Leeds United manager Neil Warnock has given the clearest hint yet that he will lead the club into next season after a week of productive talks with chairman Ken Bates.
Warnock admitted to harbouring doubts about United’s future prospects in the Championship ahead of a number of scheduled meetings with Bates, but the 63-year-old said he “felt like taking the challenge on” following fresh discussions about his plans for the summer.
He and United’s owner spoke several times this week to review the club’s transfer budget and strategy for a close season when Warnock wants to see “major surgery” and “drastic action” taken on the squad at the Elland Road.
Warnock is nearing the end of the first stage of his contract with Leeds – a deal which runs until the summer of 2013 but includes a clause allowing him to leave the club when this season ends – and he warned again that he had no desire to coach a mid-table team in a year when he hopes to seal a record eighth promotion as a domestic manager.
Leeds hold 14th place in the Championship heading into tomorrow’s game against Peterborough United, one of four remaining matches, and his meetings between Bates came on the back of a 2-0 loss to Derby County – United’s 10th home defeat of the campaign.
Warnock, who insisted upon his arrival in February that the job at Elland Road would be his last in management, said: “Before I spoke to the chairman I possibly did have doubts about next season. I said when I first came here that I didn’t want to be around mid-table. Next season’s a big season for me.
“I don’t want to work many more years and if I felt we couldn’t get up there then it would be pointless picking up my money just to put a team out. I’ve never been like that.
“The chairman knows how desperate I am – and you can use that word because I am desperate – to bring the players in who can give me the success I want. The incentive for me is a record eight promotions.
“I was very pleased with his reaction and I’ve spoken to him numerous times this week. But how I feel at the moment is irrespective of anything. I just feel like taking the challenge on.
“If the supporters had been negative towards me or if I thought they didn’t believe in me then it would be easy to walk away at the end of this season. But I’m probably the best man for the job that needs to be done at Leeds. And it’ll be as tough as job as I’ve ever had.
“I do feel that I want to put a team together for next season and give it a go. I don’t want people to see me as having a team who are playing out games. I want to have a team who have something to play for.
“The challenge is there, I know what I need and I’ve told the chairman what I need. He’s trying as hard as he can to give me what I require to make us successful. I’ll know more in the next few weeks because things are happening behind the scenes all the time.”
Bates’ willingness to offer a new contract to club captain Robert Snodgrass was a positive start in Warnock’s eyes.
The offer would make the Scotland international the highest earner at Elland Road and would, if accepted, counter the threat of him leaving Leeds this summer. With 12 months left on his existing deal, it not yet certain whether Warnock will have Snodgrass available when the new season starts on August 18.
At an official club function on Tuesday night, Snodgrass was reported to have questioned United’s wisdom in selling former club captain Jonathan Howson to Norwich City in January without signing a suitable replacement.
Warnock, too, has looked for signs of Leeds’ ambition in his talks with Bates and chief executive Shaun Harvey, asking them to secure key players whose contracts are running down and make funds available to recruit his chosen transfer targets. Warnock remains hopeful of securing his first signing on May 1, three days after the season finishes.
“I was very pleased with the reaction of the chairman,” he said. “He listened to what I said and he’s got his own ideas.
“But money’s not everything with players. Some of them just want to see the ambition the club’s got. I think Rob (Snodgrass) made that clear in some of his comments this week.
“It’s also about getting the right players with the right attitude, and players who can play for Leeds. This isn’t a normal club. You need a certain type of mentality to play here.
“I’ve already told the chairman of three or four players who I’m looking at and I’m speaking to agents regularly. We need to get cracking as soon as the season ends and that’s why I want to get the first one in almost immediately. I hope that’s almost done. I won’t know for sure until the day it’s agreed but I’m optimistic.
“We’ve gone through a list of players who are at the club already, giving ticks and minus and the chairman realises where I am. He knows what I’m thinking.”
Warnock, who revealed that his intended signing was not a player who had played under him before, admitted after Leeds’ defeat to Derby that certain members of his team were being affected by the realisation that they were likely to be deemed surplus to requirements this summer.
“I don’t think players are daft,” he said. “If I’ve got to change things around then I’ll need people to go and make more wages available. It’s not rocket science.”
United’s manager promised changes to his line-up against Peterborough tomorrow, looking once again to make a decision on the handful of players who are still to be deemed either valuable or expendable. Michael Brown begins a three-match ban this weekend but Adam Clayton is available after completing a suspension of his own.
Leeds are one loss away from recording their worst ever home record in a single league season but Warnock said: “I’ve got to think longer-term now. The home form will change once we sort the team out.
“My back’s broad and we aren’t playing well but for all the negativity, I’ve been surprised by how much support I’ve been given. The fans have taken on board the fact that drastic action is needed. I still want to see three or four lads start a game, and Peterborough’s the one game of the four we’ve got left where the other club aren’t going for promotion.
“I’ve got to be careful against the other sides with the teams I put out but there’ll be two or three changes tomorrow. I can’t still be wondering about these players in two weeks’ time.”