NEIL WARNOCK’S recent Brexit outburst which prompted his club Cardiff City to issue a statement distancing it from the manager, was surprising to say the least.
The former Blades boss’s anti-European stance and defiant “to hell with the rest of the world” did not remotely convey a considered perspective on an issue the handling of which is making the United Kingdom an international laughing stock.
But whichever side of the garden fence you stand Warnock is entitled to his opinion just like everyone else. He echoes the frustration and suspicion many who voted to leave the EU fear is an establishment plot to overthrow democracy and ignore the will of the majority who cast their votes in the 2016 referendum.
That, however, isn’t the surprise. It is that Warnock should harbour such a view given that he has worked for nearly half of his 33-year managerial career in an industry which actively encourages foreign players, many of them European, to these shores and is ever more dependent on foreign ownership.
Cardiff is owned by Malaysian businessman Vincent Tan who is reported to have funded the club to the sum of £100,000 and Warnock operates a first team squad which included players from Canada, Denmark, Gabon, Iceland, Ivory Coast, the Philippines, Spain and the Republic of Ireland. The Bliebirds chief executive, Ken Choo, is also Malaysian and Mehmet Dalman, the Premier League club’s chairman, was born in Cyprus.
Those from abroad might have damaged the chances of young homegrown players from developing their careers as they may have done otherwise. But foreign talent has undeniably raised hugely the standard of the British game and it is up to the locals to rise to the challenge.
At top level it is most obvious but even most clubs in League One and Two where home grown players are far more predominant, no longer engage in kick-and-rush football as they once used to.
Just look at the level of performance Barnet, who came to Bramall Lane 15th in the National League, produced to knock the Blades out of the FA Cup third round.
Admittedly it was a shameful display from a much changed United line-up but nonetheless more than good enough in quality to see off caretaker manager Darren Currie’s team. Take nothing away from Barnet, they played free-flowing, counter-attacking football with pace and took their just reward.
Arsenal Wenger began the revolution at Arsenal. Now diet, innovative training methods and an ever increasing deployment of stats and sports science are the norm. A coinciding huge influx of TV money has changed the game here forever and not always in a good way. Its working class roots are being eroded by a corporate hijack and a money-spinning obsession to cater to domestic and global TV audiences. The loyal, paying supporter who helps make the game so saleable, is little more than an afterthought as TV schedules dominate often bizarre fixture changes.
But Warnock’s enthusiasm to pull-up the draw bridge doesn’t make sense in a modern football context. Many of course argue that it doesn't make sense in any context.
Maybe football mirrors the division in society. The haves and the have-nots, a system that benefits the bigger, most well-off clubs in particular. Not so good at the lower end of the spectrum.
A nostalgia for the good old days, universal three-o’clock kick offs on a Saturday afternoon, the magic of the midday FA Cup third round draw, often accompanied by newspaper pictures of excited players listening to the radio on the golf course.Tommy Smith, Chopper Harris, Norman ‘bites her legs’ Hunter and those mud heaps that passed as pitches during the winter months.
That Derby won the old First Division caked in mud playing on a surface that barely boasted a blade of grass at their old Baseball Ground, is a feat of dogged perseverance in a very different era. Will a team such as Nottingham Forest ever again be able to reach the pinnacle of club football by winning the European Cup? To my mind still the greatest achievement in English football.
The common denominator there being that both feats were achieved under the management of Brian Clough. Would the abrasive, outspoken, unpredictable and bloody-minded Clough even be deemed remotely acceptable by the suits these days?
It’s highly unlikely the silky skills and tactical ingenuity of today’s Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham would have prospered so elegantly at the Baseball Ground. Pep Guardiola’s defending champions and pass masters would be quite literally stick-in-the-muds.
Whatever the best way forward may be, there is no going back. The genie is out of the bottle.