After spending his entire career trying in vain to gatecrash English soccer's grandest occasions, Harry Redknapp finally savored success on the big stage on Saturday.
Redknapp has always felt his old school attitude and the unsubstantiated bung allegations that have dogged him for years stopped him getting a crack at managing one of the game’s big four.
During his spells at Bournemouth, West Ham United and now Portsmouth, Redknapp labored in the shadows of managers more glamorous, though often no more successful.
So winning his first major trophy, as Nwankwo Kanu’s goal clinched a 1-0 FA Cup final victory over Cardiff at Wembley, must have felt like vindication of the sweetest kind for one of English soccer’s last true characters, who becomes the first English boss to lift the Cup since Joe Royle in 1995.
It has been an emotional year for Redknapp, who had to deal with a dawn raid by police investigating more bung allegations, as well as the recent death of his wife’s sister Pat Lampard, mother of Chelsea star Frank.
“It’s fantastic for everybody, the team, the fans and especially my family,” said Redknapp, who was considered by some to be the heir apparent after Steve McClaren stepped down as England coach following England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008 until the dawn raid effectively ended his hopes.
“It’s been a difficult year,” he said. “It’s a dream come true. We are a very close family and this is a fantastic present to give them. As for my defense and goalkeeper Dave James, I love them.”
James returned the compliment.
“He [Redknapp] is a legend,” James said.
Redknapp had also made the difficult decision to turn down the chance to manage Newcastle United because he did not want to uproot his family from their luxurious life in the exclusive Sandbanks area of the south coast.
He had denied suggestions the stress of such a draining campaign would lead him to retire after the final, but such an emotional man could easily be moved to go out on a high now.
After the FA’s decision to allow the Welsh national anthem to be played before kick-off backfired — with Portsmouth’s fans jeering throughout the rendition and Cardiff supporters doing the same during the British anthem — Redknapp hugged each of his players before taking his place on the bench.
He must have wondered if it was going to be his day during a nervous opening from Portsmouth and never more so than when Kanu missed a sitter in the 21st minute.
He looked certain to score as he skipped around Peter Enckelman. But with an open goal at his mercy, the Nigerian somehow contrived to hit the outside of the post.
Redknapp’s look of utter disbelief said it all. It was a shocking miss, but Kanu did not have to wait long for redemption.
John Utaka crossed from the right 16 minutes later and Enckelman could only weakly parry the ball out to Kanu, who tapped in from close range.
Six weeks after his last goal — the semi-final winner against West Bromwich Albion — Kanu was once again dancing exuberantly with his teammates beneath the Wembley arch.
Since recovering from a heart defect that threatened his career in the 1990s, Kanu has enjoyed the highs of Premier League and FA Cup success, but few moments can have bettered this for Africa’s most decorated player.
While Kanu celebrated, Enckelman must have wished he could be anywhere else.