Warnock can make Bluebirds fly
THERE IS a scene in The Four Year Plan documentary on Queens Park Rangers, when both Flavio Briatore and the door to the manager’s office are about to come off their hinges. It’s when the then owner declares: ‘What we need is a strong manager.” Enter Neil Warnock.
Cardiff City owner Tan Sri Vincent Tan reached the same conclusion yesterday and although the Welsh club have experienced neither the number of bosses nor the levels of frustration that drove Briatore to distraction, they were in a similar plight in the depths of the Championship and have opted for the same man to turn them around.
Seven promotions from the second tier and several other notable rescues might have been enough for the 67year-old Yorkshireman to headline his CV ‘crisis management’, but he didn’t want to be typecast simply as football’s Red Adair.
Such a record might also make you wonder why he was still available when the occupation is still as hazardous as that of a bomb disposal expert and the sacking season is already under way. And especially when one of Warnock’s finest achievements in saving “doomed” Rotherham was as recent as last season.
There have been failures, too, and it is no secret that he was offered several posts but, comfortably off and having retired a couple of times already, he can afford to be choosy. He fancied a shot at Nottingham Forest but felt “the chairman wouldn’t let me pick the team”.
Others were not quite right or too far from his home in Cornwall in Britain’s south west corner, but this one “feels right,” he said. Nor does he regard it as simply a rescue operation. Cardiff may be in the bottom three but Warnock is not going there just to avoid relegation – he’s already talking of promotion. At QPR he took them up the following season.
Before that he was at Crystal Palace and Briatore had to pay compensation to break his contract, something the F1 man did not do lightly after changing managers as often as his Renault cars changed tyres. But the Italian came to regard the decision as the best he made while in charge.
Glaringly apparent from the film was how differently Briatore treated Warnock to his predecessors. He knew instantly he’d got a “strong” character and gave him the respect that he had palpably failed to afford the likes of Ian Dowie, Paolo Sousa and Paul Hart – none of them shrinking violets - and several hapless caretakers.
Warnock, a fiery, passionate man, takes no nonsense which brings us to perhaps the other reason for his availability. Known as a Marmite character – you either love him or loathe him - he has rubbed a few people, including chairmen, up the wrong way. Which is why there was surprise in some quarters that he should agree to work for an owner who is also perceived as being strongwilled and very much his own man.
Like Briatore, Tan had to open the purse strings to get Warnock and although Cardiff were nowhere near the madhouse Rangers were off the field in 2010, there was a profound sense of disappointment among the hierarchy and despair among fans about their plight – felt more acutely after the success of Wales at Euro 2016. Gates have matched the Bluebirds’ plunge down the table and clearly something had to be done.
It is a bold move and a package that should be marked “Very Fragile”, but one that has already galvanised the fans. Some have even placed bets on promotion. That may be a little too optimistic for this season but Warnock has better players to work with than he had at Rotherham and his appointment has been hailed by the Welsh media as “the best in 10 years”. It could also be a possible turning point.
“I’ve always liked it here,” Warnock told the Cardiff City website. “Everywhere I go I get stick but I’ve always had good banter with the Cardiff people. They’re my type of crowd - blood and guts and all that, which I like - and I know that if I can get it right for them, they’ll get behind me.” A quick scan of fan forums and comments in the local paper suggests they already are.
Having taken time out of the game a few times, he found he was getting under his wife Sharon’s feet at home and was persuaded back into the game. Now, his fires rekindled, he wants an eighth promotion and that record all to himself.
The truth is Cardiff fans never thought they’d see Warnock’s like in the job – he’s a ball of fire on the touchline and whether “the Jose Mourinho of the lower leagues” or “an English Jurgen Klopp”, he commands attention. And although a qualified referee, he’s not slow to question their judgment. Nor that of opposing managers.
His first game is at home against Bristol City a week today, a local Sevenside derby, with whose manager Lee Johnson he has a personal feud. It should be a lively occasion – the first of many. (caricature)
Cardiff City’s new manager Neil Warnock posing with the club’s football jersey at his first press conference yesterday.