Neil Warnock On Promotions, The Premier League, Simon Jordan And Adel Taarabt

Neil Warnock On Promotions, The Premier League, Simon Jordan And Adel Taarabt

An interview with Neil Warnock, by Callum McFadden for WFi.

You have just announced your retirement from football management. So many football fans will remember you solely for your career on the touchline, but you also played the game for clubs such as Rotherham and Hartlepool. How would you describe Neil Warnock the footballer?

“I was very quick and brainless to be honest (laughs). I was a winger and I used to run down the wing at Rotherham and shout open the gates.

“I could cross balls with both feet and I was quick but I only really played in the lower leagues. I knew early on that I was never going to get to the very top.”

Was not reaching the top level as a player partly what inspired you to become a coach in order to aspire to the top level in a different way?

“Absolutely. I started by coaching a Sunday League team and when I was playing I was vocal. I would be shouting to my teammates about covering me or where they should be.

“That led me on to coaching the under 12s team at Hartlepool as the young lads needed a coach.

“When I finished up at York City as a player, I knew that if I wanted to be a coach then I would need to start at a lower level because I was not exactly a big-name player. So, I started at the Northern Premier League level at Gainsborough.”

You coached Gainsborough and Burton Albion which led to interest from Scarborough. You won the conference with the club in 1987 and started to become known as a manager rather than as a former player. How do you reflect on your success with Scarborough?

“That was probably my biggest ever achievement really. We were 1-50 on to finish rock bottom. No one gave us a prayer that season.

“I only kept two players who were there previously and signed seventeen players to put my stamp on the club.

“I knitted them into a team within three months. The first few weeks of the season didn’t go well but once we gelled, we went on a great run.

“Scarborough was a great learning ground for me and enabled me to move on to Notts County.”

You are known in the game as a promotion specialist due to winning eight promotions with Scarborough, Notts County, Huddersfield, Plymouth, Sheffield United, QPR and Cardiff City. Given that level of success; what are the key elements to building a promotion-winning side?

Neil Warnock Sheffield United

“In my view, team spirit is the crucial factor in being able to go the distance in a promotion race.

“In my case, I’ve always taken clubs on that are struggling so I’ve either had to save them from relegation or bring them back up following a relegation.

“I’ve never had the luxury of taking over a club that are well on the way to a promotion and just need to be taken over the line.

“I have rescued clubs and I have always left any club that I have managed in a better situation than they were in when I arrived.

“Once I go in, I prioritise building a team and a dressing room spirit that is united and willing to listen and learn.

“All of those sides you mention still have reunions to this day. I have just been to a reunion with the Scarborough team in March of this year. That shows how close the bond was between the team and myself.

“The reason I believe that camaraderie is vital is because if you don’t have the best players in the league then you need something else that can give you an extra edge.

“Team unity was what I believe gave my sides an extra edge. We always had that never say die attitude.”

You managed your boyhood club Sheffield United. You won promotion to the Premier League and were relegated due to controversial circumstances involving West Ham signing Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano. How do you handle managing the football club that you love?

“It was amazing. I was going to Bramall Lane as a young lad with my dad when it was a cricket pitch as well as a football pitch.

“I’d seen the club from a young age and I’ve always been a United fan. I still am.

“I dreamt of playing for the club but I couldn’t get that opportunity as a player so when I went into coaching, I always wanted to manage the club. That was my ambition.

“My family also love the club and it makes managing slightly harder as the fans know that you are a fan. It makes them think they can tell you what to do more than a manager who is not a fan.

“For sure, the opinions come at you louder when you are one of their own (laughs). I was very lucky to have seven great years at the club.

“The game before I took over had a crowd of just over 8,600 against Port Vale which United lost. Then, when I had the club playing as I wanted it to, we had an average crowd of 25,500.

“We had also built a modern training ground during my time in charge and were undisputedly the best side in Sheffield at that time. The work that we put in was great and we got our rewards.

“It is just a shame that we got 38 points in the Premier League and still went down. The current teams near the bottom of the Premier League would love to have 38 points as more often than not it would ensure you stay up.

“We did ever so well considering that we did not spend much money. We were always on a shoestring budget during my time at the club so I was ever so proud of the lads. They gave me everything.

“One more point would have kept us up and unfortunately, we lost the last game of the season.

“However, it was the circumstances with West Ham that made it even harder to take. If that had been the other way round then we would have been relegated.

“A club like Sheffield United would have been deducted points if they had breached the rules in my opinion.”

Neil Warnock Sheffield United

Did you enjoy managing in the Premier League as much as you did in the Championship and the Football League?

“No, I don’t. There is no good in me saying I do. I don’t.

“The type of football professional that you get in the Premier League is not my cup of tea. You leave someone out and you’ve got their agent to deal with.

“That’s not me. I don’t enjoy it anywhere near as much as people might think. But that’s football and it’s the league that everyone wants to be in don’t they.”

You swapped Bramall Lane for Selhurst Park when you moved to Crystal Palace in 2007. You worked under Simon Jordan who was the owner of Palace at the time. He is well known as a pundit for not being shy when it comes to airing his opinions, was your relationship like with Simon during your time as manager?

“Simon was nothing like people think. He was brilliant for me. He always supported me.

“He knew when I was down and consequently, he supported me when I needed it most. He was very knowledgeable about football and one of the best owners that I’ve worked with.”

You won promotion to the Premier League with QPR and you were one of the managers who was able to get the very best out of Adel Taarabt. He was crucial to that promotion success. How did you manage a maverick like him?

Neil Warnock Adel Taarabt

“I told Adel when I left the club that I did not think that he would have another season as special as that one in the Championship because no manager would have put up with what I had to put up with.

“I took the team to Cornwall on pre-season and I told the rest of the group before the Championship-winning campaign that we would win promotion if they trusted me.

“Let me deal with Adel and let me manage the rest of the group and we’ll be successful. To their credit, they understood and got behind me.

“Adel and I had arguments during the season like any key player and manager do, but in general he was great. He won us games that we weren’t playing well in.

“Palace and QPR are the two clubs that are my favourites in terms of the crowds. The fans are right on top of you in their old fashioned crowds and it complemented my football.

“We never let other teams settle down and the fans could relate to that.”

Every promotion is cherished but with Cardiff City, you won the title against a big-spending Wolves side in a league that also had established clubs like Aston Villa and Fulham in it. Did that promotion give you the most satisfaction given the difference in budgets between you and your rivals?

Neil Warnock Cardiff

“I would say so. Cardiff were really close to relegation when we went in. It had the makings of a really difficult job.

“I knew I had to make changes and I changed the whole squad really over a twelve-month period. We built a tight-knit group of great lads.

“Lads like Aron Gunnarsson, Sean Morrison and Sol Bamba were superb. We had a great group and the Welsh fans were amazing.

“I went to a rugby match while I was down there and I’ve never heard anything like it.

“I also have to thank Memet Dalman because he was a great chairman who supported me and what I wanted to do.”

I’m based in Scotland as you know. Did you ever have an opportunity to manage in Scottish football?

“I’ve always wanted to manage in Scotland. I actually once applied for the Hearts job but they gave it to a Lithuanian manager at the time.

“I also once wrote to Aberdeen asking for an interview when I was a young coach but I never got a reply from them.

“Unfortunately, the opportunity never arose for me up there. I always wanted to get a club and try and challenge the big two. It would be a fascinating challenge and one that I would love to have taken on.

“I watch a lot of Scottish football. The crowds are proper football crowds and the lads seem genuine.”

You have an affiliation with Greenock Morton and recently attended their home match against Kilmarnock. Can you tell me about that?

“My family have bricks in the wall at Cappielow. I love Morton! When I come up to live in Scotland, I will go and watch the club on a regular basis. I enjoy that level of football.

“The fans are great and I’ve always been looked after well at the club, especially by the previous owners, the Rae family.

“It’s a lovely, family club and I have never forgotten my roots. I may have managed in the Premier League but I enjoy lower league and non-League football as much as I enjoy the Championship or the Premier League.”

You have talked recently about retirement but football has a knack for sucking people back in. Just look at Roy Hodgson going in at Watford. Is there any project that could ever tempt you back or is your retirement final?

“I’ve probably had about ten retirements now (laughs). I thought I was done before I went to Rotherham.

“They asked me to help them out when they were six points adrift in the Championship and for sixteen games, I absolutely loved it.

“If something like that came up again in future then who knows but I want to enjoy my football as a fan again.

“I’ve got other things that I want to do and I always promised Sharon that I would call it a day at the end of this season anyway.

“My last job was Middlesbrough and I built a great squad there. Probably one of the best that I had built over two and a half years so I was disappointed to be asked to leave when we were four points off the Play-Offs.

“But that’s football. In comes a new director of football who wants a new long term project and you are gone. I think they’ll win promotion this season.”