It seems so long ago now, under Ken Bates, the era of his brinkmanship had brought Leeds United to its knees. The fans were disillusioned and angry, the gate receipts were tumbling and the man to lead us all was among the most hated ever to have darkened the Elland Road boardroom. It couldn’t have got any lower. And yet, looking back, Neil Warnock was the right appointment at that particular time. He arrived to great fanfare and positivity, Leeds were a rudderless ship in need of a man who had seven promotions to his name and was famed for his no-nonsense, my way or the highway attitude. The club needed taking by the scruff of the neck and to be dragged into the upper echelons of the Football League, well that was plan at least.
Now though, we can begin to yearn for a time where a figurehead of the club got on with the job at hand and did it well, instead of stumbling around blindly because their head was lodged so far up their own backside; but realistically, that’s one of the reasons we wanted him in the first place. We wanted him to be a complete banker; we wanted him to be part of the ‘Leeds scum’, disliked the world over and had it gone better for the teams in results terms, it still wouldn’t matter that we all actually really can’t stand him. But that never happened and we still can’t.
The problem for Warnock was that much of his tenure has been shrouded in uncertainty; eight months of it in fact as one of the longest takeovers in history hung round Warnock’s neck like a dead weight. There is little doubt that were Warnock to achieve the record-breaking eighth promotion he so craved, he had to have money to spend; we’re talking warchests grander than even Simon Grayson would ever have dreamed of. It soon became apparent that such a requirement would never materialise and as yet another summer drew to a close, Leeds were starting another season without solid preparation.
Save for a very average division, Leeds would be struggling for position; only in late February and March have they been able to find some consistency but even that only came in the form of an unchanged side for six consecutive matches.
So where did it all go wrong? Well, did it ever really go right? Warnock never liked Leeds; he’d probably be offended if you suggested he came to Leeds to do anything other than serve his own interests. Which we were OK with until we discovered that despite his protestations, the Leeds job was a bit of a holiday.
Every week, it just seemed incomprehensible to him that Leeds was in fact, a very long way from his home and family in Cornwall but he continued to reiterate the point; despite the fact that we were fully aware of the geography of the UK; a subject matter which has surmised Warnocks time at the club.
To most football clubs, teams generally do things together but it appears that there were set cliques within the squad which meant doing things as a team was generally, geographically speaking, more difficult. It shouldn’t have mattered though; a manager of Warnock’s stature, with his reputation, would surely do the very basics right and get the team together but you cannot help question his mentality and worth when week upon week, the squad travel from all different parts of the country to and from away games instead of together on the team bus. Old fashioned thinking? Perhaps. But isn’t that Warnock’s style? Not when he is based in Cornwall…
Perhaps it is too easy to question Warnock’s motives, especially when he brings much of his old guard to the club on contracts they are unlikely to have been given elsewhere; furthermore when he brings in players whom he subsequently snubs almost completely. Leeds fans have long been familiar in the uncomfortable knowledge that Leeds have long paid players long after they have left and now, it feels like they are providing one last big pay day; jobs for the boys?
Too cynical perhaps but long after Warnock leaves, which hopefully will be sooner rather than later, he will not be remembered for any footballing achievement. Neil Warnock will be remembered for being Neil Warnock and for a man with his considerable ego, that must hurt. Leeds was probably too big a job for him; it was certainly his biggest and it had other events not conspired against him and had he not been such a monumental arse, it might all have been utterly glorious. But it hasn’t been; quite the opposite really.
Thankfully though, the new owners have had the foresight… well, the common sense, to concentrate on initiatives to bring a generous of fans back to Elland Road, and if nothing else comes from this season – and nothing will, it will be that people are starting to come back to the club. For the first time in eight years, the fans feel valued. We matter! The problem for Neil was quite possibly that he’d never encountered fans like us and managing and meeting expectations was a bar far higher than one he’d come across before. Mercifully, it appears that we will have to suffer his prehistoric stubbornness no longer. Well, not much longer anyway.