Few professions are so precarious and fickle as that of a football manager. Dynasties are established and potential empires burned to the ground before ever taking shape, thanks to the tiniest of margins - a missed penalty here, a poor signing there. Sir Alex Ferguson was famously "one match away" from the sack at Manchester United after a barren first few years, but he survived and has gone on to make something of a name for himself. This season has exemplified the other end of spectrum in the frequently forlorn form of QPR manager Harry Redknapp.
Just over halfway through last season, in early February, Redknapp's stock was as high as it had ever been. His team at the time, Tottenham Hotspur, were sitting pretty in third place, ten points clear of great rivals Arsenal and looking extremely good for Champions' League qualification. It was also a great time for Redknapp personally; on the same day that Fabio Capello resigned from the England job, a position that Redknapp had coveted for years, he was cleared of tax evasion charges, meaning that the media frenzy about his potential appointment as national team boss could begin in earnest. Always a media darling thanks to his paper-friendly soundbites and his tendency to prefer his car window to a quiet restaurant for one-on-one interviews, there was palpable disappointment amongst the London-led media that the good ol' boy from the East End had been deprived of his lifelong dream when he was overlooked for the post.
Fast forward to April this year, and Redknapp is almost unrecognisable, in both demeanour and media profile. In between Capello's resignation and the eventual appointment of Roy Hodgson, Spurs went into a spectacular tailspin, ultimately relinquishing their advantage to finish behind Arsenal and lose their place in the Champions' League, a run of form that saw Redknapp sacked. At this point, the media were still well on side, with even that bastion of neutrality the BBC bemoaning his removal as "harsh", particularly as he was replaced with his polar opposite Andre Villas-Boas, who had been pilloried in his short-lived spell at Chelsea.
It was an almost idiomatic inevitability throughout his time at Spurs that whenever questioned, he would wheel out the stat that they had managed a paltry "two points from game games" when he took over, and so his arrival at bottom-placed QPR last November was greeted with squeals of glee from pundits who couldn't wait to see their man do it again, having evidently drank so much of Redknapp's Kool-Aid to ignore the obvious underachieving of a squad clearly good enough for the top half of the table.
The Redknapp PR machine was in full effect as soon as he took charge, with the task of keeping QPR up quickly being branded "impossible", despite them being just six points adrift with two thirds of the season left to play. Redknapp was then quick to disparage his predecessor Mark Hughes by deriding the fact that a club with an 18,000 seat stadium was paying "average" players six figure sums every week. However, Harry has never been one for financial prudence - just look at his instrumental role in the fiscal implosion of League Two-bound Portsmouth - and he splashed some considerable cash in the January window, most notably on Christopher Samba (thought to be on £100,000 a week) and Loic Remy (costing the club around £8m to purchase, and a subsequent £75,000 on wages).
Flash forward four months and the fabled "Harry Houdini" effect has failed to materialise. With just four games remaining, QPR are, barring a minor miracle, relegated, now ten points adrift from safety. Some in the media are still not quite ready to let go of their beloved messiah - Alan Smith defended Redknapp by pointing out that the side are averaging one point a game since his arrival, an inadvertent back-handed compliment, as it well may prove the case that the 38 points QPR would have amassed had Redknapp been at the helm all season wouldn't be enough to keep them up anyway - but others have responded in a decidedly muted fashion (in an ironic twist of fate, Villas-Boas, whose appointment was met with snide remarks from Redknapp's media mates, has become something of a press darling over the course of the season). Redknapp has rarely proved the jovial, light hearted character he was at former clubs, appearing resigned to failure for some time now.
It has been a fall befitting of a Greek tragedy, and its source can be traced to any number of reasons. There's little doubting that his well-publicised court case threw concentration off at Spurs, and, with the crux of his defense being that he couldn't have tweaked his taxes as his literacy levels render him incapable of even filling out the team sheet, it's not hard to see where his aura of a highly respectable paternal figure dissipated somewhat. Perhaps his public haranguing of the QPR players upon his arrival cost more in morale than it gained in media coverage. His gung-ho style of management has cost QPR dear in games, where they've flown out of the blocks and then struggled to close games out (Saturday's six-pointer with Wigan which saw Bobby Zamora sent off for a wild challenge in the twentieth minute before the team conceded a 94th minute equaliser is a perfect example). Or maybe it was merely the fact that he was gazumped on his favourite day of the year, transfer deadline day (when the majority of his aforementioned automotive interviews take place), by Peter Odemwingie, who took it upon himself to arrive unannounced at QPR at the eleventh hour to try and force a move through.
Whatever the reason, QPR's relegation could well prove to be the final curtain call for Harry Houdini.