Neil Warnock called it a day back in April after more than four decades in management. Now, he has selected his dream top-flight side, including a handful of surprises
Neil Warnock is finally starting to enjoy his well-earned retirement after more than 50 years in football.
The veteran boss called it a day back in April, so he has ample time to look back on his long and adventure-filled career that saw him start out as a young player at Chesterfield in 1967 before ending it as manager of Middlesbrough 54 years later .
A record promotion-winner, Warnock has plenty of tales to tell from down the years. And as well as the highs and lows, like most gaffers, there is always the ‘one player that got away’. In the case of Warnock, it is one of the Premier League’s best defenders in the form of Liverpool rock Virgil van Dijk.
The Reds stumped up £ 75million for the Dutch general in 2018 and he has since become a key figure in Jurgen Klopp’s side, helping them lift the Premier League and Champions League. But it could have been all so different had Warnock lured him to Crystal Palace in his second stint in charge of the Eagles in 2014.
“The one that got away from me was Virgil van Dijk,” Warnock told Mirror Football . “I got offered him when I was at Crystal Palace for £ 5million.
“But my chief scout said he was too slow and he ended up at Southampton instead! It’s a shame because anything he may lack in pace, he makes up for 10-fold in his ability to read the game.”
It is stories like this that Warnock will tell with his customary South Yorkshire charm when he begins a speaking tour entitled ‘Are You With Me?’ later this year. He will dive into his seemingly never-ending bank of memories and tales to ensure all in attendance are kept entertained. The locations for the dates have been specifically chosen in five cities and towns where he enjoyed most success: Cardiff, Huddersfield, Plymouth, Scarborough and Sheffield.
He says: “I’ve got so many stories that I’ve never come out with before. So it’ll be nice talking about my childhood right through to managing in the Premier League and to be able to share some of the jokes and stories from down the years.
“I did say I’d like to do one or two in places I never got a good reception like Ipswich or Bristol! I think it would be good to go to places like that. Deep down I’d like to think they respect me “You’ve got to have a bit of humor in management. And I think that’s going out of fashion nowadays.”
Warnock may have left the dugout for good but his passion for the sport remains as strong as ever. And he retains his penchant for controversy too, albeit perhaps tongue-in-cheek. When asked to pick a team capable of winning the Premier League if handed a limitless budget, he came up with one or two surprises.
For instance, he opted for Leicester stopper Kasper Schmeichel over Manchester City’s Ederson or Liverpool’s Alisson, whilst at center-half, he chose Newcastle’s Dan Burn to play alongside that man Van Dijk – snubbing the likes of City’s Ruben Dias and recently-departed Chelsea star Antonio Rudiger in the process.
Justifying his choices, he said: “I like Kasper’s confidence and his presence. He’s been very loyal to Leicester. I did think of Nick Pope but I thought I’d go for Schmeichel’s experience. And I don’t think he’d cost me much either!
“With Dan Burn, I just wanted an English center-half. Somebody who can defend, a left-footer, somebody who talks well and would work well with Van Dijk. The other option was maybe Ben White. He’s better on the ball than Burn but Burn is a better defender, so I went with him.I almost went with Antonio Rudiger but I opted for Burn.
“With the midfield, I thought (Kevin) De Bruyne was a no-brainer. I’ve not seen anybody quite as good as him in my lifetime.”
Another benefit of being out of the pressure cauldron of football is the chance to take in games, either in person or on the television, without any added pressure.
One example was England’s latest Nations League game against Hungary, although the 73-year-old admits ‘enjoy’ was not the word he would use to describe the shock 4-0 hammering. He has sympathy for Three Lions chief Gareth Southgate, whom he says is in a no-win situation after a sticky run of form.
“I do not think there was anybody better than Gareth but the problem he’s got is he’s had so much success,” Warnock said. “When I first started in football an experienced manager Bob Murphy told me ‘the problem with success is the fans always want more’.
“Gareth needs to get a few weeks off to recharge his batteries. These results mean at the beginning of the next camp people will be apprehensive.
“I do not think you can win as England manager. I think it’s a horrible job. It’s impossible to please everybody. I think it’s a no-win.”
Looking back on his decision to quit football, Warnock admits it was the right call at the right time – but only now is he adjusting to retirement. “It’s been strange,” he added.
“It’s like looking after 25 kids when you’re in the job, so you never really have a minute, with the phone constantly going off. But I am beginning to enjoy it now, though. We’ve just come back from holiday, which we’ve not had in a long time. I’m 73, so I’ve not got long left, so I’ve got to try and enjoy myself. “
Warnock’s dream Premier League team: Kasper Schmeichel, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk, Dan Burn, Kieran Tierney; Kevin De Bruyne, Declan Rice, Bernardo Silva; Mohamed Salah, Harry Kane, Son Heung-min.
Subs : Kalvin Phillips, Bukayo Saka, Marc Cucurella, Aymeric Laporte, Nick Pope.
Neil Warnock’s ‘Are You With Me?’ Tour runs from September to November. To book tickets, visit: https://www.ecmevents.co.uk/ticketsales