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Neil Warnock: ‘I’ve had a few job offers – but I’d have to be really interested’

Neil Warnock is happy with his lot.

Christmas was spent at home in Cornwall with wife Sharon and their two children, 24-year-old Amy and William, 22. Before that, there was a luxury holiday to the Maldives to celebrate his 75th birthday in style. June will bring another six dates of his popular ‘Are You With Me?’ theatre show.

There’s also the media work that last week included being Sky Sports’ studio guest for the top-of-the-table Championship fixture between Leicester City and Ipswich Town. Before that, his acting skills were given an airing in a festive advert for the same broadcaster’s EFL coverage.

Plenty, then, to keep him busy as we head into February — the month when someone seen as the Red Adair of football managers (having saved plenty of lost causes in the past) can surely expect a few desperate chairmen to call.

“I’ve really enjoyed switching off and going to games,” says Warnock, whose longevity in the technical area was praised by Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola last May. “I’ve also been doing a few other things, like the podcasts.

“They’ve been great fun, even if it’s not the same feeling as when that whistle blows — nothing beats that. The flip side is you also don’t get the lows that come with football. I don’t miss those.

“When you are out of work, you only think of the good times. I’ll be honest now and admit that it doesn’t really bother me if I don’t come back in. It would have to be something I’m really interested in.

“Plus, I’m 75, don’t forget. I don’t feel it. I feel as fit and healthy as I’ve always done. But it is a fact.”

Warnock with golfer Alex Fitzpatrick at the British Challenge last August (Luke Walker/Getty Images)

The Athletic is a little taken aback.

Most would assume a manager whose last job at Huddersfield Town of the Championship was ended prematurely by his dismissal in mid-September would be itching to get back in now the business end of the season is honing into view.

Firstly, have there been any offers? And, half-joking, isn’t Sharon ready for him to get back to work after all these months together?

“Oh, aye, there’s been a few of those,” he replies, referring to potential enquiries from clubs. “Two or three came in October/November, almost straight away (after leaving Huddersfield). Then, there’s been a couple more during the last couple of weeks.

“I’ve had everything from Championship through to League Two; there were tempting offers among them. But I also fancied having that time with the family for Christmas and also my 75th. Then, if something cropped up in February, maybe we’d have a look at that.”

And Sharon?

He laughs before adding: “There have been moments, yes, when she’d gladly have sent me back to work. I’m a bit thick about anything but football. At times, I must frustrate the hell out of not just Sharon but the kids as well.

“They all say I’m messy, or no use round the house. I can just about change a plug, but that’s about as far as I go. Nothing else. So, yeah, she’s probably ready. But it will have to be something that really interests me, something to really get my teeth into.

“I did think Manchester United might have come in by now — but not a peep!”

Christmas in the Warnock household has invariably been a rushed affair down the years. More than four decades in football management will do that — especially when the club employing you are miles away from the family home. The 2023 edition, though, was rather different.

“I’ve not had a Christmas at home with just the family for a long, long time,” he says. “There was just me, Sharon and our two kids, Amy and William. We had the full day together.

“They all said how strange it felt, me not rushing off in the afternoon (to prepare for his club’s Boxing Day fixture). Or all this happening elsewhere in the country, like Middlesbrough when I was up there, and so on.

“Being down here (in Cornwall) was a novelty for us all. We also had a few drops of snow, which is unusual for Cornwall. It only lasted five minutes, but that was nice on Christmas Day.”

That idyllic scene feels a million miles away from a career in management that boasts a record-breaking eight promotions and umpteen clashes with the officials. Or those Saturday afternoons when he’s stared down opposition fans who are shouting abuse in his direction.

This divisive character once quipped he’d rather his death be marked at certain grounds, such as Bristol City’s Ashton Gate, by the chant “Warnock’s a w***er” as opposed to a minute’s silence.

But it was clearly a moment to savour for someone who has had almost as many comebacks from retirement as Frank Sinatra.

He first spoke about packing it all in when manager of boyhood club Sheffield United. But, after leaving in the wake of the Carlos Tevez affair that saw United controversially relegated from the Premier League in 2007, the fire continued to burn inside him.

Two more promotions to the top flight followed with Queens Park Rangers and Cardiff City, while he ranks keeping Rotherham United and Huddersfield in the Championship against all the odds as achievements on a par with those more conventional successes.

The second of those Great Escapes, at Huddersfield last season, brought another step into retirement only to then be persuaded to return five weeks later by their new owner Kevin Nagle.

Warnock was then sacked in September, with the Yorkshire club sitting 16th, to make way for Darren Moore. It was a move that had the risk of backfiring spectacularly — and it has. Huddersfield, who have won just three times since changing managers and sit fourth-bottom of the 24-team second tier following Sunday’s 1-1 draw at fellow strugglers QPR, fired Moore on Monday.

Moore was sacked after four months in charge of Huddersfield (Ben Roberts Photo/Getty Images)

As we speak, Warnock is just back from a couple of hours in the Cornish fishing town of Looe; he’s a regular visitor there with Sharon. The couple have also discovered a love of cycling and plan to be back out on the county’s lanes soon, once the weather improves.

“We’ve just bought this little sidecar thing for the dog, Monty, so we can drag him along behind us,” he says.

The only involvement with football for someone who has managed 1,627 games — more than anyone else — these past four months has come via either his media work or watching nearby Plymouth Argyle, the club he led to promotion into the Second Division (today’s League One) via the play-offs in 1996.

“They’ve got a very good young manager in now, Ian Foster,” he says. “I make sure he doesn’t mind me going along, Schuey (Steven Schumacher, Argyle’s previous manager) having obviously gone to Stoke.

“A lovely club who are punching above their weight, wages-wise. Amy comes with me. She’s a chip off the old block. She’d like to stand up and have a real go at some of them referees.

“Mind, the refs have been decent in the last few games I’ve watched. I complimented the one on TV last week, (Josh) Smith (at Leicester v Ipswich).”

Talk of referees leads us on to VAR and, suddenly, Warnock sounds like he’s back in the dugout.

“What a mess!,” says Warnock, who is a qualified referee. “Thank goodness my time in football is coming to an end. You can’t even celebrate a goal these days. That’s the whole point of football: scoring goals. And the joy has been taken away.

“The problem is the same as it has always been. You are getting the same types of people in the VAR box as you are refereeing. None of them know the game. They know the laws but not the game. (Former Liverpool manager Bill) Shankly used to say that and he was right.

“This is the problem Webby (Howard Webb, head of the referees’ body PGMOL) has got. If he had any hair left, he’d no doubt pull it out watching this lot. Especially as Webby was such a good man-manager as a referee.

“I look at some of the lads who I thought were really poor in the Championship and now they are in the Premier League. How’s that happened? I honestly felt they were too poor for the Championship.”

(Matt McNulty/Getty Images)

Following the recent talk of PGMOL employing specialist staff to operate the VAR kit, rather than the current top-flight referees, does Warnock fancy such a role?

“No thanks,” he says without hesitation. “Though I do think the idea is right: get people doing VAR who know the game. It’s the only way things will improve.”

So, if it’s not going to be a future twiddling knobs at VAR headquarters, maybe we might see a return to the dugout soon?

“We’ll know in the next two or three weeks, won’t we?,” Warnock says. “What I will say is: if I come back into management, it’ll be because I feel I can make people smile.

“That’s what football should be about: make the fans smile and give them something to cheer. ”

Those bike rides with Monty tagging along might just have to wait after all.

(Top photo: Matt McNulty/Getty Images)

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