(This article was originally published in The FLP on 23 April 2017)
By John Wragg
HARRY Redknapp has called Gary Rowett to try and make sure giving up family life to manage Birmingham will be worthwhile.
Redknapp, 70, would have been thinking about driving down to see his horses at the stables, maybe having egg and bacon at a café and watching the grand kids playing football.
Instead, he will be in the dugout at Villa Park today trying to halt Birmingham City’s disastrous slide and keep them from relegation to League One.
So, to get the SP, ‘Arry rang Gary. Rowett, now at Derby, had the Blues three points off third place in the Championship when he was amazingly sacked in December and Gianfranco Zola appointed.
Birmingham are still living off the 34 points Rowett totalled with Zola only adding 13 in his desperately poor four months in charge that brought two league wins out of 22.
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“I spoke to Gary Rowett and had a good chat,” revealed Redknapp. “Gary sent a message over with his number and asked if I wanted a chat.
“I rang him about the players. He filled me in quite a bit and was really helpful. He knew the players here well, brought in a lot of them. It was interesting.
“Gary talked about a few of the players that have not been in the team but were before and they could do a job.”
Redknapp, in charge of a team in England for the first time since his QPR side lost to Stoke two years ago, has had to make instant assessments of the mess he has inherited.
Birmingham will probably need at least one victory out of the three games left – and go straight into the lions’ den at rowdy, noisy, emotional Villa Park. Aston Villa fans expect a victory.
Life would be tranquil at Sandbanks in Poole, Dorset.
Redknapp was up at five am at his luxury home there on Friday to make the drive up to Birmingham’s training ground and says: “I’m not in the dog house at home, but when I got up at five to come up to Birmingham the wife did say I was mad again, just like she said I must be mad in the first place to do this.
“On Sunday I would go and watch the grandkids play. They always play Sunday morning so I’m always watching them. And then I watch football on TV. That’s my normal Sunday.
“I don’t get uptight about the grandkids playing, I stand out the way, minding my own business, you know? Just letting them get on with it and play. It’s good fun with the kids.
“But this at Birmingham, it’s what I do, innit?
“I can’t do anything in the garden, I’m not any good at that. I can’t change a plug. If I don’t have a game of golf there is nothing else to do, is there?
“I go up the little caff up the road, read the paper, have a bit of egg and bacon. Then it’s ‘What’s the time? What do I do now?’ There’s my stables. I’ve bought my own stables, my own yard. I enjoy that. I go up there early in the morning, watch the horses work on the gallops. I’ve got a boy who trains for me called Nick Mitchell.
“The stables are near a lovely little village in Dorset with a fantastic country pub. Beautiful. I’ve had a couple of winners.”
Whether his time at Birmingham will be a winner Villa will question today.
Villa drew the game at St Andrew’s 1-1 in October when Rowett was in charge and Blues were a handy eighth, well ahead of their neighbours who had been struggling and had replaced Roberto Di Matteo with Steve Bruce four games earlier.
Bruce, a veteran of these derbies in his ten years as player and manager at Birmingham, has revamped the Villa squad but has come to rely on Mile Jedinak, signed by Di Matteo and described by Bruce as a “colossus” .
Jedinak made his Second City derby debut in that game and will use the experience and the fiery games he played in Turkey as a guide for this rematch.
“There are people at the entrance to the training ground in the last few days wanting autographs,” says Jedinak. “All they want to know about is the derby and how we are going to win. If that doesn’t tell me and all the other players what this game means then you don’t have a very good understanding of football.”
Bruce isn’t shy in saying mid-table in the Championship isn’t good enough for Villa. He will ship out unwanted players this summer and get ready for a major promotion push.
Aussie Jedinak, 32, is key to Bruce’s plans.
He is praised as a colossus for the way he gets off long-haul plane trips after playing for his country and still turns out for Villa.
“We have missed Jonathan Kodjia when he’s not been with us and we’ve missed the Big Aussie too,” says Bruce.
“Just look at our results when they’ve not been in the team. That will tell you everything.”
Kodjia is missing through suspension but Jedinak will talk to his team-mates about how to cope at sold-out Villa Park based on his experiences in fierce Turkish games.
While he was with Genclerbirligi, Jedinak scored the winner in a 1-0 victory over Fenerbahce and then went out on loan to Antalyaspor.
“People are talking that Birmingham could go down if we beat them. I don’t know about that, we will go out there and focus on what we have to do,” says Jedinak.
“I played in a couple of derbies when I was in Ankara and going to stadiums like Fenerbahce and Besiktas there was a big atmosphere.
“I won at Galatasaray. You go there and their fans make it intimidating.
“Being a foreigner going to Turkey, I loved every moment. It was hostile, the players talked about it as if it were a do or die match every time. You could see some were intimidated, but you learn to get through that.
“Having seen the first derby at Birmingham, the best way to deal with it is to keep the clearest head and be most calm.
“I watched Besiktas on TV in the Europa League this week and the whole time it was noise. You can hardly speak to the guy right next to you.
“I’m not going to say I don’t fancy it. I’ll be relishing my first derby at Villa Park. When there is more at stake, the more I like it.
“Some players can’t do it, they ride every single emotion, but it’s about keeping things in check.
“If I am asked to give a bit of advice I will leave it as close to the game as possible so it’s fresh in the players’ minds.”