When Neil Warnock was appointed as Leeds United manager back in February last year, it was an appointment that didn’t sit well with me. Here was a man who had openly displayed his dislike of our club, who on his last visit with his QPR side had shown his petulant side by accusing us of overreacting to beating his top of the table team, and who had a reputation for playing a style of football which was unattractive to say the least.
It was pretty clear that he saw this as one last chance to write his own name in the record books as the manager who had led more teams to promotion than any other. This wasn’t as much about what Neil Warnock could do for Leeds United, but what Leeds United could do for Neil Warnock.
Despite my unease at his appointment, I was determined to give him a chance, but purely based by his results on the pitch, and certainly not by his media friendly personality. Immediately upon his appointment, he was quick to get the fans on side, praising them for their passion and commitment. He must have been delighted when he was granted by cries of "One Neil Warnock" during his first game in charge, a chant that made me feel slightly queasy given the dreadful football played in a 0-0 draw at Portsmouth.
Somehow, he escaped relatively unscathed as Leeds limped to a shocking end to the season, using the excuse of the poor squad left at his disposal (one that was just outside the playoff’s when he was appointed) and promising that we, as well as Nigel Clough, would never see such a poor Leeds team again.
Come the summer, and the farcical playing out of the takeover saga, Warnock was quick to make moves in the transfer market. Every player he signed seemed to be one he had "been after for ages" (yes he said that about Luke Varney!), and although not the class we maybe expected, they were all decent Championship players.
Right from the start of the season, in the opening day win over Wolves, it was clear that Leeds were going to struggle to create things when the best pass of the day came from Paddy Kenny.
Most of the season has seen the team lump the ball forward and try to pick up the pieces, with very little in the way of creative play. The annoying thing is that when we do try to play, we can do it. Look at the performances at home to Everton and particularly away at Huddersfield. The link up play between Sam Byram, Paul Green and Ross McCormack that day made the trio almost unplayable.
Yet since that high watermark, Warnock has done nothing but tinker with the team, seemingly making changes for changes sake, and totally undermining any confidence that a player might get from playing well by dropping them the following week.
This weekend seems to have been the final straw for a very patient group of supporters. The football has been dire for months, and performances of late particularly shocking away from home. The capitulation to a Barnsley side may have been accepted had the players battled, but it was a shocking performance from a fragile squad who quite simply look like they have no idea what they are supposed to be doing. It is said that the manager’s job is done once the players cross the white line. However if they haven’t been instructed what to do before they cross it, what realistically can be expected of them?
I was hoping on Saturday that Warnock would come out after the game, apologise for the performance, explain what had gone wrong and say what he was going to do to put it right. How naive I was! Instead we got a pathetic petulant rant about a refereeing decision that hardly anyone could remember and pinned a lot of the blame on the shoulders of the one player who puts his heart and soul into his performance week in week out.
The criticism of Luciano Becchio is particularly rich, seeing as it was Warnock’s assistant who had probably sparked the transfer speculation surrounding the only man to have a shot on target for Leeds this calendar year. When Mick Jones had said that we would certainly be expecting offers to come in for Becchio, he was basically putting him on sale to the highest bidders. That to me sounds like an excuse for cashing in on one of our most saleable assets, making it realistic that the Argentinean may be thinking of a future away from Elland Road.
That is quite frankly what Neil Warnock should be thinking about, and should we crash out of the FA Cup at Birmingham on Tuesday, I am fully expecting the axe to fall. It has to if Leeds United are to plan for next season. It was said last year that Simon Grayson had lost the dressing room; it appears to my eyes that Warnock has done the same. It must be hell for the players to think that they may be dropped on a whim, not knowing if a decent performance is going to be good enough to be in the team for the next game, yet being expected to go out and make something happen with no tactical plan in place.
I honestly feel that this squad is decent enough to have a crack at the play-offs if managed correctly. Note that I use the word decent, as it is abundantly clear that it lacks in any real quality. Thankfully neither does this division, and if encouraged to play decent passing football on the deck, Leeds United can trouble sides in the Championship.
A settled side featuring Paddy Kenny, Sam Byram, Tom Lees, Ross McCormack and Luciano Becchio week in week out (dependent on form) is a good starting platform. Throw in the likes of Adam Drury, Paul Green, David Norris, a fit Rodolph Austin, and Michael Tonge and you are almost there with a good starting XI. Add a top quality centre half, a creative midfielder (a Ross Barkley perhaps?) and use El-Hadji Diouf to see out games, rather than start them and all of a sudden things don’t look too bad.
Unfortunately this manager has made it quite clear that he is not the man to do it. He has got the squad he wanted, but is not capable of making them play. The outburst of ant-Warnock sentiment is not just a knee jerk reaction to a bad result; it’s a build-up of frustration at watching this team not being allowed to play to its potential. It is time for Neil Warnock to admit failure and retire, back to his farm in Cornwall. It’s time to chant "Warnock Out"
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