'The best football guy I ever had': Milan Mandaric on the dream ticket and friendship which transformed Portsmouth
Indeed, the mere mention of Harry Redknapp’s name instantly applies a broad smile to the face of Milan Mandaric.
They argued, they had bust-ups, while in November 2004 a furious Redknapp quit following disagreement over the owner’s desire to remove his assistant Jim Smith, coupled with Velimir Zajec’s controversial appointment as executive director.
Nonetheless, together the pair oversaw Pompey’s promotion to the Premier League, the Great Escape, and some fantastic footballing memories.
And during a brief return to the south coast on Saturday for the Slovenian-based businessman, Mandaric admitted Redknapp was the best manager he ever worked with.
‘Harry was full of a lot of things! But, at the end of the day, he’s a great guy and we became great friends,’ the 84-year-old told The News.
‘He’s a good man, the best. I had lots of clubs and he was the best football guy that I ever had. I owe Harry a lot, he brought success at Pompey, that meant so much to me.
‘We actually didn’t argue much, although I like how you can touch him with something you say and he explodes!
‘We threw wine over each other, and water. We went this way and then came back and hugged like nothing ever happened. You can’t get mad at Harry.
‘He always needed two more players and I said “Harry, when are you going to get up one morning and say you need one player?”.
‘We got upset with each other in the moment, but quickly forgot about it, like nothing happened, and became best buddies again.
‘The first time he left Pompey, we got into some argument and he said “If you want me to go, I will”. He told me his wife was feeling unwell and he wanted to take care of her. So okay, he’s gone.
‘Then 15 days later there’s a press conference in Southampton and he’s attending it! I sent over a congratulations: “Good luck to you. At least now there is a team we can beat”.
‘But it didn’t take long for him to come back. A year later he sneaked into my Port Solent apartment at 11pm, so nobody could see. We talked. “Come home, Harry”.
‘I enjoyed every minute with Harry, he’s a wonderful guy. I like his bubbly personality, he’s very knowledgeable about football, we didn’t get promoted by accident, he knew exactly what players we needed and how to deal with them.
‘I was a lucky man to have him as a friend and as a manager in my life. He has this tremendous energy and innovation about football, really fun to talk to.
‘When Harry was our director of football, he always asked what a director of football was meant to do! He was a handful – but came in, charged the style, and Pompey became a serious club.’
Delayed by traffic when checking into the Marriott hotel on Friday night, Mandaric had to rearrange dinner and instead ate there with former Pompey chief executive Peter Storrie.
The pair went out for dinner again on Saturday evening, this time at Giuseppe’s Ristorante in Southsea, where they were joined by a number of Fratton Park members of staff from the past and present.
But there was one notable absentee.
Mandaric added: ‘Harry told me “Milan you know how much I love you” but unfortunately we couldn’t meet up, which was a shame.
‘He had made some firm commitments, but I’m back in 30 days and we’ve arranged to have dinner together then. And we’ll talk about old times.’