Neil Warnock’s vast dugout experience and big character combined could make him the perfect short-term managerial appointment for Aberdeen.
Warnock, 75, is expected to be named interim Dons boss until the end of the season in the wake of Barry Robson’s sacking, and could be in post for Tuesday’s Premiership clash with Rangers at Ibrox.
Having axed a fourth boss in three years, Reds chiefs – led by chairman Dave Cormack – have decided to bide their time on a long-term replacement for Robson.
As reported over the weekend, a large part of the board’s reasoning for hanging fire is an ongoing full review of Aberdeen’s football operations from the academy to the first team.
The learnings from this work will likely influence the profile of Aberdeen’s next permanent manager – hence the need to wait.
But Aberdeen’s hierarchy are – rightly – unwilling to write off the remaining part of what has been a frustrating season, despite Robson leaving a Dons squad he helped rebuild to the tune of around £2 million in the summer eighth in the Premiership.
They still believe fourth place, which, although it isn’t the guaranteed European group stage action of third, would get Aberdeen into the Euro qualifiers, is achievable.
And the Scottish Cup is still there to be won, with the Reds hosting League Two Bonnyrigg Rose in the fifth round next weekend.
To achieve those aims, the board feel experience is needed in the interim. But they also need an experienced boss who is content in the knowledge their tenure will last no longer than the final match of the campaign – whether this comes at Hampden or not.
Warnock’s experience second only to Sir Alex, with track record of getting sides to click quickly in latter part of season
At 75, Warnock is the most experienced active manager out there, and second to only Aberdeen’s greatest boss, Sir Alex Ferguson, in terms of professional games managed.
Among Warnock’s 1,600-plus matches in the dugout – through the levels in England, from the Northern Premier League to the Premier League – he has secured a record eight promotions, with four of those seeing him take sides into the promised land of the English top-flight.
One of those came when he led Queens Park Rangers to the Championship title in 2011.
In recent years, he has earned a reputation as a short-term specialist.
In 2016, he went in at League One-bound Rotherham United in February, overseeing a run of just two defeats in his first 13 matches to save them.
It was a similar story in his second spell at Huddersfield Town last term, where he stayed on into the start of this season before ultimately departing in September.
Warnock is on-record in a few interviews in recent months as saying, at this late stage in his career, his preference is February to summer roles – like what Aberdeen have to offer.
In these interviews, he has talked about how the temporary nature of such jobs means he tends to go into clubs and set his team up according to pragmatism, rather than philosophy. Getting the best out of the players at his disposal, while generally preferring his sides to only play with the ball in the opposition half, feeding off second balls, and not passing for the sake of it in their own half.
Throughout his career, Warnock has demonstrated a clear ability to pull a squad of talented players who are not clicking consistently on the field – which Aberdeen have – together quickly and get them claiming results consistently.
I’m sure Warnock would have been thrilled watching the second half of Saturday’s eventual 1-1 draw with Celtic, as Aberdeen, with caretaker boss Peter Leven on the touchline, threw off the uncertainty and clear lack of confidence which had hampered them in the first half (and the last couple of months) and produced an aggressive, attacking second period which meant they could count themselves unfortunate not to come away with all three points.
Warnock’s perceived “old-fashioned” tactical ideas may be a concern to some Dons fans, but if he can find a system which does not yield cheap opposition goals and gets the service to Reds talisman Bojan Miovski in and around the box, any misgivings will quickly dissipate as the Reds power up the Premiership table to fourth and make a Scottish Cup tilt.
Nothing pulls the Aberdeen universe together like a character – and Warnock is force of nature
The other reason Warnock looks to be a good fit for Aberdeen right now only applies if he gets the performances and results.
Some supporters’ issue with the managerial veteran being appointed at the Dons is their view his personality could turn the rest of the season into a “circus”.
I take the opposite view.
It has been a toxic couple of months around the Pittodrie club as the season has unravelled – with fans at odds with not only Robson, but taking aim at chairman Dave Cormack, chief executive Alan Burrows, director of football Steven Gunn and anybody else in a position of seniority at the club.
But nothing pulls the Red Army together like a character (see: Duk last season).
Type “Neil Warnock best quotes” or “funniest moments” into YouTube if you have never had the pleasure and do not mind sweary words.
The clips give you a glimpse into it, but people who have worked under Warnock say his larger-than-life personality not only had them bouncing into training, but his “ruthless”, demanding streak had them fired-up and determined to go to war for him in every game.
Warnock is a force of nature. His interviews over the next few months are not only guaranteed to produce great copy for people in our profession, his personality will likely also make him the figure the Aberdeen universe – not just players, but everyone, from supporters to the board – can rally behind.
I think there’s a good chance we’re all going to enjoy ourselves very much between now and the end of the season.
But we’re going to enjoy it by being fucking disciplined.