Neil Warnock: What I've Learnt This Week

Click to follow
The Independent Football

1. What should Avram do? Sit his players down and see which ones look him in the eye

I cannot say I pity Avram Grant, because there are not many better teams to inherit than Chelsea, but it would have been easier for him to take over from Jose Mourinho in the summer. It always is. You can make some changes and begin the season with a team you have at least partly shaped.

I've had 10 jobs in management, and took over mid-season in six of them. I always introduce myself to the players with a little chat. I try and look everybody in the eye at least once, just to see who looks bright and interested. I tell them what I'm aiming for – some listen, some don't. There's been times when all the eyes have been on the floor except a few of the younger players who are looking to impress. The ones who are a bit longer in the tooth know their contract is there whatever. They are thinking, "You impress us".

Burton Albion, my second job, was one of the worst. There were a lot of experienced pros in the dressing room. My predecessor, Ian Storey-Moore, had played for Nottingham Forest and brought in several ex-First Division team-mates. I was this upstart who never played above the Third Division. I remember being really pleased, as I spoke to them before playing Workington Town in the Northern Premier, that two young lads had returned my gaze. I looked at them throughout the talk. We then got battered and I realised I had quite a job to do.

When you arrive somewhere everyone gives you their take on the squad, but you have to make your own mind up. Some players will have been bombed out by the previous regime. Surviving coaches may have a down on them. But those players will want to try that much harder to show you what they have missed. Paul Devlin was a good example of that when I went to Bramall Lane. He'd been drifting out of favour but was the type of scrapper we needed.

Shaun Murphy was different. I had bought him for Notts County, and flogged him because he gave opponents too many chances. I'll never forget someone said his response to my appointment was, "Oh no". It's a small industry and such re-unions happen. I can't imagine Paul Konchesky was too thrilled when Alan Curbishley turned up at West Ham. Alan had sold him at Charlton. Sure enough, he was soon on his way again.

Murphy came to see me after the first training session and said, "Gaffer, is it all water under the bridge?" I said, "Of course", but I thought, "You haven't got a cat in Hell's chance." But after a couple of games, when I had to point out what I wanted, he proved me wrong and had a successful time with us.

It is a bit different for Avram in that he was already on the staff, though only for a few months. I'm not a great fan of internal appointments. Sometimes you need fresh ideas and someone prepared to clear the decks. In my playing days I normally left clubs before the manager who had signed me but I was at Scunthorpe long enough for Ron Ashman to move on and his assistant, Ron Bradley, to be appointed. He was quite advanced for the times – he had been quite taken by the Brazilian bending free-kicks in the 1970 World Cup, so he had these imitation defensive walls built and told us to start bending the ball round them. The problem was we couldn't even kick straight at the wall. It wasn't like now, when the balls bend of their own accord.

It is never easy following a successful manager, as Avram is. Bryan Robson is in a bit of a similar position at Bramall Lane. I'd been there eight years and done quite well. Bryan's now come in and he'll have his own way of dealing with players. He has to stamp his personality on a club which had got used to the way I wanted things.

Avram will also get some players questioning what he has done, the "How many caps have you won?" mentality. I have had that throughout my career – the main thing is to be your own man. He has the advantage that top players will always play for pride, even if they will not play for you. The transfer window means no one can leave until January, and African players may struggle to get a move then as they are off to the African Nations Cup, so the players might as well buckle down and play.

Something I've done at every club is to start with a full-blooded internal match, everyone wearing their shin pads and getting stuck in. It's a good way of assessing character and mood. I doubt Avram has done that, even though John Terry would love it. I was working with workhorses, he's got thoroughbreds. They need different treatment.

2. Favourite things are a mixed blessing

Being unemployed has some advantages. Last weekend I did some TV work in London and for the first time in ages Sharon and I went down on our own without the kids. My big son, James, had William, Amy went to a friend, Chloe. She never rang, so she obviously didn't miss us.

We made the most of our freedom and we went to a show, The Sound of Music. I wonder if anyone else is married to a woman who watches Julie Andrews every other week while ironing and who came out of the theatre with a singing goat. This week I cannot stop singing, "The hills are bloody alive with the sound of music".

3. Nice guys can become contenders

For my manager of the year so far you have to look to the Fourth Division – sorry, I can't get used to all the name changes, I mean League Two. I'm thinking of Graham Turner, at Hereford.

I met Graham at a function a few months ago. I told him how much respect I had for what he's done. People may recall he left Wolves in 1994. The following year he took over at Hereford but he couldn't stop them falling into the Conference. He ended up, when the chips were down, buying the club and taking over as chairman. Now they are back in the League and pushing for promotion. I can't get over what how well he has done, and I don't think anyone can meet a nicer man. And that's not so common in the modern game. Maybe that why I've had a decent career.

I'd also like to say well done to John Ward at Cheltenham for the job he's doing in League One. I think it is great that experienced managers like that have still got the drive and enthusiasm at the levels they are managing at. They are a good example to all young managers.

4. The kids know how to sweet-talk me

I picked up the kids a couple of times after school last week. I took them in the newsagent, to get the evening paper, and they started getting sweets. I said, "Are you allowed those?" They said, "Oh yes, mum lets us." They shovelled down a bag each. When we got home and told Sharon she was breathing fire. "They're full of E numbers," she said. I had to admit I wasn't sure what E numbers were. Sharon tells me they're full of evil things. She also said when I get a job I should give them to the players before matches, it would make them run around all day like it does our kids.

5. Badge baiting is a dying sport

One final note on Avram Grant. I see there is a fuss about his qualifications. Like Sir Alex Ferguson and Martin O'Neill, I don't have all the badges, I have a diploma which grants us dispensation, because of our experience, until 2010. I'm looking forward to seeing what the hierarchy do then, because I'm sure Alex and Martin will still be managing. Never mind the badges, at the top level more than ever now players are paid enough not to worry about fines and win bonuses, it is about man-management.