When Simon Grayson was sacked as Leeds United manager in February, it seemed a little harsh. After all, the Whites lay just outside the playoffs despite embarking on a poor run of Christmas results. The man Ken Bates deemed good enough to finish the job was ‘promotion specialist’ Neil Warnock, who has delivered success from the lower leagues on seven previous occasions. It didn’t quite turn out the way Uncle Ken had planned though, as Leeds stuttered to a 14th placed finish, stumbling to some humiliating defeats on the way.
The drop in performance and results was attributed to an apparent dearth of quality in the squad at Elland Road according to the new man in charge, while Leeds fans chose to aim their irritations at the Chairman rather than those in charge of footballing matters. The summer has brought little in terms of comfort either, with an apparent takeover taking longer to come to fruition than expected. Warnock has been left frustrated by a lack of funds that has seen his summer plans wrecked and he has recently been linked with the job at Nottingham Forest.
The aura surrounding Warnock is a strange one; his reputation for earning promotion now seems to precede him. While he may get his sides into the top flight on a regular basis, keeping them there is an entirely different story. His last two assaults on the Premier League didn’t go according to plan, he was relegated at the first attempt with Sheffield United, while last season at QPR, Tony Fernandes took the decision to axe the man who got them up as the R’s hovered dangerously above the drop zone. The question is then, is Warnock the man to revive the glory days at Elland Road or he is merely a temporary stopgap designed to set the Whites back on the path towards the heady heights?
The immediate answer to that question lies in the length of Warnock’s contract. Bates only offered his new boss a deal lasting until the end of 2012/13, suggesting the man in charge has one go at making it work. It suits both parties. Leeds have been stung by the costs of sacking a manager on a lengthy contract before, while Warnock seems certain that managing the Whites will be his last job in football. However, it also suggests that Leeds appointed Warnock with the simple intention of promotion before they part company, a marriage of convenience if you like.
Warnock knows the specifications required to perform well in the Championship, but his dealings in the transfer market don’t exactly smack of ‘long term planning.’ For example, he transfer listed Adam Clayton, a player who had shown plenty of potential last season, while he hasn’t exactly pushed the boat out to renew Aidan White’s contract either. The club claims this is down to excessive wage demands, but if Huddersfield can afford to offer Clayton a better deal than what he’d earn at Elland Road, we may as well give up now. New arrivals include 33-year-old Adam Drury and 29-year old Paul Green, while 30-somethings Paddy Kenny and David Norris are expected to sign on the dotted line before too long as well. This isn’t a criticism of Warnock’s work in the market, indeed each of these individuals add something different to a squad that was found wanting in certain areas last season, but more an observation of his transfer policy. He operated in a similar way at QPR as well, bringing in experienced heads like Clint Hill and Shaun Derry to ensure the side would be well-equipped for promotion, rather than building for the long-term.
The takeover talk at the club may change Warnock’s plans somewhat. He may find transfer funds are more accessible upon completion and the new owners may set out a new set of targets for Leeds United. If Warnock was to get the Whites into the Premiership, it would be difficult to imagine him walking away from the job. When QPR sacked him in January, he spoke of his disappointment of not being allowed to finish the job he started. You’d imagine then that he’d loathe to let someone else continue the good work he’d put in place. If all goes according to plan, the marriage of convenience could turn into a shot at reviving the glory days, with Warnock given the chance to establish Leeds as a Premiership force once more.
Whether he’d succeed is another question. Examining his work at QPR last summer suggests he might not, given his failure to prepare them for the task ahead by signing players well past their best like Kieron Dyer, Danny Gabbidon and Luke Young. Club captain Joey Barton wasn’t exactly forthcoming in praising the outgoing boss either when Warnock departed Loftus Road. Ultimately, it seems that Warnock isn’t capable of handling a side in the top flight, he’s never achieved anything amongst England’s elite despite his managerial career spanning 22 years.
This is all hypothetically speaking of course. Leeds haven’t demonstrated enough clout so far this summer to suggest they are even capable of mounting an attack on the Promised Land. This year’s relegated teams have already opened the chequebooks to ensure they won’t be stranded in the Championship, while Leeds are selling their best players to their rivals. It seems people at the club have bought into the Warnock myth a little too much and simply believe his presence at Elland Road will ensure a promotion challenge anyway. He’s not a miracle worker and while his track record at this level is superb, there remains a number of blemishes on it. It’s down the club to give Warnock the opportunity to work his magic and a completed takeover would be an encouraging start. However, should Leeds start next season badly, Elland Road can be an unforgiving place to work and that marriage of convenience may well turn into a messy divorce.