x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Neil Warnock now in the fast lane with Queens Park Rangers

Arrival of Formula One team owner Tony Fernandes has re-invigorated the charismatic Premier League manager.

Neil Warnock is one of the most charismatic and colourful managers in the Premier League.
Neil Warnock is one of the most charismatic and colourful managers in the Premier League.

It is a recurring phrase in Neil Warnock's rich Yorkshire syllables.

When his fast-flowing sentences tumble into complexity, he often interjects, "Are you with me?"

It is more than a rhetorical question because for most of the summer he knew that two-thirds of the Queens Park Rangers' well-heeled owners, Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone, were not.

Battling with the motor racing magnates to be allowed reinforcements of his own choice, Warnock did not know if he would make it to the big kick-off. He then expected to be fired after a 4-0 defeat to Bolton Wanderers on the opening day.

But then another prominent figure from Formula One, Tony Fernandes, the billionaire Air Asia chief, turned everything at QPR on its head by buying the club.

"I do think if Tony hadn't bought it when he bought it I would have left the club shortly after losing to Bolton Wanderers," Warnock said.

Assured of the incumbent's qualities by the co-owner Amit Bahtia, Fernandes decided he most definitely was with Warnock and handed him control of transfers and a budget with which dramatic emergency surgery could be done.

Fernandes encouraged the pursuit of Scott Parker and Joey Barton, pushing his financial offer far enough to overcome the reluctance of the latter.

With an elite, if erratic, international midfielder committed to QPR others were convinced Loftus Road need not necessarily be a sentence to relegation.

Shaun Wright-Phillips had planned to hang on at Manchester City and reconsider his options in January. Instead, the winger negotiated a seven-figure pay-off where he was no longer wanted and was welcomed into Warnock's enthusiastic bosom.

Working on "gut instincts" on players and the diligent groundwork of Mick Jones, his long-term assistant, Warnock kept buying.

He considered Luke Young "one of the best defensive fullbacks in the country" and knew he had kept a house in London.

He had fancied Armand Traore "for ages and ages" and now had the resources to recruit a left-back whom Arsenal no longer wanted.

He repatriated Anton Ferdinand for "only £2 million" (Dh11.4m), then got to work on restoring the self-belief of the newcomers and restructuring his team.

From a distance, Warnock, 62, can appear an unwholesome character. His teams have played aggressive, in-your-face football with their manager huffing and puffing on the sidelines. Warnock takes few prisoners in his pursuit of a success encapsulated in seven promotions.

Yet, ask former charges what he is like to work with and a different picture emerges.

Mark Rankine played 19 League games for Warnock at Sheffield United between 2003 and 2004 and was utterly won over.

"From the outside I thought 'Oh, I don't know if I fancy playing for him'," the former midfielder said.

"Honestly, he was magnificent, his man management was really, really good. He treats his players like adults, which is very different from most."

One former player tells the story of the manager arriving at training nursing a grudge against a home decorator who had overcharged him by £200.

Warnock, who generally oversees training sessions rather than running them, instigated a game in which his players had to repeat the last sentence he said, with every error punished by a £20 fine.

When, 10 mistakes later, Warnock announced he was off home to pay the decorator, his team were not resentful but amused.

Humour is one of the traits Warnock believes England's national team requires to achieve their supposed potential.

"We've got some great English players so personally I'm quite pleased that [Fabio] Capello will be leaving," he said.

"That's not disrespectful to him, but I think it's an ideal time, an opportunity for an English manager to come in now and get the best out of players.

"I think we're now at the stage with the quality we've got that we've got to put humour round the dressing room for England.

"Put a little bit of the pressure off from the media and let them enjoy themselves. I think you need English humour for that. That's why I'm glad that they look like they're going to get an English manager in."

Such is the paucity of domestic candidates that a sequence of successful results from this new QPR side will see their boss suggested as the man to do that job.

What Warnock will say for now is that the position is suited to a man of Harry Redknapp's (or his own) years, while throwing in the odd characteristically pointed quip.

"It's not for me to tell Capello his job," he said. "Otherwise, I'd probably have got him to the World Cup final."

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