Honesty is a quality that Neil Warnock has become somewhat renowned for during his three decades of management in England. While often a refreshing change to some of the more bland personalities in the game, it is a character trait that has not always served the Queens Park Rangers manager well in the eyes of authority.
Having worked his way up from semi-professional coaching to the heights of the Premier League for a second time, following a season in the top flight back in 2006/07 with hometown club Sheffield United, it is maybe no surprise that he retains a sense of pragmatism. However, having seen frank reflections on refereeing decisions in the past lead to lengthy touchline bans, the south Yorkshireman intends to curb his outbursts and keep himself in check this time around.
He felt QPR’s recent 1-1 draw with Aston Villa was a perfect example, where, after the game, he revealed a number of penalty area incidents had caused him some ire. On his comments, he said: “I think you just have to be careful. I think myself of a few years ago would have got fined due to the circumstances and situation [of the Aston Villa match]. I’ve had meetings with the FA on what I can say and what I can’t say.” The FA responded to his comments by only handing him a warning.
The former Crystal Palace manager added: “I think some of the questions I’m asked at press conferences are really a way to get you in trouble – that’s their story. So as long as you don’t talk about the integrity of the referee you are fine giving constructive criticism.”
However, the changes that are really exciting Warnock are those happening around Loftus Road, following the takeover by Malaysian businessman Tony Fernandes, in particular their raft of signings in the final days of the transfer window. QPR brought in five players in the shape of Shaun Wright-Philips, Joey Barton, Luke Young, Anton Ferdinand and Armand Traore to bolster their squad with Premier League talent at the 11th hour.
Since then Warnock has found the drive in his new recruits cause for celebration. “All the lads we’ve signed have things to prove in their own way, so I’ve been delighted as you need hungry players. Even at their age, people like Ferdinand, Traore, Luke Young have it, so I’ve been pleased with that.
“Until the takeover happened we were a bit thin on the ground in terms of signings, but since then we’ve managed to get experienced Premiership players in and it’s given us a fighting chance. I did feel we’d struggle if we hadn’t had the takeover.”
There is also the prospect of further forays into the transfer market, with Fernandes hinting that there are funds available. As a result Warnock is expecting to be active in the January window, saying: “I would think we definitely will be, the chairman’s very positive and he’s enjoyed the new signings, so it all bodes well really. If we can hang in there until January we can improve the squad further.”
Since [the takeover] we’ve managed to get experienced Premiership players in and it’s given us a fighting chance.
The influx of experience led him to instantly promote Barton to captain, a move which Championship Player of the Season Adel Taarabt – the former wearer of the armband – was happy to see. “It was an easy decision as [Barton’s] a captain anyhow. I spoke to Adel about it, I think he’s revelled in not being a captain if I’m honest, seeing these players come in. [Barton’s] a born winner really, and I think when I looked at the situation it was only natural to give him the position.”
Results have been inconsistent, however, with an opening-day 4-0 defeat by Bolton Wanderers followed recently by a humbling 6-0 loss at local rivals Fulham. Warnock maintains, though, that performances, as well as impressive away wins at Everton and Wolverhampton Wanderers provide grounds for optimism. “We played quite well against Bolton for an hour, but at Everton we were super.
“I was a bit disappointed we hadn’t got the new players in before we played Wigan [Athletic], as we hit the bar and post three times, and we only had the old lads. I feel we’d have had at least a half chance, if I’m honest, with the new signings in tow.
“I think all the promoted clubs have struggled to score goals when they first came up, and I think we have all had that period, but we’ve all got decent results and can all feel positive about competing. There’s some big clubs down at the bottom at the moment and it will be interesting to see how it develops.”
[Barton’s] a born winner really, and I think when I looked at the situation it was only natural to give him the position.
Things are not likely to get any easier, however, now the international break is over. Though Warnock will be replenished somewhat by the return of injured and suspended players to his rearguard, which he attributed the Fulham defeat to, beyond Saturday’s match with Blackburn Rovers they have a daunting schedule.
Chelsea at home, Tottenham Hotspur away, Manchester City at home and then Stoke City away is how the fixture list reads, but Warnock is remaining upbeat, happy more than anything to be entertaining sides of this stature.
“They’re difficult games, quite rightly so as there are no easy matches at this level, but I think every game at the minute we’re looking forward to,” he said. “They’re all also different teams playing different systems and when you’re playing all the top teams no one expects anything but we’re quite capable of taking points off them.”