Bilic was a defender with the Hammers at the time. Bilic will face his former team-mate on Wednesday, when Croatia face England in Euro 2008 qualifier, but now as coach.
Redknapp told The Sun: “Bilic is a leader of men. I knew it first time I saw him and I’m not surprised he has gone into management.
“He had energy, passion, that fierce Croatian commitment and a real eye for a ball player.
“He hadn’t been with us long when Rio came back from loan at Bournemouth.
“You didn’t have to be a genius to know Rio was going to grow into a very good player.
“But as soon as he returned from the South Coast and was training with us again, old Slaven was raving.
“Almost every day in training he’d say ‘Harry, Harry, you must put Rio in the first team now. Throw him in, the boy is ready’.
“Some people might have thought 18 was too young and raw but Slaven was up for the challenge of playing alongside him and giving him the benefit of his experience.”