Monday, 9 May 2011

Why QPR should sack Neil Warnock

Despite basking in the glory of their Championship-winning season, QPR manager Neil Warnock was moved to say on Saturday that he feared the sack.

"I'm not totally confident they will stick with me. It's one of those things," he said. Perhaps Warnock, genuinely fears he's going to get the boot or perhaps it was a canny political move on his part to put pressure on the club's owners. Either way, rumours have been circulating  since the back end of last month that the West London club will ditch their current manager in favour of Italy's 2006 World Cup winner, Marcello Lippi.

Oi, ref, do you know my name is an anagram of what you are?

If Warnock is removed, I'm sure there'll be more than a few people out there rolling their eyes and tutting at another example of short-termism from the club's owners Flavio Briatori and Bernie Ecclestone. However, now is exactly the time they should be getting rid of Warnock.

In their book The 90-Minute Manager, David Bolchover and Chris Brady suggest one of the key factors in appointing the right man for the dugout is to get a correct 'strategic fit' to the club's aims. In essence, it's the duty of a club's directors to know precisely what its goals are and to identify a manager with the right talents to meet them.

Let's take my own club Leicester City as an example. Few City fans can say the words 'Taylor' and 'Peter' in the same sentence without feeling the need to smash the first thing that comes to hand. In fact, just give me a moment please...


...that's better. T****r was appointed to replace Martin O'Neill in 2000; a tough job for anyone, but even tougher for a man totally wrong for the role. Leicester had enjoyed a sustained period of success (relative to their aims) under first Brian Little, then Mark McGhee and finally, of course, O'Neill.

All of those men were employed to achieve a similar goal - gain promotion to the Premier League (McGhee was appointed with the club almost certain to be relegated from the top flight and so, in a sense, he was being employed with the following season in mind). All of them had similar profiles; lower-League successes with a smaller club than Leicester and all of them had similar ambitions to, themselves, manage at a bigger club than Leicester. Little went on to Villa, O'Neill to Celtic and McGhee to, er, Wolves.

Now T****r made a lot of mistakes, but the biggest mistake was made in the boardroom where, blinded by the success of the three previous employees, the directors stuck to the 'young up-and-coming manager' template when replacing O'Neill. However, in reality, the club's goals had changed. In the previous four seasons it had enjoyed four top 10 finishes, reached the League Cup final three times (winning it twice) and in 2000 had a significantly larger transfer budget than in previous years.

T****r had no Premier League experience. Success with the England Under-21 team (which at the time included the fabled Golden Generation) and a Division Two play-off final victory with Gillingham suggested he fitted the previous successful template. However, Leicester was no longer an up-and-coming club, they were, relatively well-established and what they needed was an experienced hand on the tiller.  T****r was not only a t**t, he simply wasn't a strategic fit.

Liverpool fan Paul Tomkin touched on the issue, albeit in different terms, in a post called The Unwritten Law of Managerial Suitability which focused on Roy Hodgson after the latter's successful start at West Brom.

Tomkin argued that Hodgson's relative success at The Hawthorns did not invalidate criticism of his failure at Anfield. On the contrary, Tomkin suggests that it simply shows that Hodgson is "clearly a good manager, but only in certain situations. He has some great skills, but they are not universally transferable." In other words, Hodgson was not a strategic fit for Liverpool's goals but he is a strategic fit for West Brom's.

Tomkin also briefly makes a very valid broader point that managers like Hodgson, who achieve success with smaller clubs (as defined by those clubs' goals), shouldn't be rewarded with 'a big job' but by proper remuneration from the smaller clubs with which they're achieving.

So, you found a strategic fit then,,,?

While it's true that Hodgson and T****r were replacing out-going managers, Bolchover and Brady argue that the same logic applies even to incumbent managers if the strategic fit between the club's goals and the manager's proven ability changes.

And this is why Warnock should be on the dole queue even though he has two and a half years of his contract to run.  QPR's Championship glory adds to his impressive CV, which has seen some level of success at nearly every club he's managed. However look at it properly and you'll see a pattern which involves regular promotion (or near-promotion) in the lower leagues peppered with the odd lengthy cup run.

Clearly, Warnock is a specialist manager; one who is adept at getting clubs promoted (he has done so with Scarborough, Notts County twice, Huddersfield, Plymouth Argyle, Sheffield United and now QPR and had a near miss with Crystal Palace) but he's also a manger with little experience and even less success in the top flight - two seasons, two relegations.

Warnock would no doubt argue that his relegation with Sheffield United was unfair as West Ham did not lose points for fielding Carlos Tevez, however the fact remains the Blades themselves accrued just 38 points.

Back at Loftus Road, QPR's goals have changed massively since this time last year. The club doesn't need a promotion expert any more, instead they need a manager adept at steering medium-sized clubs away from relegation and perhaps into the top half of the table.

Warnock is no longer a strategic fit and as Tomkin suggests, his reward should be handsome remuneration for hitting his target. What it should not be is keeping a job he is no longer suited for.
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gtdburt said...

It is not often I disagree with but this time I do. Although I think you are correct that certain managers are better under certain circumstances, I'm not sure that is the case with Warnock. Sheffield United were expected to go down that year and 38 points might have kept them up in another season. I'm not sure his performance was particularly bad.

By being so cut-throat and sacking someone who has had such incredible success this season is also liable to unsettle players who might start to wonder if it migh be them next on the block.

I am also a firm believer in letting people develop. Managers will only gain Premier League experience by managing teams in the Premier League. By only taking on managers with proven top level experience elsewhere, the current rather small pool of top level English managers will only dimuish further. I think anyway!

Simon said...

I feel sorry for Paul Lambert that he is no longer a strategic fit for Norwich.

Jimmy said...

Good piece, Sam Allardyce is their man.