Neil Warnock: Guardiola and Messi were both so helpful I let them have their photo taken with me
What I Learnt This Week
Saturday 19 February 2011
I could say I played my part in Arsenal's great victory on a superb night at the Emirates. I could suggest I'd given Arsène Wenger a few pointers as to how he could beat Barcelona.
I could claim all this because I was one of the few people who watched Barcelona's secret London training session before the match.
I could do, but I'd be telling porkies. I did watch them train, but all I learnt was that Pep Guardiola is a lovely guy and so is Lionel Messi. I also discovered Barcelona have a great team spirit, and a lot of really skilful players. But I figured Arsène knew that anyway so there was no point in ringing him.
Let me explain. Barcelona trained at Loftus Road before playing Arsenal. They were staying in central London and as our ground is the nearest to their hotel it was an obvious choice. It was fantastic to be in the presence of a great team. I can't describe it any other way. Here's me, at 62, feeling like a little kid just being around great players like Messi, Xavi and Iniesta.
We'd been told they wouldn't sign anything but I organised some shirts just in case and I managed to ask Pep if I could grab one or two autographs at the end. He was so helpful I even let him have his photograph taken with me. As you can see, we also managed to get a photograph of Messi with three generations of Warnocks: myself, my sons James and William, and grandson Charlie. He signed a shirt for each of us and I can tell you, they are never going to be on eBay so don't bother looking. We are going to get them framed with the photograph. Charlie obviously won't remember anything but it'll be something to impress his mates with when he gets older.
What did they do? They didn't work on free-kicks, they didn't work on marking, they didn't work on shape. They just had a bit of fun in circles. And that was it. It came over to me that when you have players like that you possibly don't need to work on much, just let them go out and play. You could argue, given they lost, perhaps they should have done some more but, let's be honest, they were the better side for most of the Arsenal game. Besides, the work has all been done in the way they bring the players through their system. What was obvious to everyone present was what a wonderful team spirit they have. Put that with all the ability and the hard work they put in and you have the recipe for success.
We watched some of the session from one of our executive boxes. The décor was to die for. I was watching at the window with Jamie Mackie, Bradley Orr and Ale Faurlin, and talking about the lads training with them, when I turned around and Sharon and Sarah – James' wife – were just talking about the décor of the box. In fairness to the girls they had also been excited at watching Barcelona train, too. It was Will who maybe got a bit blasé. At one point I looked down and saw him in the dugout. I thought he was talking to one of the Barcelona players. It turned out he had borrowed my iphone and was playing a game on it with one of the Barça players watching him.
Pep and I had a good chat and it was obvious that he was expecting a difficult, but exciting game at Arsenal. Which I guess is what he got. It was absolutely riveting football in a great atmosphere. There's not enough adjectives to describe it. I know Manchester United will probably win the League, and Chelsea and Manchester City have spent the money, but let's be fair, the one English team you would pay to watch are still Arsenal, whether they have won anything or not. When you think how hard Arsenal had to work to stay in the game at 1-0 the final scoreline showed what can happen in football. I guess even Barcelona have to take their chances.
2. They have to change the rules on signing youngsters
Before the game I heard Arsène Wenger responding to comments from Barcelona complaining that Arsenal had pinched Fabregas as a kid. He pointed out Messi was even younger when he joined Barcelona from Argentina. Then he said: "We have to bring players in from abroad because players here don't just want to play for Arsenal, they also want to play for Chelsea, Tottenham and QPR." I felt really good at being included in such company.
That said, we lost one in February about the time I arrived, Raheem Sterling. You may have heard of him this week because he scored five goals for Liverpool in an FA Youth Cup tie and was then included in the squad to play in the Europa League in Prague.
Well, we would have loved to have held onto him, but we did not have any choice in the matter. When kids are that age you can't hang onto them once they decide to leave. In the end the club decided to negotiate with Liverpool and got £500,000 and some add-ons. If we had not we might have lost him for hardly anything – that's the risk with a tribunal, as I found at Crystal Palace when we only got £800,000 for John Bostock, who was older than Sterling and had already been playing first-team football. I feel they have to change the rules otherwise where's the incentive in developing your own players?
3. The Premier League has the best referees in the business
I felt a bit sorry for Tottenham. They got a great win in Milan, but not only did Arsenal upstage them the following day, much of the attention on the night was on Gattuso's inexcusable bust-up with Joe Jordan.
It really was a cracking goal by Peter Crouch after a wonderful run by Aaron Lennon, and don't forget two breathtaking saves by Heurelho Gomes. He drops the odd clanger but they were top-drawer saves, it just shows a goalkeeper is as important as the centre-forward who knocks the goals in.
Watching the game I couldn't believe Flamini did not get sent off for that challenge on Corluka. It was one of those tackles where, even watching at home on TV, you jumped and turned away for fear there's a leg broken.It brought home to me how we have the best referees in our Premier League. You can't tell me one ref that would not have sent him off. Look at last week when Mark Clattenberg sent off a Nottingham Forest player for a dangerous tackle on Taarabt.
I praised Mark afterwards, he had had a wonderful game and not just because of that decision. Some papers made a joke of this, making out my praise was out-of-character. Regular readers of this column will know I've been complimentary about numerous refs over the last few years, but I guess in some of the less-educated papers they can't get past the old stereotype.
4. Locust attack! I haven't moved as quick since 1970
I'm sure you all remember we have a chameleon called Elvis. He eats live locusts, and they can be a bit lively. I was feeding him this week and the locust jumped out of my hand – I couldn't blame him when he knows what is coming. I jumped backwards and lost sight of him. There followed a long search, Sharon not being keen on the idea of a locust hopping about the house. We looked everywhere, even getting a torch out. No luck. Then I felt a nip at the back of my knee, and another. Somehow he'd got into my trousers. Last time I moved as quickly I was playing on the wing for Rotherham. And I could swear, as I finally served him up, that Elvis had a smile on his face.
5. On their day, anyone can beat anyone in our division
Today sees us go to Preston. They are currently bottom, but I know it will be a difficult game after the way Preston played at Watford on Tuesday when they were unlucky to be held to a 2-2 draw. Mick Jones went and said they could have been five-up at half-time. And Watford, remember, were the team that ended our unbeaten record when they won at our place. There was another result that underlined what an even division it is on Wednesday when Scunthorpe beat Forest. I just don't think there's a bad team in the League, on their day anyone can beat anyone.
6. Fifth-round day in the FA Cup should be exactly that
It seems odd that there are some fourth-round replays being played today, fifth-round day. Never mind moving the FA Cup final to 5.30pm, the FA should be pushing to have replays returned to the week of the original game. I don't understand, in the modern day, why the police insist on more than a week's notice.
There are a couple of real David-and-Goliath matches in the fifth round. I'm sure Crawley will enjoy their day out at Old Trafford, but not sure Man United will. Crawley will definitely let them know they are in a game; whether they are playing Man U or a lowly non-League team they give everything for the cause. Steve Evans is one of the few managers in the game who makes me look like an angel but I have a lot of time for the job he is doing. I know they are the Man United of non-League football with the money they are spending but it is not as easy as people think to spend money and be successful.
Arsenal will have to come down to earth fast for their game at Brisbane Road. If the players think they can cruise it, or Arsène makes 10 changes, they could be in for a shock as Leyton Orient are the type of team that will take advantage. Russell Slade has got them playing really well. Yet not so long ago Barry Hearn had to defend him from critical supporters. It just shows that football chairmen who don't panic can be rewarded.
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