Neil Warnock: A rollercoaster year, but I have plenty to celebrate – honestly!
What I Learnt This Season
It will seem strange today playing Leicester City, another club with big support, and neither of us having anything to play for. They invested heavily last summer but like ourselves never really got close to the play-offs. It just shows how competitive the Championship is.
Today's match is the end of a rollercoaster season for me. It began with a 4-0 home defeat by Bolton Wanderers in QPR's first Premier League match for 15 years and ends with me managing Leeds United. It's a campaign in which I've had three chairmen, two jobs and moved house. As this is the last column of the regular season I thought I'd look back on the highs and lows (yes, there were some highs).
1 Good performances, bad goals and a happy ending
We had three terrific away performances at QPR: we took a Championship team to Everton and won, played some wonderful football to win comfortably at Wolves, and secured a well-planned, perfectly executed victory at Stoke, which is never an easy place to win. I think it was QPR's last away win. The second goal at Stoke was the best, Heidar Helguson finishing off a superb team move.
The worst scoreline was Leeds' 7-3 defeat at home to Nottingham Forest, though I still don't think we played that badly. The worst goal conceded was Wes Brown's header at home to Sunderland. QPR had got back to 2-2 from 2-0 down only to lose to a basic set-piece in the last minute. Mind you, there have been some poor goals conceded since I came to Leeds.
The highlight has to be beating Chelsea at home. It was a big upset and one that QPR fans will remember for a long time.
Looking to the future, it was grand to see 33,000 at Elland Road when we played West Ham: that showed me what this club is capable of.
The worst moment is easy to pick. It was getting an early-morning text from Phil Beard, QPR's chief executive, asking if he could come and see me the Sunday after we drew in the FA Cup at Milton Keynes. I turned to Sharon and said: "I'm getting the sack." She didn't believe me.
All along I'd been telling her the club and I had agreed we'd aim to get to January outside the bottom three, sign three or four good players in the window and we'd stay up. We were on course, but things change. I don't hold any grudges with anyone at the club; the odd agent didn't help me, but that's for another time.
Looking back, there were a few pivotal moments, all in home games. That last-minute goal against Sunderland was one, then there was the West Brom match when we started so well, went one up, then Shaun Wright-Phillips scored a great goal. The linesman flagged it offside, wrongly. We'd have won that match. We were also on course to beat Norwich on the New Year's Day Bank Holiday, ahead and playing well, then Joey Barton was sent off and Norwich took the points.
If I had one wish, one thing I could change, it would be for Tony Fernandes to have been able to complete his takeover earlier, straight after we had gone up. Then we could have brought in players like Danny Graham, Wayne Routledge, Kyle Naughton – all players I was close to signing – and started the season so much better.
But now I am at a wonderful club with fabulous support, living round the corner from my eldest son and first grandson. I'm happy going into work and already looking forward to next season. Put all those things together and I've got a lot to celebrate.
2 Pardew gets my vote for the manager of the season
It's awards season and I don't disagree with either the players or the journalists who chose Robin van Persie as Footballer of the Year: you have to, for his goals and the way he carried Arsenal at a difficult time.
We're voting for manager of the year and my No 1 was Newcastle United's Alan Pardew, who I think is head and shoulders above anybody else in all four divisions for what he's done given how much he's spent and the position he's in. I'm delighted for him. We vote 1-2-3 and my runner-up was Brian McDermott for the job he's done at Reading, followed by Martin Ling, who is unsung but has done superbly on Torquay's resources.
We also vote 1-2-3 in our division. Mine was Brian, Cardiff's Malky Mackay, for reaching a Wembley final and being in contention for the play-offs despite losing good players last summer, and Chris Hughton, who has done a remarkable job at Birmingham in difficult circumstances.
My team of the year will be whoever wins the title, but I have to take my hat off to Sir Alex, whatever happens. I didn't think Manchester United would keep coming back, not with the cash Manchester City have spent; Wayne Rooney has come into his own this season and their team ethic and work-rate could tip the balance. Strangely, I think City will win the derby on Monday, but United still win the title.
Full credit to Chelsea too. I'm not a Chelsea fan but I found myself stood up watching it for the last half-hour on Tuesday. And when Torres scored I jumped in the air. I enjoyed the tussle between Cesc Fabregas and Frank Lampard and have to admit when Frank clattered him and was booked, I thought: "Well done, Frank, that'll shut him up." Fabregas did sound bitter; he should just recognise how well Chelsea did.
The penalties the following night were unbelievable. It just shows how pressure can get to even the top players. Real could have done with Graham Alexander coming off the bench in the last minute to take one.
Graham is set to make his last appearance today for Preston after a magnificent career. He's played an incredible 1,022 matches, and it seems like half of them have come since I decided not to buy him for Sheffield United a few years ago as I thought that his legs had gone! He's the last of a dying breed.
3 Just because the season is over, the work doesn't stop
Although it is our last game today, the work doesn't stop for me. It's going to be a busy summer at Elland Road. Next week I have to announce the retained list, which details which players are being kept on and which are being released on free transfers. It is not a particularly happy time of the season for managers – or players, come to think of it, as I found out several times in my own playing career. It has to be done, though.
The players then head off for their summer break. In my day that usually started with a week in Spain with the lads then a few weeks taking it easy at home. Most of us didn't train at all; we'd work it all off in pre-season. Now if players don't look after themselves they will be in for a rude awakening pre-season.
Most lads will have a fitness programme to adhere to and heart monitors to wear when training. We weigh all our players and measure their body fat before we go away. I'd be very surprised if anyone has put more than the odd pound on come July – and I won't be very happy either.
Players don't try and get away with much now; they know how important it is to come back in shape. With all the dietary advice around there is no real excuse for coming back overweight or out of condition. The influence of people like Arsène Wenger has extended a lot of players' careers.
Meanwhile I'll be working on strengthening the squad and I'm really looking forward to bringing in some lads who I think will make a difference for us.
It won't all be work; we will be going on holiday and this week had some jabs – typhoid and hepatitis. William sat there calmly watching the doc put the needle into his arm without a flicker; I nearly passed out just thinking about the injections, never mind look at it happening.
4 Can you take the top off the yoghurt without splashing it?
Before I go for the summer, there's something I have to ask. Every morning I have yoghurt for breakfast, with nuts and a banana: is it just me who can never take the top off the yoghurt without splashing it on me? Sharon just picks it up and takes the top off, clean as a whistle.
Thanks for reading.
I've really enjoyed doing this year's column – and it never ceases to surprise and please me how often I meet readers who tell me they enjoy reading it too.
Have a good summer, everyone.
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