An Ode To Neil Warnock: More Than Just A Meme

The 73-year-old has called time on his outstanding career
19:00, 11 Apr 2022

We’ve seen him riding his bicycle in Middlesbrough, tearing paint off the dressing rooms walls in Sheffield and swearing at Nuno Espirito Santo on the Cardiff City pitch, but finally 73-year-old Neil Warnock has called it a day. 

He has been one of the greatest characters in our game over the past four decades, but recently it seems his ability as a manager has been overshadowed by his own larger than life personality. Yes, he’s produced some of the most viral football clips over the past few years, many of which have been churned out again over the weekend, but he is also one of the Football League’s greatest ever managers.

His CV is outrageously impressive. He holds the English record having managed 1603 games, he’s won a record eight promotions, four of which took a team into the top tier. His 41-year career had incredible longevity, but also moments of genuine magic. 

Despite managing so many sides, he is most synonymous with boyhood club, Sheffield United. He was there for eight years, an absolute lifetime given his rapid turnover of clubs elsewhere, and took them to the Premier League in 2006. The ‘Warnock’ documentary on YouTube covers a portion of his spell at Bramall Lane and his hatred for the blue half of Sheffield continues to this day. 

He transformed that football club from one drawing 15,000 fans in the second tier, to 30,000 in their sole season in the top flight. Despite all his managerial ability, it's never quite happened in the Premier League for Warnock, but his most unfortunate relegation came as West Ham got away with the controversial transfers of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, sending them down with a win at Old Trafford on the final day.

But Warnock wasn’t suited to the glitz, glamour and mega-money of the Premier League. He thrived at unfashionable clubs, where expectation was not promotion, and he so often achieved over the odds by creating a siege mentality. 

Promotions with Notts County, Plymouth and Huddersfield all built his reputation before he succeeded at Sheffield United, but he has still been labelled as a ‘route one’ manager. Yet Warnock simply got the best out of the players he had at his disposal. Usually with these clubs they were relatively limited in their ability, so he created functional units that could compete in every game they played.

Yet, there was one managerial spell where he did have talent at his disposal. In the summer of 2010,  Adel Taarabt joined QPR on a permanent deal. He’d spent the previous season on loan, but as Warnock joined in March, the two formed an unlikely alliance. The Moroccan was a mercurial talent and for the very first time in his career, the English boss built a team around a luxury player.

That decision paid off in emphatic fashion. 19 goals and 16 assists from attacking midfield, and still the best individual season and player has had in the second tier, it was a truly scintillating season that ended in a league title at Loftus Road. 

If QPR and Taarabt showed Warnock’s flamboyant side, then he got back to basics at Cardiff. With Sol Bamba (who he claimed was better at defending than Virgil van Dijk), Sean Morrison and Kenneth Zohore, the Bluebirds stunned the Championship to finish second.

This was no-nonsense old school football and Warnock proved once again that there is more than one way to skin a cat. Cardiff were not the best team to watch, but that didn’t matter. They got exactly the same reward as QPR did.

With enough soundbites and viral clips to last a lifetime, they shouldn’t take away from the fact that Neil Warnock was one hell of a manager.

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