MUCK AND NETTLES
If there’s one thing Cardiff City’s new manager Neil Warnock knows, it’s how to dig in and get the job done. An exclusive interview by Riath Al- Samarrai
“...the Championship, it is what I call my muck and nettles”
“At the top
RedHanded: Neil, you’re still going at 68. After seven attempts at retirement you just keep on going. What is it that keeps bringing you back?
Neil Warnock: I know. But I love it. Initially I wanted to call it a day in 2007 after Sheffield United. I also thought about quitting a couple of years ago and even last year but my wife’s illness did it really. Sharon was having chemo and one morning she was telling the nurse, “When he washes the pots he splashes everywhere, never cleans it up, at night he never frumps the cushions and when he goes to bed he just leaves them there and they all need frumping”. That morning someone from Rotherham United had rung me to ask if I were interested. So when Sharon was saying all this stuff I said, “Well, if that’s how you feel, Rotherham have asked me to help out until the end of the season. I’ll go there if you want?” She said back to me, “Well you get off then”. That got me back in management in 2016 and then the Cardiff job came up part way through the season. Got to say, I am enjoying it.
RH: What is it about management, though, that still appeals? From the outside it does look like a brutally hard way to spend your time.
NW: I enjoy it, though. At my age I don’t care about CVs. I don’t worry about the sack. I just want to enjoy it, the bits you can’t replicate at home: that whistle when you’ve won, when you look around the dressing room when they’ve put in a shift for you.
RH: Cardiff has felt like a good fit for you from the start. Has it felt that way?
NW: It really has. On one hand it’s about being in the Championship - I love it. I’ve never enjoyed the Premier League but the Championship, it is what I call my muck and nettles. People don’t understand this league is its own thing. Doesn’t matter how much money you have, it is a unique league. It is not money that guarantees success, it just helps. At Cardiff, I always felt I had a good rapport with the fans and then I got here and it all felt great.
RH: You didn’t arrive in the easiest of times, did you? Relegation was very much a possibility.
NW: They had not had great times - they have endured pain. But the welcome my wife and I had was great. Two or three other clubs were talking to us, but Cardiff just felt like the right choice. I like the chairman, Mehmet Dalman. He said he didn’t want to interview me, he just wanted me for the job, no one else. I will never forget my wife saying she had been on the internet. She goes, “Darling, you will never believe what I’ve been reading. Everybody likes you at Cardiff.” She was all shocked! “I have been on the websites, the forums, they like you. I can’t believe it, they like you.” From day one we both felt this job was right.
RH: It’s a significant challenge, though, having inherited the club in relegation trouble. The hope presumably is to land that record-breaking eighth career promotion?
NW: It is something that was on my mind when I thought about coming back into football. It is probably the main reason I didn’t stay at Rotherham. Cardiff have potential.
RH: What has retirement typically looked like for you?
NW: All sorts, really. I am generally up at half 6, get the papers, have breakfast, have a read, get on the tractor and cut the grass, take the dogs for a walk – we have two dogs, Monty, who is a rescue dog Shih Tzu, and Donald a Norfolk Terrier. Our place in Cornwall is lovely for that life. But I miss the football.
RH: How has management changed in your time?
NW: Obviously there have been a lot of changes but then again I don’t think it has all changed. At Gainsborough, when I was starting way back when, I wanted them to have their own V-neck jumpers, blue ones. I always wanted my sides at whatever level to be like a team. Getting a group to be a team is still what it is about. The best part for me is still being on the training pitch with the humour. That is what you miss. I take the mickey out of them and because I’m manager they can’t do it back to my face. Behind my back, God knows. I love taking the mickey out of their dress sense or what they’ve done the night before. I enjoy that banter. I think at the top level money changes you, changes personalities a bit. You have to adapt to that. Back in the past if someone did something wrong you would fine them a couple of week’s wages and they wouldn’t do it again. Now you can fine them £20k and they won’t flinch. You have to deal with it in other ways. You can get your qualifications and there are good courses you can do, but you cannot get a degree in experience, you have to go through bad times to remember how you got through it. We all get sacked.
RH: You wouldn’t say you have mellowed through the years?
NW: I am how I am. I get in battles sometimes. I still give my opinion to this day on the ref. I still go in after the game and try to be constructive, share my thoughts. Sometimes I get a fine. That is one thing that hasn’t changed. But you know what? I still love it all so let’s see where we go.