in 288 games across all competitions whilst in north London between 1991 and 1998. The forward’s tally was a club-record haul before Thierry Henry eclipsed the England hero.
Arsenal also won the FA Cup twice, a Premier League title, the EFL Cup once and even the European Cup Winners’ Cup once over Wright’s time at Highbury. He also ended six-straight terms as the Gunners’ top-scorer from 1991/92 to 1996/97 before Dennis Bergkamp joined.