I can’t be dispassionate about the potential recruitment of Neil Warnock as manager of Sheffield Wednesday so in the name of balanced journalism I’ve recruited a Leeds United an a QPR blogger to give their opinions on the man himself.
Chris – QPR fan & blogger @CArmband
Neil Warnock and his time at QPR can be summed up for me in two words, “welcome stability.” The club who at one point in the 1990’s were top of the Premier League had suffered since relegation from the top flight in 1996. A series of poor managerial appointments, financial oblivion and relegation to the third tier of league football meant that QPR were arguably at their lowest ebb at the start of the 2000’s. A period in Administration, a club director being held at gunpoint inside the stadium and an estimated debt of £20m meant that QPR became more of a soap opera than a football club. Fans wanted stability off and on the pitch as well as an injection of finances.
Financial stability came in August 2007 with the purchase of the club by Formula One Moguls Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone. Their patience however was notoriously thin. By November 2007, manager John Gregory was sacked and despite heavy investment in players, the Premier League dream was never achieved. Neil Warnock, appointed in March 2010, was the eleventh manager hired by Briatore & Ecclestone since the sacking of Gregory.
At the time of Warnock’s appointment QPR were veering towards the relegation zone of the Championship. Warnock halted the slide and steadied the side, making QPR a difficult team to beat and giving the players belief in their talents. During the summer of 2010, Warnock invested in steady players, some of whom he had worked with before such as Shaun Derry and Clint Hill as well as securing the permanent signing of Adel Taraabt, a flair player around whom he would build the team. With defensive stability assured and goals also easy to come by, QPR were promoted as champions at the end of the 2010/11 season.
Having achieved promotion, Briatore and Ecclestone were oddly reluctant to back Warnock financially, meaning Warnock had to scrap around for free transfers such as Jay Bothroyd, hardly likely to set the Premier League alight. Just before the end of the transfer window in August 2011 Tony Fernandes took ownership of the club and immediately made finances available to Warnock, but by then it was unfortunately too late. Warnock purchased players with Premier League experience such as Anton Ferdinand, Armand Traore and Shaun Wright-Phillips, but with the season already underway there was no time for those players to gel with each other or their new team mates and QPR began to struggle for results. Warnock was finally sacked in January 2012.
So was Warnock’s time at QPR a success or failure? I think it was an undoubted success; he did everything that was asked of him. He stabilised the club upon his appointment and saved them from relegation. Bought shrewdly in his first closed season to enable the club to push up the table and actually got the club promoted in his first full season. I feel he was a victim of circumstances in the summer before the Premier League in that having got the team promoted, boardroom politics meant he had very little money to spend until the season had already started and despite a poor run, QPR were not in the relegation zone when he was sacked.
Whilst it’s understandable that Sheffield Wednesday fans are reluctant to entertain the idea of a former Blade (and such a vocal one at that) as their manager, they have to look at the practicality of the situation. He is a manager proven at that level and has shown how he can progress a club from a low position in the league and build upon that for the future. He has won promotion with QPR, Plymouth Argyle and Sheffield United as well as taking a financially stricken Crystal Palace to the play offs.
Sheffield Wednesday fans need to ask themselves what is more important, who Warnock supported as a youth and his obvious outspoken views, or whether his previous experiences could save Sheffield Wednesday from relegation (again) to the third tier of English football. At the moment, it could be suggested, do they really have a choice?
Living as a Leeds fan, it’s a given that our every defeat, every setback, every full blown crisis will be celebrated with varying degrees of mirth across our fine county. It’s both character building and reassuring at the same time; seeing Barnsley and Huddersfield fans celebrating their final day survival last April with a chorus of “We all hate Leeds Scum” was a highlight of an otherwise wholly forgettable season.
What this also means is that we have good cause to allow ourselves a chuckle when one of our local rivals is suffering a trauma of their own, so when the news of Neil Warnock and Wednesday broke, it was impossible to let the baiting opportunities pass. On first reaction, hilarity could be derived both from the horror the name inspires in S6 and from first hand experience of the job he did at Elland Road. As a Leeds fan, I could only think of the appointment of Roy Keane with Gary Neville as his number two provoking a comparable reaction…and even typing that, I can taste a little bit of sick in my mouth!
The abiding memory of Warnock’s Leeds reign was of a man whose suitability for the modern game betrayed his (self-perpetuated) hype. Whose grasp of tactics, his playing style and coaching techniques were steadfastly rooted in a different, non-compatible era – not without reason was he christened in some circles, The Warnockosaurus.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of Warnock’s time at Leeds was that it was all about the opportunity for him to achieve that “record breaking eighth promotion”, as opposed to finally restoring Leeds United in the top flight after many years in the football wilderness. Ultimately, achieving the former would deliver the latter, but the distinction is telling. Neil Warnock’s reign was always about Neil Warnock as opposed to Leeds United, about personal glory rather than shared. He saw Leeds United as a big stage and the ideal vehicle for his ambitions to rewrite the history books, but once it became clear he’d struggle to do so, his motivation disappeared.
Should Mandaric select Warnock for the post, worried/outraged Wednesday fans will find solace in it most likely being a short-term appointment until the end of the season (at least initially). It’d suit both parties well, providing Mandaric with an inexpensive ‘get out’ if his selection proves a disaster and Warnock with the chance to sign off his career in a redemptive blaze of glory and add a successful relegation fight to his legacy.
If this happens, it could well work for Wednesday over the remaining months of the season. If there’s something Warnock does specialise in, it’s bravado. The smooth talking, the arrogance, the bullshit, it could prove enough to make the desired initial impact and get the club out of the relegation zone. Aided by momentum, having a team that’s not one of the three worst in the division and a looming transfer window, there’s every chance that’ll be enough to ensure survival. It won’t be pretty though, needless to say.