"Complete" Palacios gives Redknapp selection headache

Last updated : 30 January 2009 By Gareth Davies

It is not uncommon, in times of desperation, for Premier League managers to turn to their rivals for sage advice. Half a dozen have admitted to using a cold war style hotline to Sir Alex Ferguson, with the wily old don more than happy to pass on his wealth of experience over a bottle fine wine. While they may pick each others brains from time to time, however, few as gone as far as Harry Redknapp, who strengthened his brittle midfield this month by purchasing Steve Bruce's "right arm".

Those worried they might see Bruce's hairy limb scampering up and down White Hart Lane - akin something from the Adams Family - need not worry. This was merely the Wigan boss' description of Wilson Palacios, the Honduras midfielder who became Redknapp's second big money signing when he left Wigan for North London last week.

"Whatever happens, it will take top dollar to get him. He showed against United what he can do but in two years time, he can be the best around," said Bruce when first alerted to Redknapp's interest in the player early this month. £14m the Lancashire certainly represents "top dollar" but even for that princely sum, Bruce was loathe to lose a player he believes is a "complete midfielder".

Before reluctantly accepting his fate, fending off interest in the Honduras international had become something of a regular engagement for the Wigan boss. Since last summer, Palacios, as well as Ecuador winger Antonio Valencia, had been consistently linked with moves to the Premiership's glamour clubs. So relentless was the speculation that Bruce made the pair wear red bibs during training sessions and pinned copies of articles talking of big money moves to Manchester United to the noticeboard in the club's canteen. For Bruce - a former United player - the rumours were proof of just how far the players had come under his tutelage.

Lauded for his bull-like tackling, excellent range of passing and technical ability, Palacios was signed by Redknapp as the ball winner his squad desperately lacks. He arrives in North London with the burden of expectation but the 23-year-old has shown, during his remarkable journey to English football, he is no shrinking violet.

In October 2007, when Palacios was playing for Birmingham City, five armed men entered his family home in the town of La Ceiba, back in Hondoras, and abducted his 16-year-old brother, Edwin. Over a year later and Edwin is still in captivity despite Palacios helping his parents, Eulogio and Orfilia, to pay the £125,000 ransom.

He returned to Honduras to support his family and when he reported back to St Andrew's new boss Alex McLeish had not seen enough of him to risk paying the £1m required to make his loan move permanent. Birmingham's loss, however, was Wigan's gain, and Steve Bruce wasted little time in signing the player he had been so impressed with at his former club.

If Bruce was impressed with Palacios' technical ability and stamina, he was taken aback by his focus during a time when many other players may have wilted. His mental toughness is part of the reason why Redknapp, who bemoaned the lack of "winners" in his squad after the loss to Wigan earlier this month, had identified the player as one of his top targets this month.

"I need to get Palacios in because he is everything I have been wanting," said Harry of the selection dilemma his new signing has posed. The 24-year-old is set to make his debut against Bolton this weekend after watching from the stands as his new team-mates impressed during the 3-1 win against Stoke on Tuesday.

Among those to shine were Luka Modric and Didier Zokora, who will now vie with Palacios for the two berths in the centre of midfield. Being spoilt for choice is a welcome headache for Redknapp, but fitting them all in the same team may well prove difficult, especially given his reluctance to play Defoe, his other expensive January acquisition, as a lone forward.

"I'd just have to adjust the formation really [to get Palacios in]," said Redknapp, "because he is a central midfielder and I need Zokora as well. Zokora did a good job defensively against Stoke, he sat in there and let Luka play so between the three of them and I've got [Jermaine] Jenas - coming back [from a calf injury]… I'm strong in midfield and I have some good options."

Redknapp talks of the need to "balance the team up" and is toying with adopting a 3-5-2 formation to accommodate two strikers, but fans will naturally question why he has invested such a large fee on a player without being certain of how to use him. Most would suggest a midfield duo of Palacios and Modric, but Redknapp believes Zokora provides the anchor for for the diminutive Croat to pull the strings.

Where this leaves Jermaine Jenas is not clear. Since Redknapp arrived the midfielder has lost his place in the England squad, his position as club captain, and responded by being dropped during the defeat against Wigan by failing to follow Maynor Figueroa before the costly late winner. If you believe what you read in the press then he is being offered as part of various swap deals which would see players from Robbie Keane to Marco Materazzi move in the opposite direction.

It is unlikely that Redknapp is offering a player he describes as "his hero" to other clubs but Jenas, along with Tom Huddlestone and Jamie O'Hara face may struggle to convince Redknapp that they can be part of his attempts to fashion a side fit to challenge for a place in the among the best the country.

The former Portsmouth boss told the reporters this morning that he wants to bring back the glory days of the 60s, when the club were competing on the biggest stage on a regular basis.

He said: "I'd love to win trophies and try to compete for a Champions League position.

"Basically the dream is to make Tottenham a terrific team once again."

One suspects that if he is to make this dream a reality, a midfielder from La Ceiba, Honduras, may well have a big role to play.

Two's company, three's a crowd…

Following the signing of Wilson Palacios, Redknapp half a dozen players competing for two places at the heart of his midfield, but who will he pick?

Luka Modric
(Appearances, 29, goals 3)

Redknapp has all but admitted that the Croatian playmaker is un-droppable and it seems to be his aim to build a team around him. He struggled to come to terms with the physicality of English football at first but has since proved himself as more than a match for even the most physical sides, as can be seen by his impressive showing against Stoke on Tuesday.

Role: One of the first names on the team-sheet.

Didier Zokora
(123, 0)

The Ivorian has a fantastic engine but the technical side of his game lets him down. He is wasteful in possession and poses no goal threat, but his driving runs can cause all sort of problems. Needs to work on his consistency but has a good chance of retaining his place following Harry's recent comments.

Role: First choice, for now.

Jamie O'Hara
(48, 6)

Made the difference in the second half of the first leg against Burnley, O'Hara has a future at the club if he can continue to convince Redknapp he is an effective option on the left side of midfield. As one of the only naturally left footed midfielders at the club, he has the advantage that his presence balances the side. A lack of pace may hinder him and he is not as effective when deployed in the centre

Role: A useful squad player.

Tom Huddlestone
(104, 9)

Time is running out for a player who is struggling to realise his obvious potential. Has fallen behind Zokora as Redknapp's preferred partner for Modric. He is the best passer in the side and on his day can run a midfield but probably lacks the mobility to be top class midfielder.

Role: Squad player but for how long?

Jermaine Jenas
(135, 23)

A favourite of Martin Jol and Juande Ramos, but a scapegoat for many fans, Jenas has been a first choice midfielder since he joined from Newcastle. Is athletic and has a good range of passing but does not offer the strength or tackling ability Redknapp craves. Behind Modric in the attacking midfield pecking order, he could be moved on despite Redknapp's protestation to the contrary.

Role: No longer first choice.

Wilson Palacios
(yet to play)

The Honduras international arrives with a hefty price tag and a lot of hype to live up to but his energetic performances for Wigan suggest he may well flourish. His goal record (zero in 41 games) makes a mockery of Bruce's "complete midfielder" tag but he should add some much needed physicality to a sometimes embarrassingly weak midfield.

Role: Price tag says first choice but where does he fit in?