To some, Neil Warnock is … a relic. A merchant of sh*thousery long past his expiry date. But what he’s achieved in football, and more importantly what he stands for, perfectly captures the essence of the beautiful game.
In the summer of 2020, the once-decent Middlesborough FC were without a manager and in serious turmoil. Here was a typically scrappy and fairly depressing Championship side, desperate for a path back into the Premier League. Enter – of course – Neil Warnock.
The native Sheffielder has by now established himself as the go-to gaffer for any club looking to gain precious entry into England’s top-flight. With over 30 years of management under his belt, including a record 8 promotions, Warnock’s pretty much seen it all. He’s had one of those journeyman careers similar in direction to Sam Allardyce or Tony Pulis. Guys who seem to rotate in and out of the same jobs every few years or so.
And it’s easy to dismiss Warnock in this way – as a simple journeyman in it for the short-run. But this manager is an indisputable miracle-worker. Take his spell at Cardiff City for example. In the summer before the 2017-2018 season, with then-promotion rivals Aston Villa and Wolves spending in the realm of £80 million, Cardiff had spent just 10. I mean, Kenneth Zohore was their starting no.9 that year. Yet, by the end of the season, Cardiff had finished 2nd and were going up.
Warnock’s is a simple philosophy. He doesn’t need extravagant financial backing and an exotic scouting network. Instead, he relies on his own ability to lead. To inspire and rinse every drop of quality out of his players. Sure it may not be pretty, but to play for Warnock is to play with your heart on your sleeve. And as modern football continues to pump out flash new tactical systems, there’s something oddly refreshing about watching a 4-5-1 Warnock side.
His style is just so beautifully anachronistic, and that even extends to his wardrobe. This season, you’ll see Pep Guardiola parading in a plush cashmere jumper and D Squared jeans. Warnock, meanwhile, will be patrolling the sideline as ever in tattered black Tiempo’s and knee- high socks. The cultural disparity between these two managers is so great that someone decided to make a video comparing them. And it’s essential viewing!
There’s his infamous penchant for the halftime hair dryer – “You’ve gotta die to get three points!”. There’s his inevitable screech of “Lineo! You’ve gotta see that!”. Warnock literally screams Sunday League. He may have managed at the top-flight, but I think every amateur footballer can relate to him on some level. His eternally boisterous presence in the technical box is simultaneously threatening, and yet warmly familiar.
But above all, I love Warnock because he loves football. Following his departure from Cardiff in 2019, Warnock had announced his retirement from management. Barely a year later, he was back, this time looking to take Middlesborough to the Prem.
He’s 71 years-old now. He should be spending his days playing golf. But he’d rather manage. He’d rather put himself at the mercy of 40,000 football fans who will perpetually oscillate between singing his name and demanding his head. Because he loves it.
So as the modern game continues to evolve, as tactics become increasingly experimental and the manager’s role increasingly convoluted, may there always be a Neil Warnock. To remind us where we came from. To remind us that football is built on passion. And to always remind the ref he’s a w*nker.