Redknapp cleared but football remains on trial
Even before Harry Redknapp was cleared of all charges in his tax evasion trial today, the Redknapp for England bandwagon was up and running.
As the outstanding home grown manager in the Premier League and now with no legal or ethical obstacle to him taking the most high profile job in the English game, that campaign is certain to gather pace in the coming days and weeks.
Two former England managers - Sven Goran Eriksson and Graham Taylor - have already endorsed Redknapp's credentials to take over from Fabio Capello in the wake of the verdicts from Southwark Crown Court.
And in a delicious piece of timing that the Football Association is so adept at delivering, as Redknapp was giving his heartfelt reaction to being cleared, Capello was at Wembley discussing the fallout from the John Terry captaincy affair with his FA bosses.
Harry Redknapp (centre) was cleared by the jury at Southwark Crown Court of tax evasion charge and is now favourite to become the new England manager in the summer. Photo: Getty
I'm told that if the Italian refuses to back down and insists on Terry remaining as his captain - despite his upcoming trial for allegedly racially abusing Anton Ferdinand - then that could lead to an irreparable breakdown in his relationship with the FA.
But the far more likely outcome remains an uneasy truce with FA chairman David Bernstein and Capello until after Euro 2012 when the manager's £6m-a-year contract expires.
All of which would give the FA a bit of breathing space to consider their options and to work out how to extract Redknapp from the remaining two years on his Spurs contract.
As you would expect, Tottenham issued a supportive statement following the verdicts this afternoon but unofficially their line remains as it has always been - they will deal with the possibility of losing their highly-rated manager to England as and when it arises.
But you could see an elegant situation developing where Redknapp guides Spurs to their highest finish in the Premier League for decades before negotiating his departure for a job he has always coveted.
Officially the FA says it hasn't started discussing possible replacements for Capello. It insists it will only do so once the European Championship is out of the way.
That seems extremely unlikely and it is pushing credibility to ask us to believe that Bernstein and senior executives weren't watching developments at Southwark Crown Court today with great interest.
Apart from anything else, the case had potential to do further damage to English football's already tarnished reputation for financial probity.
Offshore bank accounts, tax fiddling and unofficial loans do not make great reading for a sport which is still struggling to cope with its commercial success.
As Judge Anthony Leonard put it yesterday, the growing wealth in the game has led some to conclude that football has "rather lost its way".
Guilty verdicts for Redknapp and his former chairman at Portsmouth Milan Mandaric would have only added to the calls for tighter regulation - starting at the FA where the government would like to see a tougher licensing system for clubs.
As it is Mandaric, Redknapp and the game walk free with their names cleared and serious questions instead being asked about the lengthy and costly investigations which led them to the dock.
Both men were cleared of tax evasion relating to the transfers of Amdy Faye and Eyal Berkovic last year.
Having spent millions of pounds investigating football, HM Revenue and Customs have suffered a couple of heavy defeats here.
But it is even worse when you consider these cases were the end product of a six-year inquiry into football's financial affairs which all started with a Premier League investigation into irregularities in big money transfers.
The Quest probe led by former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens found that 17 transfers involving five clubs were suspicious but were unable to make anything serious stick against any of the parties involved.
That inquiry sparked a separate police investigation by the City of London economic crime unit called Operation Apprentice.
Several high profile figures in the game including Karren Brady and David Gold, then running Birmingham, were arrested.
At that point the focus was on bungs involving the agent Willy McKay. But again nothing could be proved and all cases were quietly dropped.
Eventually the evidence was handed over to HMRC who then tried to pursue Redknapp and Mandaric for tax evasion.
Today the City of London police and HMRC issued statements defending their actions. HMRC said they had no regrets about pursuing the cases arguing that they will continue to target offshore tax havens.
But at the end of such a long process did they simply bungle the investigations? Or should we conclude that football is free of corruption?
Despite Redknapp and Mandaric being cleared, I'm afraid the jury's still out on that one.
Update: Following the meeting with FA chairman David Bernstein and general secretary Alex Horne at Wembley, Capello resigned his post later on Wednesday.
The FA said in a statement: "The discussions focused on the FA Board's decision to remove the England team captaincy from John Terry, and Fabio Capello's response through an Italian broadcast interview."