While many managers may fear going back to their former club, Harry Redknapp has always enjoyed a return to West Ham. Part of his life for seven years, Upton Park holds many fond memories as well as a proud record since leaving in 2001. Redknapp has not lost in the Premier League to the Hammers as an opposition manager and will be hoping that run continues when he takes Tottenham there tonight.
It is always emotional for Redknapp to return to the East End, a place where he had a mix of highs and lows, first as a player and then manager, grooming the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick and Joe Cole before he was ousted. But sentiment plays little part in football these days, just like loyalty. Only results matter. With that in mind and both teams being in the bottom six in the table, Redknapp's reception tonight may be mixed, but he hopes the Hammers faithful will not forget what he did and what he could have achieved had they kept their talent and faith in him.
"We produced the best young players at any club, as good as Manchester United in my opinion," he said. "Six kids went to play for England, four were playing in the Champions League final last season. "They were players I signed at 11 or 12 years of age. If they had kept hold of them, where would they be now? "Once Rio went, then Frank went and Joe, they just couldn't keep hold of those players and build a team that could have been challenging, in my opinion, for the top four.
"I've been back to West Ham with Portsmouth and got a fantastic reception. I would hate that to change because the club will always be very close to my heart." Redknapp is hoping he will get a chance to fufil a top four dream at Spurs after lifting spirits and moving the side out of the relegation zone after taking over from Juande Ramos in October. With transfer funds available next month, and reports suggesting Robbie Keane could be heading back to Tottenham after disappointing at Liverpool, it seems a brighter future on paper than the one facing Gianfranco Zola, although the coming years could be exciting for the Italian as he looks to develop youth.
Zola is looking to create a similar ethos to that of Redknapp by developing a young side. His commitment to this philosophy was shown by signing striker Freddie Sears to a new long-term deal and negotiating a new contract with midfielder Jack Collison. "This is what we are trying to do and we already have young players in the team like Freddie Sears, Jack Collison and Mark Noble," Zola said. "They are the future of the club and that is the philosophy we want to have. That is why Jack is going to sign an extension to his contract and Sears has already signed.
"We're looking to build a team like that, where there is always a possibility of young players coming through and youth to have a chance. That is my ideal situation." The current side have improved of late taking five points from their last three games, which also saw no goals conceded. But Zola added: "It is not just the defence that is working well, if you are defending and not conceding goals it is because the whole team is defending well."