The Mandaric Years (Part 1)
7 O`clock= The Mandaric Years Part 1
There is no questioning Milan Mandaric`s business credentials. At the age of 21, he took over his father`s machinery shop and turned it into the largest business in the country. Then, of course, he moved stateside and furthered his success, making millions in the process.
However, like a number of successful businessmen, Mr Mandaric decided to dabble in an extra-curricular passion - football. After experimenting in the US with the San Jose Earthquakes (featuring a one G. Best), he came to Europe to take over Standard Liege in Belgium, and then Nice in southern France. But his biggest project was yet to come, and in 1998, Milan Mandaric arrived in Portsmouth, effectively saving the club from possible administration. His tenure began with near on three years of what Pompey fans had become used to - bottom half of the table and very few happy days, especially away from Fratton. In fact, Pompey registered only one away win in the 98/99 season, at the fortress that is Vale Park. However, Milan stuck by former England World Cup star Alan Ball as he tried to get his head around English football.
But eventually, halfway through another season of highlights you could count on one hand (a half decent partnership of Claridge and Bradbury being one), Ball was shown the door and Mandaric made a bold move, appointing the up-and-coming Tony Pulis. Now, I`ve always been suspicious of managers who sign their own sons and, despite some encouraging signs and some new players, Anthony Jr. outstayed his father`s reign, and Milan opted for the people`s choice in October of 2000. It was obvious that Steve Claridge was a hero in Pompey fans` eyes, but people were beginning to question whether Mandaric had a clue what he was up to. Claridge wasn`t really given a fair crack, however, through an indifferent few months, and Milan relieved him of his managerial duties after only five months in charge. Mr Mandaric had made his first true south coast enemy. Now some fans really were turning on the Chairman. He needed to play a big hand. And he pulled off rather an impressive coup, luring the highly-rated Graham Rix from his assistant role at Chelsea.
Rix brought with him some young Stamford talent, and the signs were encouraging. But Milan (and his efficient Chief Executive Peter Storrie) pulled out possibly Milan`s biggest signing of his career. In an attempt to lure the players needed to get out of the division, Mandaric approached Harry Redknapp, who had recently left West Ham, in a Director of Football role. Noone knew quite what it meant, but Mandaric was sure the move would prove a positive one. Croatian megastar Robert Prosinecki followed, again down to Mandaric, who paid the Croatian`s wages out of his own pocket. Peter Crouch was also signed, and the squad now looked capable at least. Players showed glimpses of quality - Harper, Pitt and Quashie all looked like useful young players. But despite Prosinecki`s brilliance, and Crouch`s goals, Pompey had a blip in the new year, and consistency went out of the window.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Mandaric made his shrewdest move to date in March 2001, when replacing Rix with his Director of Football, who had shown commitment to his Chairman by turning down the Leicester job earlier in the season. Harry was ready, and the fairytale years began.
By Pete Alexander
Part 2 at 10 O`Clock