Neil Warnock: Ancelotti is my tip to land the title but only if he is allowed to win ugly

What I've Learnt This Week
Click to follow
The Independent Online

A week behind us hard-working Championship folk, the other league kicks off today and once again everyone's hopes will be high. Until 4.50pm anyway. I honestly think it will be easier to stay in the Premier League this year than to gain promotion to it, and that's no disrespect to teams in the Premier.

My eyebrows were lifted when I heard Hull had offered £12m for a Real Madrid striker, and that he was even considering coming, but that is the money top-flight clubs now need to spend to achieve another 12 months of safety. Clubs are desperate to hold on, especially one like Birmingham, having been promoted three times and relegated twice. I don't suppose the takeover talk with Carson Yeung will help, though I suppose the Gold brothers and David Sullivan might relish the prospect of letting someone else take the hassle.

Birmingham, along with Hull and Stoke, will have been delighted when Burnley got promoted through the play-offs rather than a club with much greater resources like Sheffield United. Good luck to Burnley, they are a fabulous club, a proper football club. Owen Coyle is a smashing bloke and a good manager. But if they do survive, I expect him to win the manager of the year award by an absolute mile because it would be a far greater achievement than Manchester United or Chelsea winning the Champions League. That is how big a task I think he has, and I'm sure the bookies confirm that.

I imagine the clubs likely to be at the bottom will also delight at Portsmouth's plight. At least there's enough clubs going to be involved for all to feel optimistic. One club I don't expect to have problems are Wigan. Roberto Martinez is a shrewd manager and they have a good squad.

At the top end, Cristiano Ronaldo leaving United makes it a little bit more of an even game. Living in London, it is only appropriate that I tip Chelsea. Having said that, if Chelsea are to be successful I think the owner will have to accept them being a little bit less attractive. When their backs are against the wall they are the best at grinding results out. I have, though, been a fan of Sir Alex Ferguson signing Michael Owen. Owen's been slaughtered in certain parts of the press but I still think he is England's best finisher and it would not surprise me one iota if he made it into the World Cup squad. It could turn out to be the smartest signing of the close season.

Liverpool have suffered from some unexpected disruption in recent months which I'm not sure Rafa Benitez saw coming. Like last year, his biggest problem will be beating the lesser clubs, at home and away. You also feel that if anything happens to Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard their hopes have gone.

Once again Arsenal have been written off but I don't see them being that far away. For the sake of dressing-room morale, Emmanuel Adebayor had to go, and with the ridiculous amount of money being offered for Kolo Touré they are both good sales. I expect Arsène Wenger to sign before the window closes.

2. I bet Tevez & co can't wait to play at Selhurst Park

The team everyone's been talking about is, of course, Manchester City and we've certainly been thinking of little else at Crystal Palace since they came out of the Carling Cup hat with us. I don't think Mark Hughes knows how much he has helped us out. If he had not spent all those millions on players I'm sure Sky TV would not have chosen us to screen on 27 August. With the extra cash I might even get the transfer embargo lifted in time to make a signing before the window shuts. It's great for our fans as we've not had a good cup draw since I've been here.

I can't imagine what Robinho, Carlos Tevez and the others will think when they get off the bus and walk down the passage to their dressing room. I just have to be there to look at their faces. The dressing room's so small they may not get all seven subs in there. I don't expect to see them in our players' bar after the game either, but I can tell Hughes that the pitch is in superb condition.

3. Rio taught my boys a lesson in bad defending

Watching Rio Ferdinand and Gareth Barry give away those cheap goals for England reminded me of when we played Norwich in pre-season. One of my centre-halves messed about in the corner and tried to shepherd the ball out. A Norwich player got round the back of him, got the ball, and before you knew it they had scored. I tell my players, "Head it, kick, it, clear the lines." England didn't quite follow the same rules on Wednesday.

It was great at training the following morning. One of the lads said, "I thought about you last night gaffer with the two goals." Another said, "I wouldn't have liked to be in the dressing room at half-time if it had been us." So my dear thanks to Ferdinand and Barry, you've really helped educate my defenders.

Ferdinand was casual from the start. He didn't really want to be there. Not like David Beckham. I thought he was head and shoulders above everyone with his vision and passing. Write him off at your peril.

4. From Palace to the Ritz to toast our first win of season

On Sunday, I went to look at some old dinosaurs. You might be thinking I am talking about seeing Fergie and Carlo Ancelotti at the Community Shield but in fact I went to watch Walking with Dinosaurs at the O2. I had promised the kids and it was a brilliant night. It was so realistic. To see the kids' eyes light up was well worth it. Our other family date was on Wednesday, to celebrate our first win of the season. I told the kids to get dressed up for a surprise.

As we got out of the taxi and the gentleman on the door said, "Welcome to the Ritz", you should have seen Amy's face. We had afternoon tea in the Palm Court. The décor is stunning, there's a piano player, scones, unbelievable service, everything. It's amazing thinking of all the famous people throughout history who must have eaten there. To top it off, the concierge was a Crystal Palace fan. I bump into them everywhere.

The dress code is strict though.I thought I looked quite smart in my safari outfit, linen jacket, white linen shirt and so on, but I found myself paying a deposit to borrow a tie.

After we'd eaten ourselves full, we sat back and Amy (above) said, "Oh Daddy, it's gorgeous, thanks for bringing us here." I said, "What about you Will?" In his Yorkshire accent he said, "I think it's a bit too posh for me Dad."

As we left we thought we'd get a souvenir for the kids. We asked at reception and they produced a list of things to buy. The cheapest was 50 quid. "I was only thinking of a postcard," said Sharon.

5. Mixed fortunes for new faces ahead of tough tests

What a start. Half an hour into our first game and Stern John, who I brought in to give us experience up front, landed awkwardly on his elbow. He'll be out for weeks. What with the embargo it was the last thing we needed. But we recovered to get a draw then Darren Ambrose, another new face, scored twice in midweek to give us a lift ahead of two tough away games at Bristol City and Ipswich.

Comments