London, Feb 9: Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp was cleared of tax evasion on Wednesday, paving the way for the charismatic Englishman to cap a 30-year coaching career by becoming Fabio Capello's successor with the England national team.
Capello unexpectedly quit as England manager only hours after Redknapp was cleared of concealing $295,000 of transfer bonuses in a Monaco bank account while in charge of Portsmouth.
"Now that Harry has been proved innocent it makes a clear path should the FA wish ... to offer him the England manager's job," former England coach Graham Taylor said.
The 64-year-old Redknapp is enjoying his most successful period in management and was the favorite to take charge of England after this year's European Championship — even before Capello's resignation following a dispute about John Terry being fired as captain.
Despite facing a trial, Redknapp has kept Tottenham in contention for its first English title since 1961, with the team currently third in the Premier League.
In a case that stemmed from an 8 million pound ($13 million) police inquiry into football corruption, Redknapp and former Portsmouth chairman Milan Mandaric were cleared on two counts of cheating the public purse.
"It really has been a nightmare," said Redknapp, who was first arrested in 2007. "It's been five years and this is a case that should never have come to court because it's unbelievable, really.
"It was horrendous, you know, but ... the jury were absolutely unanimous that there was no case to answer. I'm pleased now we can go home and get on with our lives."
The former West Ham player was brought to Tottenham from Portsmouth in 2008 despite the allegations hanging over him.
"Everyone at the club is delighted for Harry and his family," Tottenham said in a statement. "This has been hanging over him for over four years and the last two weeks have been particularly difficult. We are pleased to see this resolved and we all look forward to the rest of the season."
Redknapp managed Portsmouth from 2002 to 2004 and returned in 2005 after a brief spell at Southampton, winning the FA Cup before moving to Tottenham in 2008.
The prosecution claimed that Mandaric paid $145,000 into Redknapp's Monaco bank account in 2002 — a bonus prompted by Peter Crouch's sale from Portsmouth to Aston Villa — and another $150,000 two years later.
But jurors accepted Redknapp and Mandaric's evidence that the Rosie 47 bank account, named after the manager's dog and his birth year, had nothing to do with footballing matters. The 73-year-old Mandaric claimed he was providing tax-free loans for investing.
Britain's tax authority said it had "no regrets" about taking the case to trial, but experts questioned why the costly high-profile prosecution was pursued.
"The Premier League will contribute over 1 billion pounds ($1.6 billion) to the exchequer (in taxes this season) for the first time," said Pete Hackleton, a sports expert at accountancy firm Saffery Champness. "Yet (the tax authority) appear to give disproportionate focus to the tax affairs of football clubs and those involved in the industry, often spending significant time and resource conducting inquiries and taking high-profile cases."
At another earlier trial involving Portsmouth, which could only be reported for the first time on Wednesday, Mandaric and former club chief executive Peter Storrie were also cleared of evading 600,000 pounds in taxes relating to a signing-on fee for then-Senegal defender Amdy Faye and a termination payment to then-Israel striker Eyal Berkovic.
Mandaric is now chairman of third-tier club Sheffield Wednesday following a spell in control of Leicester after selling Portsmouth in 2007. The Serbian claims to have "saved three much-loved football clubs which were on the brink of extinction."