Credit where credit’s due, Leeds United’s appointment of Neil Warnock as successor to Simon Grayson looks a masterstroke.
Having roundly criticised the club for a lack of ambition a couple of weeks ago, after the sale of captain Jonathan Howson to Norwich City, it’s only fair to acknowledge that by landing Warnock, Ken Bates and his board have made a real statement of intent.
The 63-year-old was not only the best man for the job, he was, in my view, the only man for the job – a man this paper championed in the hours after Grayson’s departure on February 1.
Warnock, with a CV boasting seven promotions and recent successes in guiding Sheffield United and QPR into English football’s top-flight, was always going to be in demand after his appalling treatment by Rangers owner Tony Fernandes at Loftus Road.
Leeds are to be congratulated, then, on beating off ailing Premier League outfit Wolves and League One promotion-hopefuls Huddersfield, amongst others, to get their man.
That, though, was only stage one of what ought to be a three-pronged plan for Mr Bates and Co to work through over the coming months.
The next is to back Warnock in the loan market initially and, come the summer, in the transfer market – to what extent will be decided by United’s results over the next 14 league games.
And the final part ought to be a determined attempt to build bridges with the club’s fanbase. It would be a major mistake to ignore warning signs which have seen average home attendances drop by almost 4,000 this season and a well-attended protest march endorse Leeds United Supporters Trust’s call for change in the way the club is run.
Warnock made the first move himself by calling on everyone to set aside their differences and get behind the team as he tries to rescue a play-off spot from a season that was drifting aimlessly into oblivion.
This mess is not of his making and the new boss wants and deserves the unreserved backing of the Whites faithful and, having experienced it from the opposition side of the fence, he knows exactly what United’s 12th man is worth – home or away.
Ironic, isn’t it, that a man who divides opinion in football circles – someone described him as a Marmite character (you either love him or hate him) to me the other day – could yet prove to be a major unifying force at Leeds.
“Everyone get behind the team,” Warnock urged after Saturday’s come-from-behind 3-2 victory over relegation-threatened Doncaster. “We’ve only got 14 games left for heaven’s sake. Let’s put that all to bed and everyone be like they were on Saturday. It’s a great club when it’s like that.”
It’s a 12th man that has felt increasingly sidelined by the Bates regime but can always be relied on to rally to the cause, no matter how lost it may seem, and Warnock will, I’m sure, receive unstinting support.
Having seen for himself last weekend exactly how hot and cold this current Leeds side blow in 90 minutes he knows just how much hard work lies ahead.
And while even making the play-offs is now a tall order – it’s probably going to need an unbeaten run to match the start made by Dennis Wise’s United in League One in 2007 – he will want to try to build some momentum first and foremost.
If he can solve a problem that has existed for almost two seasons now and tighten up a rearguard that simply cannot keep clean sheets he has an outside chance of turning a five-point deficit around.
That said, a solid end to the current npower Championship term, with or without participation in the end-of-season lottery, would at least lift spirits around the club and revive expectations ahead of the new season.
With a few decent summer signings, and Warnock has a history of winning promotion on a budget, that could snowball and see the feelgood factor – remember that – return to a club which has been edging closer and closer to what felt like outright civil war of late.
It might even encourage a few more supporters to part with their hard-earned cash come August or even, whisper it, buy season tickets before then.
His appointment is a major step in the right direction and certainly put smiles back on faces at Elland Road last week, but the issues which have prompted aggrieved supporters to vote with their feet remain and must be tackled if Leeds is ever to be truly United again.
And with LUST membership almost doubling, to 4,000, in a matter of weeks, the desire for change amongst the faithful is clearly as strong as ever.
The fans will do their bit from now until the end of the season, but they will also be watching and waiting to see whether Mr Bates does, indeed, back the new manager in both the short and long term.
Mind, given Warnock’s no-nonsense approach and penchant for plain speaking, it would be no surprise to see the former Blades boss leading any pre-season protest march if he felt the board had let him down!
No, the new manager knows what a force a truly united club, roared on by 30,000 Elland Road regulars, could be. It’s up to Mr Bates and the heirarchy, who must re-engage disillusioned fans and re-harness that fanatical unswerving support, to deliver it.