Neil Warnock: I was ready to try to keep Sheffield Wednesday up...
...but I knew some fans at Hillsborough would never accept having a ‘Blade’ in charge
I suppose people may have been surprised when my name was linked to the Sheffield Wednesday job this week, what with my being a supporter and former manager of Sheffield United.
But while fans never swap allegiance, once you are in the game you have to take professional decisions. Jamie Carragher, Ian Rush, Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen all supported Everton as boys, but it didn’t stop them becoming great players for Liverpool. So when Wednesday’s chairman, Milan Mandaric, phoned me last Monday and told me he believed I could come in on a short-term contract and keep the club up, my being a Blade wasn’t a problem to me.
However, I knew it might be a problem for a lot of Wednesday fans and my first response was to tell Milan it would be pretty much impossible. But he insisted and said it would be all right, so I thought about it a bit more.
Milan has tried to hire me before, and I’ve been offered the Wednesday job before. On both occasions – once before I managed United, once after, I was working elsewhere and happy to stay. This time I was available, and looking for work.
I’ve enjoyed my time out, being involved with TalkSPORT and BT, but when Crystal Palace spoke to me about helping them out I realised I missed the cut-and-thrust of management, the buzz of the dressing room on match-day, the day-in, day-out working with players. I don’t miss the agents, the contracts, the transfers, and I enjoy having summer off, but a short-term deal, getting a club over the line for promotion, or saving them from relegation, did appeal.
I would have gone to Palace – just to the end of the season to give them time to find a long-term manager – had Tony Pulis not changed his mind. So Milan was knocking at an open door. I was also encouraged by how many Wednesday fans, once the news broke that I was a contender, were in favour of me coming in. It was about 60-70 per cent. I’m not kidding myself they suddenly liked me, but they thought I would keep their club up. I even spoke to Michael Vaughan, the former England cricket captain and a big Wednesdayite, in Australia, and he was very positive. Indeed, had Wednesday lost against Leicester on Tuesday I would probably be preparing to face Billy Davies and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough today.
However, Stuart Gray steered Wednesday to a terrific win and that gave myself and Milan a bit more time to step back and look at the situation. While there had been supportive fans there were also some noisy, critical ones – Sky Sports had rounded up some outside the ground. It made good TV, I guess, though they would have had better analysis speaking to people at the Sheffield Star, or Radio Sheffield.
You always get critics – I had a hard core at Bramall Lane who were never happy – but with my Blades affiliations it was obvious I wouldn’t get any honeymoon period. If we lost the first couple of games the atmosphere would have quickly turned negative and that can affect the players.
It didn’t help when the papers and Sky dug up an interview I did in a magazine when I was at Sheffield United. When asked what I would do if I ever became Wednesday manager I said I’d buy bad players, adding “the current lot would do”, get them relegated and then retire to Cornwall and drive my tractor.
What was not mentioned was the context. It was at a function before a Steel City derby when I was sitting with Wednesday goalkeeper Kevin Pressman and some of his team-mates. It was part of the banter and they all laughed when I said that. Of course, it ruins the story if you mention that.
While thinking it over, I looked back on a conversation I had at a charity dinner in Birmingham recently with Steve Bruce and Sam Allardyce. Steve, a Geordie, had managed Sunderland while Sam, an ex-Sunderland player, had managed Newcastle. They both said how difficult it had been managing the rival club. And I remembered how Spurs fans never took to George Graham because of his Arsenal background, even after he won them a trophy. So in the end I spoke to Milan late Thursday night and we decided we’d put the story to bed yesterday so Stuart and Lee Bullen could get on with preparing the team for Forest without distractions.
I’m now going to wait and see what develops over the next couple of months. In fact, today I’m going to get my Christmas shopping out of the way, just in case the phone rings in the next fortnight.
A London day out provides some compensation
Not working in full-time management has its advantages. Last Saturday, instead of worrying on the touchline, I was in London with the family. We went to the theatre to see The Bodyguard, then to Winter Wonderland, where I survived a virtual stampede to have a glass of mulled wine, finishing off with afternoon tea at the Ritz. A happy birthday weekend, which for once was not ruined by any results.
If Everton win again, they will be title contenders
The game of the weekend has to be at the Emirates where Everton, fresh from winning at Old Trafford, take on Arsenal, the league leaders. I’m sure Roberto Martinez would have been happy with two points from the two games so he’s already in credit. If they can repeat the feat, anything is possible for Everton this season.
I had to smile when I saw who hit the winner against Manchester United: Bryan Oviedo. When I managed Leeds he played for Everton in the Capital One Cup at Elland Road. When we got the team sheets I had to send a member of my staff to look him up. He’d only played one game for Everton and we had hardly a word about him in my scouting reports. Fortunately it didn’t stop us getting a great victory. I think the pace and atmosphere caught Oviedo by surprise as he had a quiet game. But he obviously learned from it as he has seized the chance presented by Leighton Baines’s injury. If Baines leaves Everton, Oviedo is making a strong claim to replace him permanently.
I spoke to Roberto Martinez yesterday on TalkSPORT and he said Baines is such an icon at Everton there is no way the club will sell him in January, but I think Manchester United will test them. The abuse that Davie Moyes suffered on Wednesday from his old club’s supporters might make him more determined to go back and get one of their best players.
I thought Everton had more class than that. We had a caller saying it was only 20 per cent of the fans and most respect what he did but I think he deserved their full backing. He was manager of Everton for 11 years, turned down numerous offers to leave, and kept them high in the league without spending a fortune.
When I go back to clubs I usually get abuse but at Palace they cheered me all the way down the touchline. It was why I’d have been happy to return as manager.
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