Leeds United travel to face Queens Park Rangers on Saturday, and assuming the London club do not appoint a permanent manager between now and then, there will be two familiar faces in the dugout.
The managerial team of Neil Warnock and Kevin Blackwell have been put in charge after Chris Ramsay’s dismissal. Both Warnock and Blackwell have managed Leeds as well, neither of them ultimately achieving their aim of promotion.
The first involvement of Kevin Blackwell at Leeds United actually led to a falling out between him and his mentor Neil Warnock. The duo had worked together at Scarborough, Notts County, Torquay, Huddersfield Town and Plymouth Argyle when Blackwell was a player, and Bury and Sheffield United with Blackwell part of Warnock’s coaching set-up.
However, Warnock took offence at the fact that Blackwell had moved to become Peter Reid’s assistant manager at Elland Road in 2003 without consulting him, as covered in the documentary Warnock. Blackwell admitted: “He wasn’t happy, and he certainly let me know that. I think that showed how he valued me. Sometimes Neil would be advised to let people know that they are valued”.
Blackwell stayed on after Reid left Leeds, becoming Eddie Gray’s assistant, and then took over the top job in the summer after the Whites were relegated to the Championship. The former goalkeeper had something of a crisis on his hands. His squad was exceptionally weak, Blackwell frequently referring to just him “and Gary Kelly” throughout pre-season. He was forced to bring in any available players, often the cast-offs of other sides, and the extent to which he had to try out anyone and everyone meant he broke the club’s record number of signings in a season in 2004/05.
That first campaign in the Championship began with Frazer Richardson scoring the first goal in the rebranded league, but Leeds struggled. They had been tipped for relegation and even bankruptcy before the club was taken over by Ken Bates and the purse strings were slightly loosened. It meant Blackwell could guide his side up the table, although they eventually dropped back and finished 14th.
The next season turned out to be the most successful Leeds have had since relegation to the second tier. Blackwell was backed in the summer and immediately set about on a promotion charge. Leeds spent the entire season towards the top of the table, but between February and the end of the campaign United fell off rapidly and ended up in the play-offs.
Leeds did reach the final, but were humbled at the Millennium Stadium by Watford, losing 3-0.
The next summer was a disaster for recruitment, epitomised by the signing of David Livermore from Millwall and his sale to Hull City only ten days later. By the time September 20, 2006 came about, Leeds were 23rd in the table after taking seven points from eight games. Blackwell was sacked, and Leeds dropped out of the Championship at the end of the campaign.
Unlike Blackwell, Warnock was brought into the club with the presumption that he would get Leeds out of the Championship. He replaced Simon Grayson on February 18, 2012 with 18 games to go and Leeds only four points away from the play-off places. Warnock’s remit was to try and sneak into the top six, but by the end of the campaign the Whites had finished in 14th, 14 points away from Cardiff City in sixth. That run included a 7-3 defeat at home against Nottingham Forest, the biggest home loss Leeds have suffered in their history.
There was relentless optimism during the following summer. Warnock brought in the likes of Paddy Kenny, Luke Varney, Paul Green, El-Hadji Diouf, Lee Peltier and Rodolph Austin as he eyed a record equalling promotion to the Premier League. Leeds started well, beating the recently relegated Wolves 1-0 on the first day of the season.
Warnock faced similar instability to Blackwell, a takeover by GFH Capital bubbling away under the surface throughout the first months of the season. Form went down as the takeover dragged on, but picked up again when it was confirmed. Warnock’s squad was improved further by the addition of Jerome Thomas.
The team were, however, hugely reliant on the goalscoring form of Luciano Becchio. Becchio and Warnock fell out as the January transfer window approached, and he was swapped with Norwich City for Steve Morison. Morison would go on to be a “legend” at Elland Road in Warnock’s view, but it took little time for the tide to turn against the striker. Warnock himself was increasingly facing criticism for his perceived long-ball style, and after a 2-1 defeat at home against Derby County on April 1, 2013, opposition was vocal and clear.
That evening, he announced his own departure on Yorkshire Radio with the club five points off the relegation zone. He had failed with the task he had come in to do, in his view, and therefore decided to fall on his sword.