Neil Warnock: No matter what happens tomorrow, Brendan Rodgers has done a fantastic job, while Tony Pulis, Steve Bruce and Sam Allardyce showed value of British managers
What I’ve missed this season is mixing with the players, the dressing-room humour
This is the first season since I was 17 I’ve not been playing or managing, and slightly to my surprise I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve been almost as busy doing media work as I was when I was managing. As well as writing I’ve done television for BT Sport and radio for talkSPORT.
For BT I’ve been pundit, co-commentator and even interviewer. There’s also been plenty of variety in the matches as I’ve done Premier League, Conference, Scottish football and the FA Cup from the first round to next Saturday’s final.
It has been nice to be able take a break whenever I’ve wanted, and to watch games without the gnawing stress and pressure of being manager. When I see them on the touchline I can feel what they are going through and I don’t miss that. What I do miss is mixing with the players, the dressing-room humour, taking training. I took a session at Cambridge United this week when I went up there to interview their manager Richard Money, an old team-mate of mine from Scunthorpe, ahead of next week’s Conference play-off final and really enjoyed it. You cannot replicate that outside football. I think that is what all managers miss.
I have had opportunities to go back into the game this season, but after my last three clubs, all of which had takeovers while I was there, I have probably been looking for the perfect job, one with some stability. Maybe that doesn’t exist these days, with managerial tenures down to 12-15 months.
Instead I’ve had a box seat for the most exciting season in a decade. As I said last week, my player of the season is Luis Suarez, whoever wins the title. It is not just his goals and ability, but his willingness to work hard for the team is a great example for kids. I’m not surprised he won both the football writers’ and players’ award.
Preventing him joining Arsenal was not just brilliant work for Liverpool by Brendan Rodgers, it also left one of their main rivals short. I think Brendan has had a terrific season; even if Liverpool miss out on the title we should not forget what an achievement it will have been to go from seventh to second. But you have to ask if they get can as close again next season with the cash Man City, Chelsea and Man United are going to spend this summer.
At Everton Roberto Martinez has done well, building on the defence David Moyes left him and taking it on. I also have to mention Tony Pulis at Crystal Palace and Steve Bruce at Hull City, who have both shown the value of having a manager who knows his way around the English game.
Martinez has done well building on the work of Moyes at Everton The clubs who panicked, went foreign, and ended up going down might ponder on that. I think Fulham, with an ageing squad and a manager with no experience of the Championship, will find it difficult. But they do have a terrific academy, which I saw at first hand with William three weeks ago. It makes you wonder whether they should sacrifice a year and give the kids a go. They do get parachute payments for four years. Will the owner be brave enough? I doubt it.
Norwich have the players to come back, and, like Cardiff, recent Championship experience, but they will find it hard to keep their best players, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has no experience at that level and Neil Adams has just begun managing.
Maybe the bravest board decision was West Ham keeping Sam Allardyce when other clubs changed manager, because it is often easier to give in to fans. The Hammers ended up comfortable. I know there are still unhappy fans, and talk of Sam going, but as I always say, be careful what you wish for.
The League Managers Association have been voting for our manager of the year ahead of Monday’s awards dinner and it is a tough choice. In the Championship Sean Dyche, with his budget and squad, has been a revelation at Burnley, while Nigel Pearson at Leicester has done a great job, confounding those who thought he should be removed 12 months ago. Both, though, face difficult summers. Nigel has a lot of players out of contract, while Sean will find it hard bringing in players of the right quality on his budget.
It’s been wonderful to see Kenny Jackett bringing Wolves back up. At last they seem to have found the right man to steady the ship. When you see them taking 8,000 to MK Dons for a League One match it gives you an idea of how big a club it is.
King Kenny: Wolves manager Kenny Jackett has led his side to promotion In League Two well done to three of my old clubs getting promotion: Paul Cook’s Chesterfield, who won the division, Russ Wilcox’s Scunthorpe and my old player Keith Hill at Rochdale. Keith had a rough deal at Barnsley but, like Eddie Howe at Bournemouth, found going back to a club you love, and where you have support from the chairman, can work. When a manager is happy in the job, and his family are happy, you do perform better.
At the other end I was very disappointed to see Torquay and Bristol Rovers get relegated. The west country has too few league clubs as it is; to lose two like that is a massive blow to the area. I do think it will be tough for Rovers in the Conference as they will be seen as a scalp by other clubs.
FA Chairman Greg Dyke Dyke’s Conference B-team proposal may be worth trying out
Greg Dyke’s plan to create a fifth division of Premier League B teams and Conference clubs is an intriguing one. I think people have to be prepared to consider it and in the long term it could be beneficial, and not just in helping bring through more young English players.
The standard of the Conference has improved a lot; it is not a kick-and-rush league like it used to be, but it is still physically tough. If you have a lot of young players in a team – as the B teams will – they will get a rude awakening about what football is about at that level with the crowds by the touchline and the intensity of the football. Will it help them to become a technically better player when there is no time on the ball? It will some, and what have we got to lose? The current Under-21 league does not prepare you for being a first-team player. After playing Conference teams at least the physicality of first-team football won’t be a shock.
Having managed in the Conference, and been to a lot of matches in it this season, I don’t think it will “destroy the fabric of English football” as people have said, as long as the promotion link to the Football League is maintained. Part of the deal is three-up, three-down so it might be easier for Conference clubs to get into the league. The one safeguard I’d add is that one promotion place should be guaranteed to a Conference club – not that I believe that will be an issue as I don’t think the B teams will find it that easy. At least Greg is trying to do something.
More positively, going to matches all over the country, and talking with people everywhere, underlined to me what a great game it is and how fortunate I am to enjoy it and mix with people at every level. As for the memories I will take from the season...
Best match: Everton v Liverpool, the 3-3 draw at Goodison Park
It had everything. There was ability, passion and two teams committed to attack. It was a cracking game to commentate on.
Best goal: Jonjo Shelvey v Aston Villa
His brilliant volley from the centre circle for Swansea. It wasn’t just the execution that stood out, it was the speed with which he summed up the possibilities.
Most interesting commentary position
Shortwood, in the first round of the FA Cup against Port Vale. Climbing that gantry to a rickety platform, with the wind gusting and all the fans looking and shouting, was an experience. When I got up there I realised there was no chance of going to the toilet before the end.
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