Though the much-traveled Neil Warnock (above) led Queens Park Rangers to promotion last spring, the club’s flirtation with the bottom end of the since since their return to the English football top flight led to his being fired as club manager this weekend. While the Telegraph’s Thom Gibbs congratulates chairman Tony Fernandes on recognizing the urgency of the matter (“sticking with Warnock would have meant pursuing his transfer targets this month and waiting it out to see if QPR’s rotten form –two points from a possible 24 in their last eight league games — would pick up”), the Guardian’s Michael Hann testifies (as diplomatically as possible) that for all of Warnock’s chops in the sound bite department, he could easily be called tactically naive.
Certainly, many of the summer signings do not seem to have been giving their best for Warnock since that blissful early run that saw Newcastle United played off the park and Wolves beaten: Joey Barton’s performances have prompted far more grumbling than anything Warnock’s done, and the only unqualified success has been Luke Young. The best answer to the tactical query came from Rangers’ two games against Norwich City, in November and January, when in both cases QPR lost after Paul Lambert made substitutions and reconfigured his team, with almost immediate results, while Warnock failed to respond. In the game at Loftus Road, Norwich’s substitutions were followed by Clint Hill, the Rangers left-back, bellowing to the dug-out: “You’ve got to change it! It’s fucking five against four! They’ve got wing backs! You’ve got to change it.” Change came there none, and moments later Norwich scored their winner.
That rabbit-in-the-headlights approach to strategy had become a feature at QPR. Why was Warnock picking only one striker at home, for a team struggling to score? Why were players being used out of position? Why was the willing but limited Jamie Mackie being used on the right wing instead of Shaun Wright-Phillips? Why was Adel Taarabt frozen out of the team for much of late autumn, when – for all the problems with him – he was the only midfielder capable of offering creativity to the team?
Rangers’ owner, Tony Fernandes, knew that despite all Warnock’s shortcomings he was adored by the fans. And so his tweets last night had the slightly self-pitying tone of a man who doesn’t want to be unpopular: “I apologise to the fans I have upset by this decision,” he said at one point. But, even so, he may well have felt the same as Warnock did on his arrival in west London: you only deserve to be called a winner if you’re actually winning.