NEIL WARNOCK has declined the opportunity to rule out a return to Sheffield United if the manager’s job was offered to him.
Speaking on Sheffield Live! TV, Warnock said: “I’m here [at Rotherham United] ’till May and whatever happens after that…you never say never at anything. You can’t afford to. Life’s too short. He added: “One thing I will say, it’s [Sheffield United] a great club.”
The 67-year-old former Blades boss, aided by assistant Kevin Blackwell, another ex-United manager who previously was Warnock's No2 at the Lane, has masterminded a remarkable turnaround at the New York Stadium since replacing Neil Redfearn in February. It’s a similar never-say-die spirit to the one that propelled the Blades to the Premier League during Warnock’s seven years at the Lane and which produced so many fantastic moments. Something that is presently in short supply.
Five victories, including a 1-0 triumph at Sheffield Wednesday, and another against promotion heavyweights Middlesbrough, two draws and only two defeats, have transformed Rotherham’s season lifting them out of the relegation zone.
Recovering from being 3-0 down to draw 3-3 against Derby County, another promotion hopeful, is a trademark feature of Warnock’s managerial qualities and on Saturday the Millers hit a late winner, another trait of side’s managed by Warnock, against former club Leeds United.
Not usually known for diplomatic qualities, he chose his words carefully when asked on journalist and broadcaster Alan Biggs’ Talking Sheffield show, which you can watch below, to comment on United’s managerial turnover, eight in as many years, since he left the Lane.
“It’s alright from the outside but it’s difficult for chairmen,” said Warnock. “They’ve got to make a decision and pick the manager and it’s not easy.”
But he added pointedly: “I don’t think there are enough football club’s that have got people who know football. I think it’s the same everywhere. At QPR where I was, who knew football really in the boardroom.”
One man who did know his football at the Lane was the late Derek Dooley, chairman of the Football Board and a Sheffield Wednesday legend as a player. “Derek Dooley was fantastic,” said Warnock. “A great man. One of the best men I’ve ever met in my life.
“The club itself was together and it’s not easy to generate that. I used to say to people ‘you’ll not realise what you’ve got ’till I’ve gone’, you know as a joke.”
Recalling what he left behind following relegation from the top flight in 2007, Warnock lamented a missed opportunity for United, saying: “Everything was in place to take the club onwards again. I thought the squad when I left was as good a squad as you are going to get in the Championship. That was the best chance they had of going straight back up.”
He agreed with TV host Biggs that his departure from Bramall Lane, officially presented as by mutual consent, was in fact a parting of the ways enforced by Kevin McCabe, then the club’s sole owner.
“In a way it was [mutual consent] because I remember saying to Kevin ‘I think I should give it a miss now and you find somebody else’. He seemed to say OK. That’s it on your bike.”
Warnock added that he didn’t regret giving McCabe the opportunity to agree, but added: “I don’t know if he regrets that but when he said it I thought ‘well, [Warnock] you’ve made the right decision because he didn’t want you’.
“The quickness and the way that Bryan Robson [Warnock’s successor] came in I think showed that he’d [McCabe] already sorted it out.”
Warnock said that building United’s academy from scratch was one of his biggest achievements at the Lane. “I remember Kevin saying to me ‘we’ve got this amount which you could have for the team or the academy’. Kev’s a mad Sheffield Unitedite and I said to him ‘get the academy built, spend the money on that’. It’s a tremendous achievement up there [at Shirecliffe].
Warnock also recalls the 2003 season when United reached the FA Cup and League Cup semi-finals as well as the Championship play-off final against Wolves at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. He insisted that the Blades were the best team in the FA Cup semi against Arsenal and recalls the incident which cost him one of many expensive disciplinary fines. It followed referee Graham Poll’s physical intervention resulting in United losing possession and Arsenal going on to score their winner at Old Trafford.
“That cost me four grand, that seeing Graham after the game. A legend in his own mind.” He added: “We played really well that day. To lose to a goal like that still rankles with me.”
Warnock’s enclyopedic memory of falling foul of referee decision didn’t end there. “Same with Liverpool [in the League Cup semi-final]. To be one-nil down and getting battered, to Tongey [Michael Tonge] getting two goals at home. Then the away game, their goalkeeper [Chris] Kirkland should have got sent off for handball outside the area but the referee, you know, Liverpool at home. It’s scandalous really.”
Warnock, who says he has been offered the manager’s job at Sheffield Wednesday on three occasions, tells of the moment he realised it wasn’t going to be for him. He came to the conclusion after a six-year-old Blades fan told him in no uncertain terms what he thought of the idea.
You can watch the programme which also features Sheffield’s Nick Matthew, the three-time World Squash champion and Wednesdayite, by clicking on the links below.
It is in two parts and well worth watching. However, if you just want to hear Warnock talking just about the Blades, go to part two, scroll through and start at 16 minutes.