I don’t know if it’s the same for most City fans, but it’s still too soon for me to try and place where this latest promotion rates alongside the other ones I’ve experienced – in lots of ways, five days after the event, it’s still not really sunk in yet for me.
This was the ninth promotion for the club since I first saw them play in 1963 and my gut instinct is that it will become one of my favourite ones, primarily because it was so unexpected. One thing I can say with some certainty is that this promotion will come to be associated with one person more than the other eight were.
I say that while noting that Rick Wright was very much the driving force behind the 1992/93 double winners who captured only the club’s second league title and the Welsh Cup.
Also, however he is viewed by City fans these days, Sam Hammam was the catalyst for our promotion to what is now League One eight years later. Indeed, the level of idolatry Hammam used to get back then was probably the equal of the man who will come to be seen as the architect of our second promotion to the Premier League. As much as Sam tried to involve himself with what was going on out on the pitch though, he was always a bystander like the rest of us once the action got under way, whereas Neil Warnock was there all of the time bellowing out instructions, making the fourth officials life a misery and plotting tactical changes and substitutions which, glory be, actually worked sometimes.
No, I can’t remember a person who has dominated promotion post mortems as much as Neil Warnock has done this time.
Right from his first game when a confident and in form Bristol City side turned up at Cardiff City Stadium for a televised Friday night game, only to leave deservedly beaten by a home side that had been in horrific form up to then, Warnock has been there front and centre – the natural target for any praise and headlines (and flak!) heading City’s way.
Read or listen to almost any of the stuff in the media about our season over the past few days and there will be Neil Warnock’s face looking back at you or his voice regaling you – there have been stories centred around Neil Etheridge’s struggle to stay in the game after his release by Fulham as he told it in his post game press conference on Sunday, but, that apart, it’s nearly all been about our manager.
You don’t stay in the game as a manager as long as Warnock has if you are not a shrewd cookie and, by making himself the issue so often, he has shielded his players from the publicity glare and the pressure which goes with it as the realisation that the “rash” that had infected the upper reaches of the Championship was not going to quietly go away.
Post match discussions more and more featured criticism of decisions by officials, occasionally opposition managers, teams and players, but, never ever, his own side – that might come a little later, but straight after the match there was always praise or a “I thought we did pretty well actually”, no matter how disappointing the performance and/or result.
Strange therefore, that as soon as I switched the radio on after getting into my car on Sunday, the discussion on Radio Wales in the post game phone in was about the possibility of Neil Warnock stepping aside this summer.
Now, there was a time when that notion would not have been a far fetched one. Warnock often talked of how he wasn’t a great fan of the Premier League and the attitudes he found in it in some Board rooms and dressing rooms. No, our manager preferred the muck and nettles of the Championship – an environment that it seemed clear he felt was a far more honest one for all sorts of reasons.
So it was, that I heard someone proposing, I think seriously, that Chris Coleman should now be appointed City manager!
Listening a little longer, I learned that the daft suggestion was in response to the opinions being voiced by Nathan Blake and Kevin Ratcliffe that City would need a different tactical approach in the Premier League, with Blakey very keen on the idea of bringing in a coach, hopefully one with widespread Premier League and continental experience, to oversee training.
On Wednesday’s Blakey’s Boot Room podcast he developed his theme and, by the end, I found myself agreeing with some of what he said. We need to have a plan B and plan C essentially, because the cuter teams we will be facing come August will be able to counteract what were our strengths in the Championship and we also need someone who could make us more precise in the way we went about our preferred mode of play, while also developing the tactical flexibility which will, almost certainly, be required for us to survive at the higher level.
However, although I have become more sympathetic towards Blakey’s point of view, is there really any chance of, firstly, Neil Warnock stepping aside over the course of the close season or, second, agreeing to the hiring of the sort of coach being suggested by our former player?
With Warnock having signed a new contract which covers next season and him talking about now fancying another crack at the Premier League, the answer to the first question would seem to be a comprehensive no. Of course there were those (myself being one of them I suspect!) who were saying eighteen months ago that a relationship between such combustible characters as Neil Warnock and Vincent Tan was one that was doomed to failure, so the possibility of a falling out which leads to our manager leaving cannot be completely discounted, but there has been no public sign of such an event being on the cards whatsoever so far.
As for the second question, I’m going to play amateur psychologist here for a while and make a few observations about our manager. One of the good things about Neil Warnock compared to most other managers is that he’ll often answer questions honestly – yes, he’s there talking about “going all around the houses” today when he wants to avoid answering a question in media interviews and saying that football managers, like politicians, often talk a load of bull, but he is a more interesting interview than most in his profession because he is blunt and is prepared, to borrow the phrase he used to describe what his team would, hopefully, do next season, to ruffle a few feathers.
From the start, Neil Warnock was honest about his reasons for coming to Cardiff, and, by implication, why he resisted Rotherham’s overtures after their escape from what looked like an inevitable relegation after his time there as a caretaker boss – he wanted that record eighth promotion.
Similarly, he has talked about one of his motivations for staying in management in his seventieth year, was to prove Chairmen and directors who have either sacked him or chosen others before him wrong.
I also mentioned recently that he says that “building for the future” is not really an option at his age, so, you put it all together and our manager is, essentially, in the game for himself – most managers are I daresay, but they don’t tend to be as open about it as ours is.
Mr Warnock, correctly in my view, also talked of what we could expect from the national press next season. First time around in the Premier League, our “Bond villain” owner was fair game to the press and became, alternatively, a figure of fun or a hard nosed dictator prepared to ride roughshod over a club’s traditions – either way, factor in the all too public destruction of our owner’s partnership with the manager who had got us the promotion people had been waiting more than half a century for, and you have a club that got a very negative press back in 13/14.
With Mr Tan having taken a back seat in recent years, it may be that he will receive an easier ride of it this time, especially when you consider that we now have a highly experienced manager who has not been averse to naming a few hacks in the national media who have made a habit of writing negative stories about him.
On that subject, Russell Kempson was a football writer at the Times for sixteen years. These days he writes on Reading games for the Press Association and does a weekly column for something called Get Reading. So, no connection with Cardiff City you would have thought, yet in the last six months, Kempson has devoted the following columns to our manager;-
As Reading have shown with Stam, Cardiff should be wary with new Warnock deal.
Why Warnock thoroughly deserves a touchline ban
Fiery Warnock and Holloway lead the way for Championship touchline antics but another manager is threatening to join them
Why Neil Warnock should call it a day once and for all after ugly Cardiff display against Manchester City
Warnock’s conspiracy theory for Derby County v Cardiff City game was a joke
Now, perhaps in the dim and distant past, Neil Warnock did something to Mr Kempson to provoke such stalker like behaviour, but, come on! Do the people of Reading really want to be reading about the manager of a club about one hundred and thirty miles away every six weeks or so?
The point here is imagine if Mr Kempson was still writing for the Times, the whole country would doubtless be reading completely one eyed stuff about our manager throughout next season and I cannot help but feel that there will be other journalists about who will ensure that there will be plenty of anti Warnock/anti Cardiff stories in the national press during 18/19.
Put all of that together with his prickly relationship with match officials and other managers he has had run ins with and you begin to see that there are going to be plenty of people around that our manager will want to prove wrong next season.
This brings me on to the “Warnock Way”, whatever that is. Our manager tells that funny story about when he was being interviewed at Norwich and that term came up in conversation about how the club’s fans would react to a team playing the Warnock way, to which the answer came “you mean winning?”.
Good, typical Warnock knockabout stuff there, but there’s also a serious edge to it and, I would suggest, a bit of resentment about the way his teams are perceived as going about their business.
So, to conclude my cod psycho analysis of our manager, I say that, first, he is going to want to prove a lot of people wrong next season. Second, he will want to do it by shattering the widespread belief that Neil Warnock is a very good Championship manager, but he cannot cut it in the top flight -his Notts County team were relegated from the old First Division in 1993, as well as the controversial relegation of his Sheffield United team in 2007 and sackings at QPR and Crystal Palace. Furthermore, he will set out to prove himself at the higher level by playing in what is called the “Warnock Way”.
I might be proved wrong and Nathan Blake proved right as we appoint a foreign coach with the intention of getting us to play differently to how we did over the last nine months, but it’s my opinion that the Neil Warnock psyche makes this very unlikely – like many managers, he has his preferred partners and I’m not aware of him ever working with the sort of coach Nathan Blake is, seemingly, talking about.
To conclude, I’d like to include a link to a good article which appeared on the Wales Online website yesterday which suggests, along with this recent piece where Wales’ Osian Roberts complements our defensive set up in our win at Middlesbrough, that the “Warnock Way” is not as straightforward as some, like me, have thought it was.
Certainly, our calamity at Derby apart, our defensive record over the season suggests that the tactical approach highlighted in those two pieces was a success. On the other hand, in my opinion, the attacking intention as described in the Wales Online piece became less and less frequent after a very encouraging start and the long high ball to an isolated striker who was not good at heading the ball, when Zohore was playing at least, gradually took over. It does show however, that it is wrong to write our manager and his coaching staff off as just being long ball dinosaurs.
I appreciate and agree with the argument which says we need to be better at playing the sort of game we have been doing and also that we will need to find a bit of sophistication and subtlety to turn to if we are struggling with the bludgeoning approach. However, essentially, although I’m not a great fan of the Warnock Way as I understand it, hasn’t he earned the right to give it a try at the highest level if he wants to?
Neil Warnock has got the record he craved at an age where he probably thought he would be seeing out his days working on his farm in Cornwall, who is to say that he won’t be able to prove his critics wrong in his latest encounter with the Premier League as well?