Neil Warnock: The only thing worse than an interfering owner is uncertainty over ownership – Brian McDermott could get one after the other


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The Independent Football

QPR were playing a pre-season friendly and I was standing by the dugout, shouting instructions to my players, when my phone rang. It was Flavio Briatore, the club’s owner back then.

I said to him on the phone, loud enough for the lads to hear: “Hi Flavio, how are you? We’re just playing at the moment”. A few of the players smiled. I suppose he was used to ringing his manager in the game but on this occasion he obviously had no idea we were playing. That was probably a good thing – if he hadn’t been taken by surprise I’m sure he’d have told me to put a sub on.

I thought of that incident when the latest ownership crisis erupted at another of my old clubs, Leeds United. It looks like they too will have an Italian owner who likes to get involved. There was never a dull moment under Flavio, as anyone who has seen the film The Four Year Plan, about his time at QPR, will appreciate. I should send Brian McDermott a copy: he’ll either find it amusing, worrying, instructive or, most likely, all three.

If there is one thing worse for a manager than having an interfering owner it is uncertainty over the ownership. I’ve been caught up in takeovers a few times and Brian is in the middle of a very messy one.

I have to say I’m surprised it has come to this. When I was there with Ken Bates I spoke to three potential owners. I did think one of the others would have been a better opportunity, but GFH was the one the chairman plumped for so I did my best to help it over the line. It took seven months from speaking to them in the summer to the takeover in January and that was especially difficult when trying to sign players – you don’t know who to talk to, the old owner doesn’t want to spend any money as he’s selling, the new ones don’t want to commit until they have taken over, the club just stagnates. That’s what happened to me at QPR and Leeds.

But once it was done I thought that would be the end of Leeds’ problems and this season they would be up at the top and potentially back in the Premier League. Unfortunately, it has just not materialised and once again the people let down are the supporters –there were nearly 31,000 last week for the derby with Huddersfield. I’m sure it is the potential shown by support like that which has attracted the new owner.

The team responded to Brian’s apparent sacking on Friday night with a fabulous result on Saturday and in the short term I don’t think the fiasco has done Brian any harm. Recent poor results meant there had been dissenting voices among the support but now everyone is behind him and I’m sure he enjoyed going back into work after he’d been reinstated knowing the fans are with him after a such a difficult period.

In the long term things don’t look so good. I was told Massimo Cellino had bought 75 per cent of the club, which was confirmed yesterday, so assuming the Football League does not block the takeover, he is the new owner. Maybe after what has happened he will stick by Brian for a while and give him an opportunity to finish the job he has started, but any manager whose club is taken over knows, deep down, once you hit a bad spell you will be out as they will want their own man eventually. While it is not nice when it happens to you I can understand it. They have put the money in, after all.

Did Laudrup have his head turned?

As you know, I’d ban divers for six games – well, I think what Chico Flores did was as bad. His theatricals were scandalous. Trying to get someone sent off, as he did, is no different from diving to win a penalty.

I think if Howard Webb had seen the incident properly he would have given a yellow card, Andy Carroll swung an arm out, but anyone who has played the game would know it wasn’t a deliberate elbow.

That incident was part of a stormy week for Swansea. Looking at Michael Laudrup recently has reminded me of a time when I was in a job, and offered another. I was very tempted, but didn’t want to walk out on the club I was at and let people down. In the end I stayed, and we prospered, but I realised afterwards for a while I had been distracted and lost my focus. These last few weeks Michael has looked as if he’s been in the same position. There was speculation this season about him being offered jobs elsewhere. You wonder if that was the case.

However, I don’t think he was wrong to give the players time off and take a break himself after losing to West Ham. Everyone says teams should work harder when they are losing but sometimes that makes it worse. Look at the England cricket team, where every setback was met by the mantra “we’ll work harder”. People need a mental break sometimes.

Now Garry Monk’s in charge for a local derby with Cardiff. He’s been a super pro for Swansea and I’m sure he and Alan Curtis will relish today’s opportunity.

PS: Talking of new managers, I wonder if David Beckham is looking for an experienced one who’s between jobs to run his new club in Miami...?