Neil Warnock: What a great week! We win at Everton and then I get Joey – baggage and all
What I Learnt This Week
Saturday 27 August 2011
Anyone who has followed my career will know I love a lovable rogue and I'm absolutely thrilled to have signed a real good 'un in Joey Barton.
He's a quality player who I've admired for a long time and it shows how far QPR have come that he is prepared to sign for us.
I know he has some baggage, but let's be honest, if he didn't we would not be able to sign a player like him. In the past I've had players other managers have shied away from, like Paul Devlin, Michael Brown and our current keeper Paddy Kenny, even Adel Taarabt, who's not a rogue but needs looking after. They've all been superb for me. I see no reason why it should be different with Joey.
I really do think Joey is one of the best midfielders in the country. When Tony Fernandes took over the club we spoke about Scott Parker. Tony's a West Ham fan and really admires Scott. He asked if he was my No 1 priority. I said Joey was my No 1, with Scotty a close second. When Joey was at Manchester City I tried to sign him for Sheffield United. Joey remembered that so he knew I meant it when I told him how much I wanted him.
As soon as the takeover was completed I made contact with Newcastle and Joey's agent. It has taken time, but I knew that would be the case. He was bound to have second thoughts about leaving a club with Newcastle's facilities for one with a training ground like ours – and let's be honest, Loftus Road is a lovely little ground, with a great atmosphere, but it's not St James' Park. But he was impressed with what the chairman had to say about the club's ambitions.
There will be some problems on the way, it is almost inevitable with a player of Joey's profile. Sky even followed him down on the train from Newcastle when he came for talks. I know he likes to tweet too, but so does the chairman. As long as Joey doesn't bring the club into disrepute I've no problem with it.
I have also signed Luke Young, who's an excellent player who can be a really good addition to our squad. Like Joey he's played for England and has lots of Premier League experience. Now I'm hoping to get two or three more players in before the deadline.
And then... I'm going to sleep, and talk to my wife and kids. I've not been a great dad or husband recently because I've never worked harder to get players into a club. With the chairman being in Malaysia we've been speaking at 1am – breakfast time for him, too late for me. It's a good job Sharon and the kids have been away in Cornwall as I wouldn't have had time to play with or speak to them.
2. How our Championship XI pulled off miracle at Goodison
Who says miracles never happen? I'm sure most people could not believe it when they saw our result at Everton last Saturday flash up on the teleprinter, especially the fixed-odds punters. To be fair they did have some chances and on another day would have beaten us but it goes to show, you can never be sure in football. That's what makes it such a wonderful game.
Even as I wrote last week's column, players were dropping like flies as a mystery virus struck the club. After training on Friday morning I had four lads complaining of feeling ill while poor D J Campbell actually collapsed. We had to call the doc. He stayed behind but Matt Connolly and Taarbs [Taarabt], who were struggling, said they would travel and see how they felt on the morning.
We put them in single rooms so as not to pass the bug on but still had Jay Bothroyd go down with it. The medical staff said he should not be involved but he wanted to be on the bench. Connolly and Taarbs said they would start and see how they went. I must say, whatever the result, I would not have complained with the effort they put in.
The final XI was effectively our Championship team, only Danny Gabbidon of the new signings played. Up front was our only fit striker, Patrick Agyemang, who had never started a game for me since I came to the club. At half-twelve we had the team meeting and I asked him how he felt. He said he felt fine so I told him, "Good, you're playing today." He was as shocked as anyone and proceeded to run himself into the ground, so much so he collapsed just before the hour.
He went down, tried to get up, and went down again, writhing in agony. All the Everton fans thought he was conning it but he was obviously in agony. He ended up going off on a stretcher. I asked the physio what was wrong, he said his knee had seized up. I said, "It looks to me as if everything has seized up." Fortunately he managed to start training again on Thursday. All credit to Patrick, he gave everything for the cause. It is difficult when you've not been playing; reserve-team games are not the same as playing away from home in the Premier League.
It really was an astounding result for, make no mistake, that is a very good Everton side. When I looked at their team sheet, and looked at ours it was just amazing. They had Mikel Arteta, Marouane Fellaini and Louis Saha on the bench! They also had one of the best young players I've seen in years, Ross Barkley. He's got everything and you could sense the buzz around the ground when he got the ball. We're going to see a lot more of this lad over the next few years. It'll be interesting to see if Everton can keep hold of him as I feel they will get some major offers.
When their subs warmed up they all looked immaculate, like Italian male models in their striped, light-blue tracksuits. Fellaini looked about 15ft tall, 17ft with his hair. As he jogged past us I said to young Bruno Andrade on the bench, "Will you pick him up at set-pieces?"
3. I've got a new lucky charm – the club driver's black belt
My pre-match preparations last Saturday were not only hindered by a bug. As I got dressed to leave the hotel I discovered I had forgotten to pack a belt, and now I've lost so much weight that is a problem – a nice problem, but still a problem. I rang Mick Jones, my right-hand man, and said, "Mick, my trousers are falling down, I can't do my team talk without a belt, you'll have to find me one."
In 15 minutes there was a knock at the door and Mick was there with a black belt. "Where did you get it?" I asked. He said, "The bus driver's not very happy, but I told him needs must. I've requisitioned it for the afternoon."
As you can imagine, given how superstitious I am, after the game I said to Ricky, who's our club driver and was taking us back to London, "You do know I'll have to wear this next week?"
4. Favour to Wigan has messed our fans around and I'm sorry
By the time some of you read this we may already have finished our game as we're kicking off at lunchtime as a favour to Wigan. It's a big rugby league town and the 13-man code are at Wembley in the Challenge Cup final. The football team obviously did not want to clash with the TV coverage so we agreed to move. What I didn't know is that a lot of our fans had already booked travel tickets and have been inconvenienced. I'm sorry about that, I didn't realise.
5. Hopefully ticket-price cuts bring more kids to Loftus Road
Hopefully those fans will have their losses cut by the reductions in ticket prices announced this week by our new owners. I think the gesture of repaying some season-ticket holders is really amazing in today's climate. A lot of fans must find it hard to afford tickets, especially with family, so I think it is fantastic that they will be able to bring under-eights for nothing. I can just imagine how excited kids will be travelling to the ground to watch all the top clubs we're playing this season.
6. Carling Cup is a diversion we could have done without
On Tuesday we lost in the Carling Cup at home to Rochdale. Mick went to watch a player that night and I was tempted to go myself. I wish I had. It was the same last year when we lost to Port Vale at home. Rochdale more than deserved to beat us on the night, and scored two cracking goals, but I must admit the competition is a bit of an unwelcome one for promoted clubs. I wasn't surprised to see both Norwich and Swansea eliminated.
I only played three lads who had started at Goodison and would have made more changes if I could, but I didn't have enough players. Sod's law one of the ones I played, Bradley Orr, was injured. I also played Adel, who in my wildest dreams I would never thought would be included in such a match, but he knows the only way he will get back to match fitness is by running around in games. On the plus side it was a good opportunity to give both Bruno, who's 17, and Michael Harriman, an 18-year-old debutant, a run on the night.
7. Here's to 14 more, Arsène
Finally I'm delighted for Arsène Wenger that Arsenal shut his critics up in midweek. Champions League 14 years on the trot: not bad for a club in crisis.
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