Neil Warnock: From Ken Bates to Flavio Briatore, Simon Jordan to Tony Fernandes... it’s been lively
Tan made me think about some of the owners I’ve worked under
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says he is going into Cardiff City “with his eyes open”. He will need to, as however well he has done in Norway he won’t be ready for what he is about to have to deal with on a daily basis. This is the real start of his experience in management.
A lot of people are surprised he has taken the job because of Malky Mackay’s experience with Vincent Tan but if he waited for the perfect owner it could be a long wait. You want someone who will back you with cash, let you manage without interference, and provide support and counsel in the dark times. Believe you me, they are rare. But so, fortunately, are truly bad owners. Many will put Tan into that category but he backed Malky financially.
I’ve had more owner-chairmen than I can count and when I tell you they include Ken Bates, Flavio Briatore, Simon Jordan and Geoffrey Richmond you will appreciate it has been lively.
I learnt my most important lesson, however, with the very first one, Ken Marsden at Gainsborough Trinity. Ken wasn’t chairman, but he ran the club and had a reputation for interfering.
I signed a lad called Stewart Evans, who I knew from the wholesale fruit-and-veg market – I had a greengrocers’ shop at the time. He was 6ft-plenty and I chased him up and down dale until he signed. But he had a bad game when we went out of the FA Cup and Ken told me in the tunnel before the next game the board didn’t think Evans was good enough and they hoped he wouldn’t be playing. I knew if I didn’t stand my ground I’d never last two minutes in management so I said it would be my decision whether he played and he could go and tell the board that. Ninety minutes later Stewart had scored two goals and there was a Sheffield United scout in the boardroom offering the biggest fee the club had ever seen for him.
Flavio was reputed to want to pick the team at QPR and it looked that way in the film The Four Year Plan, but I didn’t find that. What he did try and do was get me to sign players he was being recommended by agents. I remember him giving me a list of Italians and the average age was 36. I told him they were well past their sell-by date. He didn’t like being rebuffed, but you have to be strong as a manager.
The other problem with Flavio was trying to get hold of him. He was very busy and often abroad. It was the same with Tony Fernandes. I would get messages from him in the middle of the night. Being new to football, Tony also took advice from too many people who were trying to manipulate him to make a buck. He admits he’d do things differently if he had the chance again, but it was an expensive lesson.
The other problem I had with Tony – like Malky with Tan – is that I wasn’t his choice, I was there when he bought the club. A new owner always wants his own man. You can’t really blame them, it is usually their money they are investing, after all. I experienced this as far back as Scarborough when Geoffrey Richmond bought the club. You may recall Geoffrey for his time at Bradford City, when he overreached himself. He was just as ambitious at Scarborough.
It was obvious to me he didn’t really want me – he was a Leeds fan and I think he wanted to bring in an ex-Leeds hero. But as I was winning games it was difficult to replace me and I was able to leave when I wanted to. He made life very difficult, with board meetings all over the show, trying to tell me who to play and who to sign – his son would come up with names of players from the Rothmans yearbook. Geoffrey had been very successful in business and wanted to make an impact in football. I didn’t make it easy for him, either, and we had some battles but we became good friends later on.
Dan McCauley at Plymouth is another I fell out with but made up with later on. He became envious of the publicity I received when we won promotion. Like Tan, according to reports, he felt he deserved more credit as he had bought the players, but the fact is the media want to talk to the manager, not the owner, especially back then. He turned the money tap off, I aired my grievance in the media and, as Malky found, there is only one winner when that happens. By the end we only communicated by fax and I found out he had sacked me from a third party.
An owner has every right to want the manager to keep him informed. At Notts County, Derek Pavis used to expect me to ring him every day; if I didn’t he’d ask if I’d been ill. It helps if they know what they are talking about and Simon Jordan was the most knowledgeable about football of my chairmen. If you let him he would dominate you, but I was experienced by the time I went to Crystal Palace and, though everyone thought we’d fall out, we got on well. He was also the best by a mile for providing psychological support. The motivator needs motivating too. Simon knew when I was down and would cheer me up.
Another wonderful chairman was Ben Robinson at Burton. He used to let me get on with it and it is no surprise that Nigel Clough, and now Gary Rowett, stayed loyal to the club as, unless a top Championship club comes in, there is not a better job.
And then there’s Ken Bates. I went to work for him as he’s good company and my son James, living near Leeds, whetted my appetite about what I could do at such a massive club. On reflection I should probably have waited for Wolves, who were taking their time replacing Mick McCarthy. They asked me to wait but Ken was very persuasive. I knew I needed to make a lot of changes but thought I could do it without a lot of money – when you work with Ken you have to realise that is the situation – but it was difficult as he was living in Monaco and trying to sell the club. I just wish I’d worked for him when we were both younger – that could have been fun. Not many people know it, but he’s a great storyteller.
Come off it, Brian – I left you a decent side at Leeds
I heard Brian McDermott on the radio taking issue with my comment that he only needed to “put the icing on the cake” when he took over from me at Leeds. I stand by it. The main thing lacking when I left was pace – because I had to sell Robert Snodgrass.
Brian’s had good money to spend, whereas I was forced to make a profit on transfers, but they still lack pace. Eight of the XI he picked at Forest last Sunday he inherited from me.
It’s sad, but Premier bosses could do without the Cup
I’m sad to say I think Paul Lambert is right that most Premier League managers could do without the FA Cup. There is so much cash in the top flight now it is all about getting into the top four, or staying in the Premier League, so managers field weakened teams in the Cup. It is a risk, as January is a notoriously bad month for the sack – it’s happened to me at least twice. Losing in the Cup means there’s one less competition to go for, it is embarrassing if it’s to a lesser team, and with the transfer window opening some owners think they’ll let someone else do the spending.
It is a shame, as the FA Cup was the pinnacle when I started. It still excites me as a fan and I’m looking forward to covering Derby County v Chelsea and Manchester United v Swansea City for BT Sport tomorrow. Fortunately, I’m in the studio. I’ve had a bug for a few days, which has kept me off talkSPORT, and wouldn’t want to be in the cold. I did get to see the New Year’s Eve fireworks at Looe, but from behind glass in the warm.
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