The business of results claims another victim

Football managers live and die by results and given QPR’s perilous state, Neil Warnock’s departure is no surprise.

Yet I feel an intense sadness at seeing this Yorkshireman lose his job. Warnock may be one of the most controversial managers in the English game with a career littered with clashes with opposing players, managers and referees, but there is something intensely sweet and human about him.

Eighteen months ago, I went to his house in Richmond to interview him, and he made me a cup of tea, explaining that his tea making involved just dipping one tea bag and then recycling it for his wife to use. And then he provided this wonderful explanation of the contradictions in his own personality: “I tell my children they must have good manners. I’m okay except between five to three, and ten to five during a game. Then somebody else takes over. People say, why don’t you change? But it’s difficult to at my age. To be successful, I have to be what I am.”

For all his histrionics, he was a truly old fashioned manager. Or as he put it to me, “When I see modern managers writing things down on the touchline, I keep thinking they must be doing a crossword puzzle or they must writing a letter: don’t forget to get the milk tomorrow or something. I don’t understand what they are writing. I don’t do anything, I do it up here,” he said, tapping his head.

At that stage, against all expectations, QPR were top of the championship, but Warnock played down any chances of the West London club getting into the Premiership. “No,” said Warnock emphatically, “We have exceeded expectations. We’re nowhere near a top of the league side. We are really only a sixth to tenth position team with the people we’ve got. By Christmas you’ll see who the top sides are and I’d be very surprised if we are top then.”

He expected Cardiff, Middlesbrough and Ipswich to be near the top. His reason was Cardiff had got a lot of money, Middlesbrough had spent nearly £10 million, while, at that stage, QPR had spent £900,000. In the end, Warnock got all three teams wrong. QPR made it, and we can now see Warnock was doing what managers do: dampen down expectations, talk about lack of money, but deep down hope they can do it.

Neil Warnock won promotion to the Premier League against the odds but finds himself out of a job. Image courtesy of PlayUp

And deep down, of course, Warnock’s great burning desire was to return to the Premiership. He felt the wounds of having been relegated with Sheffield United, more so at the hands of West Ham whose use of Carlos Tevez would be the subject of a successful legal action by the Yorkshire club against the Hammers.

What hurt Warnock even more was that Kevin McCabe, the Sheffield United chairman, let it be known he regretted letting Warnock manage the Blades in the Premiership. His view was Warnock was not really a Premiership manager.

I met Warnock long after the Tevez affair was history, but could still feel his anger, “McCabe was not only disrespectful, but he ignored what I’d done building the club up from 8,000 to 25,000 fans and leaving them with a good training ground and academy instead of the botched up one they had. That cost £5.5 million and other managers would have used that money to buy players. I got 38 points that year in the Premiership. That and my evidence to the commission helped the club get £25 million from West Ham. I had a staying up bonus in my contract. He hasn’t even considered paying it or given me a word of thanks. So my allegiance is gone from there.”

And even as Warnock was guiding QPR back to the top flight for the first time in 15 years, he did not expect it to last. “I’ve got a three year contract here. But not many managers see three years out do they?”

That has proved the case.

I suspect that Warnock who wanted to retire at 55 and is now 63, with two young kids, might call it a day. If he does, a great and, in many ways, a loveable character, will be lost to the game. And he will depart knowing he has never proved himself in the Premiership. That will always hurt and is a pity.

But for all the beauty of the game, we all know this is also a very cruel business.


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