Bernie Ecclestone yesterday insisted Neil Warnock would lead the Championship winners QPR into the Premier League, dispelling speculation surrounding the 62-year-old's position. Ecclestone, speaking in Barcelona where he was attending the Spanish Grand Prix, said: "He's staying, 100 per cent. We've never discussed anything about him leaving. He's never wanted to leave and we don't want to get rid of him. He's absolutely taking the club into the Premier League."
Uncertainty has grown about Warnock's future since Flavio Briatore revived his interest in the club, which went through a series of managers after he and Ecclestone bought a controlling interest in 2007. Marcello Lippi and Claudio Ranieri head an (entirely foreign) list of putative managers while Warnock has been linked with the vacant West Ham post. However, Warnock, Ecclestone and other leading figures at the club met last week to discuss the new season and appear to have agreed on QPR's approach. Whether this means releasing serious funds to strengthen the team remains unclear.
Much may depend on how the ongoing ownership issue is resolved. Ecclestone yesterday sought to rebuff Lakshmi Mittal, the leading minority shareholder. At the weekend the billionaire Indian steel magnate said he would make a bid for Ecclestone's 62 per cent shareholding but Ecclestone, drawing an analogy with speculation that Rupert Murdoch's News Corp is going to take over Formula One, said: "Mittal put a statement out to say he was going to buy all the shares on Monday. But it's a bit like these Murdoch people saying they're going to buy CVC [Formula One's commercial rights holders]. They have forgotten to ask if it's for sale."
However, in the past Ecclestone has indicated his shareholding is for sale, albeit at what looks an inflated £100m. He also said it would depend on Briatore who, said Ecclestone, "has first option". There are doubts, though, over whether Briatore, who earlier sold his stake to Ecclestone, has the required funds.
Since much of the day-to-day management of QPR is in the hands of Mittal's son-in-law, Amit Bhatia, the apparent animosity between Mittal and Ecclestone does not bode well for Rangers, who have noted that their recent success has coincided with a rare period of stable management. Warnock, who took over in March 2010, is the club's longest-serving manager since Ian Holloway left in 2006.