Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Good Will Hoskins

The Blades' deadline day signing of Will Hoskins is an interesting one. A player familiar to local fans after he burst on the scene at a tender age at Rotherham. He then drifted from view at Watford, before a sparkling spell at Bristol Rovers last season led to a move to Brighton in the Summer. As with Watford he has struggled to make an impact on the South Coast and his name came up as a Blades target quite out of the blue, late this morning.

With a striking quartet of Ched Evans, Richard Cresswell, James Beattie and Chris Porter available, it isn't the obvious area to target in the transfer market. To the extent that his arrival immediately leads to rumours of departures. In teh absence of these you assume that Hoskins must be able to offer us something that our other strikers cannot. I asked Millers fan David Rawson (@DavidRawson) for his memories of Hoskins and what made him stand out at Millmoor.

"I think we were probably all vaguely aware of the name long before it was anywhere near a first team line-up. In the Advertiser summaries of youth team games and the reserve matches came fleeting mentions of a wonderful finish here or a super goal there. And then, at the JJB Stadium, on Boxing Day 2003, the name, with its hint of promise became a tangible thing.

Having played one minute of professional football in his career to that date, he was brought on with half an hour to go in a tight, competitive game, Will Hoskins scored two goals in two minutes and won us the match. Both were similar, both were typical of him. Quick feet and quicker brain, an incisive first touch gained him a yard on the suddenly toiling Breckin, a neat second took him clear into the area with an angle on goal for a precise, placed finish beyond the keeper's dive.

Following which, he effectively vanished, bar a few lacklustre substitute performances. And nothing much better the season after, although the appearances were more regular. Ronnie Moore mused about players who thought they'd made it, and the word on the Tivoli was that he was a bit big for his flash new boots, that, rather like the very fast car he'd bought and supposedly crashed soon after, his talent was too powerful for him to handle.

Other voices suggested that Hoskins was one of a new breed of footballer, who knew just how good they were and just how much they were worth and weren't prepared to pay their dues to the likes of Ronnie Moore. Maybe there was something in that, because he did little under curmudgeonly authoritarian Mick Harford, either.

Then, under Alan Knill, his youth and reserve team coach, a man with personalised DVD's for each player to watch and a less regimented approach to how to behave, he blossomed. After missing the first few games of 2005-6 with a back injury, he became the focal point of a team capable of moving the ball swiftly, inventively to his feet.

Williamson's energy created the gaps in midfield for threaded balls into the spaces Hoskins instinctively ran into. The accuracy of his finishing, married to an ambition of approach that bordered on the unfeasibly cocksure, saw him notch 16 goals in half a season of all kinds: mixed in with the poacher's tap ins were the instant turn and volley that left the Forest defence helpless spectators, and the delicate, placed chip, from an impossibly acute angle, that stunned the home fans at Vale Park into rueful, appreciative applause. You can find them all on YouTube.

Then a move to Watford (Boothroyd secretly prized Williamson more highly) and a meandering of a career. A year of Boothroyd forcing him to run the channels and asking to do a job out wide punctured his confidence and form. He's now a more straightforward striker, if still unerringly accurate with his shots. If someone can rekindle the exuberance of that glorious half season, without stoking the fires of the arrogance that nearly derailed his career before it really began, truly they will have a player."

Reading David's words generated a flicker of hope at a re-kindled link-up with Lee Williamson of the kind witnessed by Millers fans. However, that would require a more consistent run of performances (and an injury free spell) from Williamson. We should also remember that Stephen Quinn also had a spell alongside the pair of them on loan from the Blades. Maybe there will be further benefit in reuniting the three of them?

What also strikes a chord is the reference to "fires of arrogance". When, this afternoon, I asked fellow writers and Brighton fans Danny Last and David Hartrick why Hoskins hadn't succeeded at the Amex they were surprised at the then potential for the move back North. Hoskins had scored one goal (on debut) in just nine appearances (both starting and from the bench) for the Seagulls and Danny described the lack of success as "as a very strange one, he's not really been given a chance. Gus gives a lot of weight to the way they train, so it could be attitude?"

Having said that, David pointed out that his limited opportunities were not necessarily down to form; "He has had some bad luck with injuries as well. I'd like to keep him to be honest, I still think he has a lot to prove and to give us."

He may well do. At present it is a pure loan deal, no mention of a permanent deal at the end of the season. Till then all we can hope is that he adds some firepower to the Blades' now five strong frontline. I only hope that the loan market provides an increased quality of supply from wide and defensive back up. That is unless Danny Wilson is taking the Vindaloo approach for the rest of the season;

"We're gonna score one more than you......"

Thanks to the two Davids and Danny for their input.

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Italian Job - Part 2 (The £5 job)

In Part 1 of The Italian Job, exiled-Blade Giacomo Squintani told of his work as a seventeen year old student, acting as a translator (and coach navigator!) for Sheffield United's Anglo Italian Cup ties back in 1994. As he now explains, that led on to other work behind the scenes at Bramall Lane thanks to a burgeoning friendship with the Blades' Promotions Manager - Mick Rooker.

Follow Giacomo on twitter (@gos75)


As well as running all the draws and raffles at the Lane and organising away days, one of Mick Rooker’s main jobs back then was looking after the Mascots (not “Captain Blade” – the proper mascots, the kiddies) on matchdays. As a “thank you” for the Italian Job, he invited me to join him one evening – that’s when I had that photo taken with Bassett, which Mick then got Dave to sign “To Giacomo: The Man Who Sent Me Off”. Quality!

Shame about the dress sense on my part, mind – or lack of. Failing to recognise the momentous nature of the occasion, I just threw on the first sweater I could find, some NatWest one that an uncle of mine had got through work. Had I known then that that photo would have adorned my mantelpieces for years, I would hardly have worn those colours!

Anyway, that evening gave Mick an idea - always a dangerous thing! He asked me to help him out every matchday. I’d walk there around noon, he’d drop me off home after seven, and he’d pay me a fiver. It was a no-brainer!
It was a no-brainer because it wasn’t about the money. Somehow I doubt SUFC ever paid NI contributions on that, and I’m not even sure it came out of petty cash. It probably just came out of Mick’s wallet, the “generous to a fault” bloke he is. As I said, I couldn’t care less about the money element, I had my AAA pass. I’d be in the home dressing room at 1:00pm every other Saturday, I’d see countless fathers accompany their kids and take a sneaky penalty in front of the Kop and I’d hear countless fathers comment that “it’s different when you’re stood here, with all those fans in front of you”. (and it truly is – my admiration for Matt Le Tissier soared as a result those Saturdays!) and, come five to three, looking after those kids meant walking out of the tunnel and on to the Bramall Lane pitch. Talk about living the dream!
No matter how many times I saw the likes of Alan Kelly, Dane Whitehouse, Mitch Ward et al in the dressing room just before a match, or how many times we’d bump into Tony Currie, I never allowed myself to take it all for granted and allow that initial magic to wear off. For three years (I was on a four-year degree course and spent the third in France), I was like a kid in a sweet shop, albeit one with a stern, professional look.

I never saw a first half, mind, as I’d be helping gather the numbers for the 50/50 Draw and other stuff in the Pools Office ahead of the half-time draws. After the game, once loose ends had been tidied up, Mick, his sidekick photographer (and top bloke) David Pye and I would end up in the sponsor’s lounge, by that point almost deserted but for a few buffet leftovers. They really did let all sorts in there… I sipped with blokes wearing long leather jackets (it says quite clearly “suit and tie”!), with blokes with tattoos…  Then again, when you’ve sold over 100 million albums worldwide or are a Hollywood star, you seem to get away with stuff like that. As for us, we’d just about get away with polishing off the curry, as a neat little stain on my tie still reminds me to this day. I’ve worn that tie at both of my English grandparents’ funerals, stain and all. I’m not buying another one!

Top lad, our Mick. When in an unrelated tweet to @deanobri1968 I included the tag #mickrookerismyguru, his reply ended with “Mick is a legend”. Too right.

I won’t bore you any further with specific incidents in my capacity as general dogsbody… hmmm, maybe just two, OK?


As a general dogsbody at a professional football club, you soon give up trying to figure out what you might be asked to do next. After a home defeat to Manchester United someone glanced at me and said:

“Can you go into the Man U dressing room and get Mark Hughes, he’s been voted Man of the Match”.
I think I mumbled some concerned word as to how exactly I was meant to do that, to which the reply was:

“Just tell Ferguson [as he was back then] that we need him”

And I did, I set foot into Man U’s dressing room and escorted Mark Hughes to the Sponsors’ Lounge. After all, we’re all human and maybe some egos are indeed inflated by how they appear (whether by their own choice or someone else’s) in the media. Last but not least – never underestimate the power that comes with a cheap paper badge and a logo!

“WHEN SATURDAY COMES” (09/01/1995)

It’s hard to be objective about the movie “When Saturday Comes”. As a Blade, it’s a great storyline, and one that you are quite happy to have forced upon the world. But an FA Cup semi-final staged at home, with… well, I can’t even bring myself to type it, but you-know-who (Ian – For non-Blades and those who have not shared the magic of WSC, Mel Sterland ,the ex-Wednesday captain) as United captain.....all a bit odd, really.

I was working on the evening of January 9th, 1995 when the Bramall Lane footage was filmed. Manchester United were the visitors (and, ultimately, conquerors) in an FA Cup 3rd Round tie and there was a real buzz in the ground. I was in the Pools Office and Mick Rooker shouted something across the room to me. I couldn’t hear a word (though there is a chance the sentence included any two from “Dego”, “chuff”, “dozey” and “git” – they usually did [1]), so I did what most people in an office would do and just smiled and nodded. I then proceeded to distribute three boxes’ worth of red and white balloons into the South Stand.

[1] and no, I never was offended. In true friendships, that’s par for the course.

Shortly after, I was a bit closer to Mick back in the office and could hear him loud and clear as he asked “Where’s t’third box?”. Having told him all had been thrown into the crowd, his second, equally clear sentence was;

“You wazzock! I told thee they’d sent us one too many and I were gonna send it back!”.

Now, on the night, that was the end of it. I’d hardly committed a war crime. However, several years later I put on the DVD (you know, one of those that you feel you have to buy but not necessarily play) and settled down to reminisce. What I’d not prepared myself for, mind, was shouting at the telly as the players came out....

“You can hardly see the players for all those balloons! I wonder who messed that up!”

A second later, I started to disappear into the sofa. Here’s a film viewed all over the world (Ian – largely Sheffield though!) and I’m shouting abuse at...well, myself. Apologies to anyone who has had their viewing experience marred by my over-efficiency that night. On the bright side, it might just mean that “You Know Who” was harder to see. (I can’t be sure – I’m not watching that bit again, not even in the name of research!)


Walter John Downes, or as the world knows the bloke, ‘Wally’. And not without reason.

To be fair, Wally can’t be too bad a coach. For starters, Dave Bassett appointed him, and that’s good enough in itself. And he’s carved out a decent career for himself, so he must be doing something right. Alas, I remember Wally mainly for our encounter at Bramall Lane in 1998.

United used to hold (and presumably still do) a “back office” vs “coaching” staff match at the end of the season and I was blessed enough to be roped in for the 1998 fixture, even though I only really turned up to work once every other week. Yes, I had been playing for SUFC’s staff 5-a-side team, but that hardly did me any favours. I’m a decent enough ‘keeper, but we already had one of those, so I was just left to expose my lack of pace and stamina and indifferent technique. Well, the comments that were sent my way during and after matches were along those lines, anyway!

So back in May 1997 I actually got to walk out onto the Bramall Lane turf, wearing a red and white kit rather than a suit. I still find it hard to believe myself, so just as well I have photographic evidence. And good old Wally was opposite me for most of the game. I have no qualms in stating that I hardly gave Wally a run for his money that evening; he was a former pro and I was an unfit University student. Yet, for some reason, he couldn’t resist ‘sledging’ me throughout the entire game. It’s a bit like a former County cricketer hitting an amateur bowler for consecutive boundaries and bragging about it.

Then, at one point, a loose ball flew our way. It was me vs Wally, height being my sole area of advantage. I leapt into the air, seemingly hanging in there forever (or so it felt) and headed the ball back from whence it came. It was a move that entailed no skill, no fitness, just the ability to jump and make contact with a relatively big white sphere. Wally looked devastated; for me, that still ranks as the highlight of all the time I’ve wasted playing football.

So, there you have it – a few tales from the days when I lived the dream. The £5 per day dream! Thank you for taking the time to read them.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Italian Job - Part 1

It is a pleasure to welcome fellow Blade Giacomo Squintani to the pages of A United View. You can follow him on twitter - @gos75. Giacomo recently contacted me asking if he could share one or two stories from his time working at Bramall Lane. In his introduction below he describes this as an indulgence, but I think most Blades will remember fondly the people and the matches involved.

Greetings Browsing Blades and thank you for wasting some of your precious time reading about “my time at The Lane” back in the mid to late Nineties  and special thanks to @unitedite for allowing me the self-indulgence! So, my time at United, not as a player you understand, but as an interpreter and then general matchday dogsbody. As you will find out, it was more ‘voluntary work’ than a job, and a very ‘odd’ one at that. But it left me with memories I will cherish forever.

Firstly, a little about me. I am a lifelong, Sheffield-born Blade. However, I am a tad unusual in that my Dad’s Italian and, in my formative years, we lived by the sea in Italy. This meant that I only really managed those early season games when holidaying in Sheffield. My first memories of Bramall Lane are of Budgie making cracking saves, Stan ensuring we held out, Colin Morris laying another header on a plate for Keith Edwards and Tony Philliskirk being our solitary sub. OK, so only one of those happened with unfailing regularity… All my blood relatives in Sheffield were red and white, so I never had a choice to make – not that I’d have got it wrong, of course!

I moved back to Sheffield after my A-Level equivalents in Italy. I went to Sheffield Hallam and lived with my Grandparents  just off Ecclesall Road. Upon graduating, I over-hastily moved to London to look for work, and currently live Darn Sarth, just outside Bristol. But not a match-day goes by without me wishing I was still walking out with the players……


This is how it all began… after years of suffering from the outside, I was given my golden ticket, complete with “access all areas” pass at Beautiful Downtown Bramall Lane…

This was almost immediately after returning to Sheffield in the summer of 1994. My grandmother had got me the job of interpreter for our opening fixture of the Anglo-Italian Cup, not on the basis of any formal qualification but based on all those times when my Grandfather and her had been in Italy on holiday and I’d been their personal interpreter from the age of four onwards.

(For those of you who don’t know, the Anglo-Italian Cup… well, basically it was a cup between not particularly good English and Italian clubs. When we were in it, it was for second tier teams. Over the years it’s had several incarnations, all of them quite cumbersome, and often generated the wrong kind of on pitch action. Just look at the Wikipedia entry)

I gingerly walked into the Club Secretary’s office for a brief conversation about what I’d be doing and how much I’d be paid. I was told that I would be meeting the Italian match officials (Italians officiated in England and vice versa), and then I would accompany the Udinese contingent. For that I’d be getting £200! £200, in 1994? From the Blades? I almost fell off my chair. It was a decent amount of money for a teenager, even more decent when the aforementioned teenager got to hang out with footballers as well. And it was coming from an ‘employer’ that even I had never considered magnanimous! Still, upon being told the Football League was paying, and not United, it all made sense – I was presented with my club tie and my mother and I went off to buy a suit.

The Udinese players were all easy-going. We met at the Moat House Hotel, where I informed them of the training arrangements that United had made for them. I don't think they were particularly happy with the offering and with the hotel next door to Rowlinson School, I was promptly dispatched to see if the Head minded us/them (still not sure how I should refer!) to train there instead. A deal was struck; one signed shirt for one training session. It was a strange experience for the Udinese players, unaccustomed as Italians are to schools having grassy fields, that it made a nice, convenient change for them. It’s all well and good having hot weather and no rain, but that’s when you get shale or even asphalt pitches to play on. (Mind, that’s where players have to develop ball control skills rather than hoof and hope – think about Brazil’s street footballers and futebol de salao…oh this discussion’s for another day!),

Matchday….on the coach to the Lane, I sat next to Jonathan Bachini, a promising midfielder who went on to play for Juventus and Italy, before two failed drugs tests for cocaine led to a lifetime ban by the Italian Football Federation. Looking out, he was amazed at how the houses looked the same, row after row. Again, if you’ve ever been to Italy, with its ‘relaxed’ attitude to planning, you’ll realise why this represented a cultural shock… At the ground I met the officials again, and at kick-off time made my way over to the John Street ruins. It might have been an international fixture, I may have been sat pitch side, yet behind me lay nothing more than a building site. Whenever I turned, I thought I’d been transported to a rec! (Ian - The John Street stand was demolished in 1994 and lay empty until work on the replacement started in Spring 1996, finally completing in October 1996. The empty space was 'affectionately' dubbed "Fred West's Garden" by many Blades)

We (United that is) went on to lose the match 2-1, with Glyn Hodges, Nathan Blake, Charlie Hartfield and Dave Bassett sent off. Whilst the Pole, Marek Kozminski, was sent off for Udinese. I think we were still acclimatising to the European scene… not that we needed be in any hurry, of course. But Harry Bassett and Hodges stand out for me…

The Italian referee had given an Italian interpretation of a challenge and awarded Udinese a free-kick, maybe even dishing out a yellow card in the process. Having grown up in Italy this did not surprise me, but a shocked Harry took exception. Nor was it the first such incident of course; Harry’s Army’s on-pitch chivalry pushed English refs to the limit, what chance an Italian one?

Harry expressed his dissatisfaction by connecting his index finger and his thumb and frantically bending his arm up and down. Unlike the rules of the game, this did not lend itself to multiple interpretations, so the referee invited Bassett to take the long walk to the dressing room. In spite of Dave’s best bewildered look, the referee called upon me to tell him he’d been sent off. Thankfully he didn’t give me any grief and was off, obviously aware of the reason. (Ian - I think Harry tried denying that he was making an offensive gesture, until video evidence suggested otherwise) 

A few months later, Harry would sign a photo of the two of us at the Lane: “For Giacomo – the man who sent me off!”. Years later, he’d write the introduction to my university dissertation. But more about that later… for now, you can see what the Hallamshire Hospital made of it here!

Moving on to Glyn Hodges. Let’s forget the match, its three goals and five red cards, I have very little recollection of it. It all passed by in a bit of a blur. What I do recall is taking the Udinese boys to the Players' Bar for post-match drinks………..

This is a very British institution. I don’t know if, these days, Drogba and Aguero talk - pint in hand - about the battle just fought: but, back in t’good old days, it was indeed thus. I was merely obeying orders by taking the visitors to meet the hosts, who did not lay on the warmest reception. Red-carded Hodges was most magnanimous in the bar, promptly lifting a crate of cans of beer, handing it to the Udinese lads and ‘suggesting’ they get on their merry way. I’m sure the fact that this spared the Blades having to engage in diplomatic relations with a bunch of divers and cheats and would allow them to carry on drinking and complaining amongst themselves had nothing to do with it!

I actually rang the late Tony Pritchett, United’s longstanding correspondent at The Star / Green’Un, with that story. Yes, this was back when you had to track down journalists by telephone, starting off with just a general number. None of that tweeting malarkey! He gave it a little paragraph in the next Green’Un, starting with “I understand that”. I rang him again after that; “What do you mean, you ‘understand’? Don’t you trust me?” There followed a brief but clear explanation of journalistic expressions!

Back at the hotel, I thought my shift was over and headed for bed. It’s not as if I could hang out with professional footballers and let my hair down, was it?

With hindsight, I could have. I was just scared to intrude on their privacy, which was just daft. With business successfully over, these were just lads having a bit of fun abroad. So I found out around 1:30am, when the hotel receptionist rang me up following complaints about noise. I threw on my shirt, suit and club tie (ever the consummate pro and upholder of Sheffield United Football Club’s reputation!) and paid them a visit.

There were a dozen of them sat in the corridor, cards and cans of Hodges’ beer at hand. They weren’t being overly raucous, but corridors aren’t the most sound-proof area. They asked me to join them, but the over-fretting part of me won and I headed back to bed. “Interpreter in late-night moderate drinking session after Anglo-Italian Cup”… imagine what a non-headline story like those would have done for the impeccable reputation of the English game!

How different the last seventeen years… er, hang on. Seven-teen? Blimey… I’m twice as old now as I was then! It’s enough to send one into a middle-aged crisis, but before I do...How different these years have been for United and Udinese. You don’t need reminding what United have experienced since 1994, let alone where the club finds itself now. As for Udinese; the club is established in the higher echelons of Serie A. They have featured in the last two Champions’ League competitions, visiting the Camp Nou last season and being knocked out by Arsenal in the final preliminary round this season.  

In July 2011, they sold their star striker, Alexis Sánchez (bought for under £2m) to a little-known club called FC Barcelona for a basic fee of over £25m. It’s the sort of fee for which even Ched could be worth selling…… that said, Udinese remain a selling club. They have a knack of picking up promising South American players cheaply, proving their worth in Europe and selling them on to major clubs. Best move on before I mention one Diego Armando Maradona!

I said my goodbyes to the Udinese crew the following morning, having had one heck of a time. Just before the coach pulled away, I did allow myself to compromise my professionalism and ask for a signed shirt. Unlike the Barcelona shirt I bought on eBay during my single days, the Bianconeri shirt still has pride of place in our hallway, rather than being hidden in a cupboard. Every time I pass it I reminisce a little about Bachini, Ripa, Calori, Ametrano, Helveg, Pizzi, Scarchilli et al… I can’t wait for the day my young boys ask me to tell them all about it!


On September 6th, United played Piacenza in their first away tie of the tournament. On the evening of September 4th, a coachload of Blades departed S2 for a trip down motorways, autoroutes and autostrade. None of that EasyJet stuff back then… sure, some Blades did fly out, but the hardcore ones chose the road, right?

And yes, I was one of them boarding that coach. This was courtesy of Mick Rooker, Pools Office Manager (“it’s called ‘Promotions’ now – we needed a new sign and they thought it sounded better”, as he told me a couple of years ago), who’d hired me as interpreter following my earlier exploits. I say ‘hired’, I can’t recall how much he paid me, if owt at all. But money’s inconsequential when you’re dealing with Rooks. Top bloke, one for whom I’d still run through a brick wall today.

Anyway, after an overnight kip on the coach, we reached Milan on the eve of the tie. Yes, because if the match is in Piacenza, you want to stay in Milan; little distance, big difference. Upon reaching Milan, I was sent to help the driver find our hotel. This may be where something had got lost in transl… well, in English (even that’s easy enough with Mick. I was an ‘interpreter’, sure, but not a ‘tour guide’. That map was no easier for me to make sense of than anyone else on that coach, something which became patently evident when we got stuck in the same one-way system for the third time. Look, it just wasn’t clear that the road we wanted was a flyover!

Anyway, Mick made his way to the front and duly turned on the mic, into which I uttered those immortal words; “We know where we are, we know where we’re going, we just don’t know how to get there”. I should have claimed copyright, as the royalties Mick alone would have owed me for repeating them every time he saw me thereafter would have made for a neat little nest egg! But I hardly had the time. He took the mike off me, put it down and proceeded to offer some constructive criticism, albeit not with words I could possibly repeat (hence a colleague running in to turn off the mike!).

But make it to our hotel we did, soon after ending up in a pizzeria where I was faced with the far easier task of placing sixty or so orders. After a few bevvies, on the morning of the game I convinced the staff at the San Siro to let us in and have a look around. Then it was off to Piacenza for a forgettable (well, I have) 2-2 draw (Ian - after the Udinese farce, Dave Bassett took to fielding reserve sides in the competition, which was a shame for those Blades fans who had already committed to travelling to Italy. Not that it stopped them having a good time), my highlight being catching a shot of John Gannon’s equaliser. Then for the small matter of another thousand miles (and then some) to get back to Sheffield….

In Part 2 tomorrow, Giacomo remebers other famous nights at Bramall Lane as he adopts aa new matchday role.

Monday, 9 January 2012

The Circus Moves Town: Why the Warnock Sacking was Correct

The Ringmaster - created by James Lister

The big decision that has appeared to split opinion in the football world in the last 24 hours is the decision of QPR to sack Neil Warnock. Such is the diversity of opinion, with as many commending the ballsy stand of Tony Fernandes and his directors as those recoiling in incredulity at the decision, that the level of support for Warnock must surpass any level he has achieved in his long career in football. 

A lot of the defence for Warnock centres around the timing of the decision, the fact that QPR (a newly promoted club) sit outside the relegation places and that he was hampered in his ability to act at the start of the season due to the takeover deal at Loftus Road. Yet I think each of these arguments can be put to bed alongside some other analysis of his career.

Taking QPR's form first of all. Yes, they sit outside the relegation places and yes they have recently beaten Chelsea, amongst others. However, it is your form against the teams around you that can save you in a relegation battle. The failure to take more than a point from any of the teams in the bottom ten is potentially what can cost the R's at the end of the season, particularly if replicated in return fixtures.

Based on their form over the first twenty games, QPR are heading for 32 points, which would mean relegation in four of the last five seasons. You can argue that a lower total may see a side relegated this year, but no-one can predict what might happen in the remainder of the season.

When Warnock managed Sheffield United in their last Premier League season, it was his tactics away from home that proved costly.Performances proving that he lacks ideas once teams have sussed out his team and tactics. The penultimate game away against an average Villa side being a game that most fans point to. Odd team selection, negative tactics and on the back foot throughout a 3-0 defeat. Those goals conceded were to prove costly. As much as fans point to the one goal differential that sent United down, to the Tevez scandal and to general bad luck, there were numerous times Warnock got it wrong - not that he would ever admit to it.

Interestingly, it is QPR's home form that is an issue this time around. With just one win at home in 10 games there are clearly issues to be addressed. At most other clubs there would be an element of the support becoming restless and vocal. Credit to R's fans because I have read little of it happening at Loftus Road. How long might that have lasted though? Especially if the away form isn't enough to compensate.

People question the time Warnock's been given, especially on the back of such a convincing Championship title winning season, and the fact that his pre-season transfer market activity was impinged by Fernandes' protracted takeover. Yet when Warnock is given significant amounts of money to spend he fails to use it wisely and it has limited impact.

It is a popular misconception, one that Warnock was happy to enhance, that Kevin McCabe failed to back Warnock in the transfer market. Maybe he didn't provide funds to the extent of other clubs, but most of the time Warnock was given significant money to spend it was wasted.

Take the promotion season of 2005-06, when he spent big in January to pep up the attack with Ade Akinbiyi and Geoff Horsfield arriving for £1.75m and £1.2m respectively. Akinbiyi made 18 appearancesand scored 3 goals (5 of those appearances the following season in the PremierLeague) before United lost £1m on his sale back to Burnley. Horsfield signed on loan with an agreed permanent transfer of £1.2m fixed in place. He made just three appearances and was eventually released from his contract.

In January 2006, the Blades sat 15th in the Premier League with 23 points from 21 games and 5 points clear of the relegation zone. Given significant funds to spend Warnock signed the following:

Luton Shelton (£2m - 2 starts and 2 sub appearances to the end of the season)

Matthew Kilgallon (£1.75m - 6 appearances to the end of the season)

Ahmed Fathy (£700k - 2 starts and 1 sub appearance to the end of the season)

Jon Stead (£750k - a relative success with 5 goals in 12 starts)

Added to that he had spent a club record fee of around £3m the previous Summer on
Claude Davis, who made just 18 starts all season.
It is worth noting that, amongst all the factors to be blamed for the Blades' subsequent relegation in the pages of his autobiography "Made in Sheffield", no mention is made of his transfer activity that January. In fact the only way you would know these players had arrived was from his complaints about the stonewall penalty claim that Luton Shelton had at Old Trafford towards the end of the season. A convenient re-write of history and demonstrating the man's inability to admit he does get it wrong.

This season has a similar feel. Joey Barton is more in the news for ill-discipline and his use of Twitter, rathert han his on-pitch performances and impact. Kieron Dyer lasted three minutes,Shaun Wright-Phillips is frustratingly inconsistent, Jay Bothoyd is out of favour and made just 11 starts, Danny Gabbidon is thought to lack pace, DJ Campbell has made just 2 appearances, although Armand Traoré and Anton Ferdinand have been steady enough. Meanwhile Bruno Perone and Brian Murphy have made two appearances between them, typical Warnock signings you might say.

The only thing Neil Warnock is focused on is himself and often to the detriment of the club he manages. He was given more time than any other manager would have had in the circumstances at Bramall Lane. After two cup semi-finals and a play-off final defeat in 2003, the next two seasons saw United miss out on the Play Offs. The final game of the 2004/05 season saw United lose at home to Millwall and finish the game with Chris Morgan up front, Phil Jagielka in central midfield and Andy Gray in central defence. You could legitimately question his thinking and ideas and many did at the end of the match during the team's "lap of honour". Yet the United board stood by him and Warnock repaid them in awful fashion.

In 2005/06 with the Blades having made a good start to the season, he entered contract negotiations to leave his "beloved Blades" and join Portsmouth, all whilst preparing for a Sheffield Derby. He eventually stayed and the following May saw him lead the Blades back to the top tier. The worst example though was his  bleating to the press about his contract situation on the morning of the final game of the Premier League season against Wigan Athletic. All the while conveniently forgetting the time and support he had been given (and taken)  in order to get the club to the Premier League. At the same time, losing focus from the important task in hand.

Neil always used to play on the fact that he was a Blade and how much he loved the club. This becomes something the fans cling to, some still do sadly. He says all the right things. Yet you soon realise he says the same things everywhere he goes. As Blades fans were once the best fans and Kevin McCabe the best chairman, it soon became Palace supporters and Simon Jordan. Then it was R's supporters.....who next?

The thing that ultimately grates with Neil is that when things are good he wants all the credit. When things start going sour, it is never his fault. As things start to deteriorate, he flails about like a fish out of water, with accusations and blame cast to all and sundry. The ensuing media attention masking both his and the team's failings, whilst embarrassing the fans in the know. The recent rant against Van Persie, appears to be the start of him entering that downward spiral of myths yet again. 

The BBC's Dan Walker tweeted this morning; "(It) says everything about Neil Warnock's reputation that at least 10 Champ sides will be eyeing him up this morning." And therein lies the issue with Neil Warnock. A good Championship manager he is, but he lacks the mental toughness and tactical capability to cut it at the top level. Something that Tony Fernandes may have acknowledged and something I can't help wishing we had acknowledged sooner at Sheffield United. If Kevin McCabe had cut the strings at Christmas, might the season have had a happier ending?

Many Blades fans would agree, he was the wrong man to manage us in the Premier League however, once he had remained in situ, he was the right man to get us back there post relegation. He was never given that chance and now too many bridges have been burned, both with elements of the support, but also owner Kevin McCabe. You see, it was okay for Warnock to seek out new opportunities, but not okay for his hand to be forced with a sacking.

I have respect for a lot of what Warnock achieved at United and throughout the rest of his career, however I think a fellow Blade summed it up quite well on twitter last night. In response to ridiculous talk from a minority of Unitedites, who were wanting a Warnock return at the expense of Danny Wilson, he finished off his point by saying that aside from anything else; Warnock is  "A circus we don't need in town". I have no doubt he will pitch up elsewhere though and will probably be a success. Once you've seen the show though, I don't think it ever can, or should, be repeated.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Five Things I Learned About The Blades - No 1

It is a pleasure to welcome John McGee to the pages of A United View. A Carlisle United fan exiled in London, John is the editor of Carlisle site Bring Me The Head of Keith Mincher and has written for numerous other sites including the great football league site The Two Unfortunates where this week he christened the relaunched site with an alternative football league view on the Elite Player Performance Plan. Blades fans might remember the aforementioned Mr Mincher from the Dave Bassett days at Bramall Lane.

On a return to the frozen wilds of Cumbria, John saw the Blades at Brunton Park on Monday and was happy to offer some observations from the other side of the ground. Let us know what you think. 

1. Ched Evans is League One's Most Complete Player

I initially wrote 'one of L1's best' but that is so blindingly obvious I re-thought it. What I enjoyed most about his Monday display was less the two goals and the pair of slaps which struck the woodwork but his movement.....

 As a sucker for a tactical innovation I couldn't help but feel the words 'false nine' skip across my mind during the game; comfortable in possession, Ched is able to dart from deep, attack full back on the outside and to bring in his team-mates. Where needed he also does the dirty work - laudable in a player of his stature.

Where Rhodes is just a master poacher and the superb Charlton trio of Kermorgant, Wright-Phillips and Jackson complimentary in their use of brute force, pace and guile respectively, Ched has the lot - quite the thing to watch.

2. Full Back Looks a Potential Weakness

Having seen the excellent Matt Lowton put in a superb performance for the Sky cameras against Notts County I was glad to see him absent at Brunton Park. If I understand rightly this may be something that the Blades have to get used to post-January and it's a worry.  Nick Montgomery deputised admirably against a very tricky opponent in Zoko but was clearly uncomfortable in the role.

On the left the rangy Lescinel Jean-Francois put in some superb covering headers but was most definitely guilty of over-playing and failing to sense trouble - he was comfortably bested on the day by ex-Blade JP McGovern. I can understand why Wilson has seen fit to bring in Marcus Williams as competition.

3. Ryan Flynn has all the attributes to succeed in League One

I left the game unimpressed with the better known duo of Quinn and McDonald; the latter was well attended by the feisty Tom Taiwo and the former spent as much time on the floor as his feet.

I was most impressed with Flynn and thus surprised he's played so little. Having seen a few games at this level over the last few years he has all you'd wish for in an L1 midfielder - a good set of lungs, willingness to make a tackle and ability to pick the right pass for a start. With a decent run in the team he looks to have the potential to be a real fan favourite as our own diminutive bustler Liam Noble has been this season.

4. Collins and Maguire are Over-reliant on Physicality

In his post-match comments Danny Wilson was every inch the consummate 'big club gaffer' offering similar whinges to the bosses of Leeds, Leicester and Southampton after Carlisle reverses - his comments on luck may have been well made; our full back Matt Robson survived after a wild challenge on Evans for one. It was his comments on physicality which smarted most, though.

Robson aside I remember few poor tackles all game other than those made by both sets of jostling centre halves. I'm no fan of whistle happy protection of forwards but some of the clambering on both sides was primal and went unpunished. Maguire looked raw and full of willing, Collins wily and full of tricks. They won't face many trickier one men front-lines than Lee Miller this season though and their inability to stop his influence - legally or illegally - was telling in all of Carlisle's best work. Once the free kicks did start to come Collins particularly lost discipline; whilst Maguire's lack of pace on the turn was exploited when Paddy Madden joined the fray as an off the shoulder runner for Miller.

5. 'Project James Beattie' is a slow burner

Little you can tell in five minutes but he looked every inch of a player who's not played this season and who was never naturally fit. Whilst remaining envious of his obvious quality one hopes Wilson has the patience for the gamble to reap its rewards - as a fan of the club who rehabilitated both Ian Harte and Michael Bridges careers I can confirm it should be worth the effort. 

Interesting and astute points from John and in one viewing he has made observations I have heard made by many Blades fans this season. John can be followed on twitter and he can be found here @epouvantail