x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Neil Warnock a man just misplaced in the Premier League

Neil Warnock is football management's outspoken anachronism who suffered a modern fate: death by Twitter.

Neil Warnock's vast knowledge of the Champions League teams and players did him little good at Queens Park Rangers.
Neil Warnock's vast knowledge of the Champions League teams and players did him little good at Queens Park Rangers.

Neil Warnock is football management's outspoken anachronism who suffered a modern fate: death by Twitter. A warning by Tony Fernandes, the Queens Park Rangers owner, delivered on the social networking site on Friday, that "no one job is safe" proved prescient. Two days later, Warnock was dismissed.

In all probability, it curtailed the top-flight career of one of the game's more remarkable characters. In an era when some are groomed for greatness and identified at an early age, Warnock's peripatetic playing days took in Chesterfield, Rotherham, Hartlepool, Scunthorpe, Aldershot, Barnsley, York and Crewe.

Having traded in the pitch for the dugout - and after qualifying as both a referee and a chiropodist - he plied his trade for Gainsborough Trinity, Burton Albion, Scarborough, Notts County, Torquay, Plymouth, Oldham, Bury, Sheffield United, Crystal Palace and finally QPR.

No one put as much work into becoming a Premier League manager.

And yet the verdict may be that he is the definitive Championship manager, one with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the division and a rare ability to get results with very different clubs and in very different circumstances. It was there that his bargain hunting is most beneficial, where his sides appear imbued with most spirit.

At a higher level, however, he counts as a nearly man. Two previous tilts at top-flight management ended in relegation; with Notts County in 1991-92, and with Sheffield United five seasons ago.

Aided by the illegal registration of Carlos Tevez, West Ham stayed up at the Blades' expense although this view is that United would have survived anyway but for the season-ending injury sustained by the striker, Rob Hulse, with eight games remaining.

In neither campaign did Warnock have the resources rivals enjoyed.

QPR are different, even if the August takeover by Fernandes necessitated frantic spending at the end of the summer transfer window. Yet Rangers' recent form suggested an unwanted hat-trick of demotions beckoned. The last eight games only produced two points.

Rather than Saturday's 1-1 draw at MK Dons in the FA Cup, what probably cost Warnock his job were home defeats that produced unfortunate conclusions.

One was to Sunderland, highlighting the new-manager effect as they surge away from the relegation zone under Martin O'Neill.

The other, against Norwich City, emphasised how the other promoted clubs have accelerated beyond QPR despite smaller spending. It turned on the controversial sending-off of Joey Barton and illustrated the dangers of relying on the midfielder.

The self-pitying self-publicist has disputed his dismissal at great length - on Twitter, the bane of Warnock's life - but his lack of discipline let the manager down.

Warnock had made Barton his captain, demoting Adel Taarabt, the catalyst in QPR's Championship-winning campaign, to the ranks. That Barton engaged in public sniping at his talented but temperamental predecessor scarcely helped. Taarabt went from a mainstay of the side to a marginal figure.

While their outstanding individuals this season are Heidar Helguson and Alejandro Faurlin, whose arrivals predated Warnock's, the rapid overhaul meant QPR became a team of two halves, part stalwarts of the promotion year, part expensively-remunerated and quickly-recruited Premier League players.

They lacked the cohesion that has helped Norwich and Swansea progress smoothly, but that was scarcely Warnock's fault.

As their form tailed off after November's surprise win at Stoke City, January began to assume huge importance. QPR were hanging on for reinforcements - on the touchline as well as the pitch, it transpired - and Warnock's mixed record at the more exclusive end of the transfer market became an issue. So, too, did the ambition and impatience of Fernandes.

The result is that, for the first time this millennium, Warnock has been dismissed. It is a sign of his staying power and an indication that he changed with the times, a proud Yorkshireman embracing London life and progressing beyond the loud-mouthed scrapper and long-ball merchant of cliche to incorporate flair players in his team.

His past dictates that plenty will take pleasure in his departure.

Warnock has overstepped the mark at times; indeed, the disputes section of his Wikipedia entry is longer than the segment on his management.

Few have been amassed enemies in as entertaining a fashion - the parts of his autobiography about Stan Ternent and Gary Megson are gloriously vitriolic - but there should be sorrow within the footballing fraternity.

Partly because the great enthusiast has shown a devotion to the game that puts many a multimillionaire player to shame. And partly because he may represent a threat to many a manager: while there are rumours that the 63 year old will retire, he has considered it before and returned for more.

After seven promotions, he is sure to figure prominently on shortlists for jobs at Championship clubs. The shame is that his career will not culminate with the ultimate achievement: surviving in the top flight.

 

 

*************

 

In 2009/10, it was Blackpool and Notts County, this season Crystal Palace and Swindon.

In two of Roberto Martinez's three years in charge of Wigan, both cup exits have been to lower-division sides.

It is why, when they made nine changes, it was no great shock that they exited the competition to Paolo di Canio's League Two side.

 

sports@thenational.ae