Boro Stories: One More Year of Neil Warnock
One More Year, (For The Kids)…
Finally, there was some encouraging news emanating from the club two weeks ago as the club eventually announced that Neil Warnock would be extending his socially distanced stay at the Boro helm for at least one more season.
Yes, following “months of pestering” the smoke turned white and heralded the tidings that everyone’s favourite power-couple, Neil and Shazza, had finally relented to the ever-persuasive Gibbo and were now definitely bedding down and giving it another year in that little B&B in Rockliffe village.
After what felt like an agonising twenty-four hours of radio silence, the twelve-month extension to the gaffer’s current deal was confirmed with all parties seemingly happy with the arrangement. It’s probably fair to say that the majority of Boro fans were also fairly happy, perhaps even relieved, to see Warnock extend his stay and commit to the club for another year, therefore allowing the manager and his squad to focus solely on achieving as high a finish as possible during the course of the remainder of the season.
Warnock has clearly enjoyed his long-awaited Indian Summer on Teesside, despite the grim backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s a job he’s publicly admitted to having coveted for many years and, without being overly sentimental, I do feel it would have been an absolute crying shame had he departed the club without having experienced his home stadium packed with supporters demanding in unison to be “given a wave”.
I do very much look forward to Warnock’s first post-lockdown home game more than I care to admit. He’s a manager who feeds off the crowd – both his own and that of his opponents. He’s simultaneously hero and villain and you just get the sense that he loves being cast as both in equal measure. He’s chewy. A wind-up merchant. The type of manager you can’t stand when he’s gobbing off in your opponent’s technical area, but who can do no wrong when he’s encroaching on the pitch wearing the colours of your team lambasting a weary fourth official. He’s a character, and we like characters up here.
However, before we get too carried away, it’s worth noting that there are currently some very real and pressing issues that need addressing and resolving at the club; none more so than the immediate futures of Britt Asombalonga and Ashley Fletcher. It is not inconceivable, in fact, its arguably quite likely, that both strikers could depart the club for free come the end of the season. This leaves a massive hole in arguably our weakest position.
This is compounded by the fact that, given the recent public comments made by Warnock toward our only other recognised striker, Chuba Akpom (I’m assuming that you all share my view that Duncan Watmore is more of a deep-lying ‘false 9’), you really have to take the view that the manager doesn’t particularly fancy a player he referred to as his “top man” when he brought him to the club earlier in the season.
It’s little wonder that Akpom is now experiencing a crisis of confidence in front of goal – and he was hardly prolific when he was firing on all cylinders, whenever that was exactly. This is an odd situation and it shines a light on the current recruitment structure that is not exactly flattering. Warnock clearly wants more control over acquisitions and the fact that a contract extension has now been agreed suggests that perhaps assurances have been made in this area. Time will tell.
Interestingly, Warnock’s continued appointment is, to a degree, going against the Steve Gibson grain. Historically, Gibson tends to favour appointing rookie managers who are given the time and resources to build something stable and self-sustaining. He doesn’t do “rash decisions”. Or, at least, he didn’t in the past. But, as LP Hartley would say: “the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.”
In fact, as much as it’s widely acknowledged in the football world that one of the hallmarks of Gibson’s reign has been his purported tendency to rule with a patient, pragmatic and steady hand, that assumption is now more historically-based than contemporary. The fact is, since the inevitable yet ultimately disappointing departure of Aitor Karanka, Middlesbrough’s management has been floundering in a shambolic state of disarray. Warnock is our fifth manager in four years, whereas we only had five full-time managers in the twenty-three years between Bryan Robson’s appointment and Aitor’s departure. It doesn’t take a genius to see the problem here – we’re hardly the bastion of stability we once were. That simply must change if the club going to progress. But, is another one-year extension to a veteran manager’s contract really the bedrock of stability that the club so desperately craves at this time?
If we take the (likely) view that next season will be Warnock’s final season in management, he will know only too well that he will be judged not so much on the team’s final position next season but more his legacy; i.e. the state in which he leaves the club and what is inherited by his immediate successor.
And then the whole process starts again…