Is there a bigger wind-up merchant in football than Neil Warnock?
Sir Alex Ferguson is obviously a contender, as is Jose Mourinho, but whereas those two managers usually have a point to their comments – to unsettle the opposition, to put pressure on referees – Warnock looks as though his sole aim is just to annoy people for the sake of it and he has the practice of trolling well and truly mastered.
No matter what you think of Fergie and Jose, their methods work: you just have to look at the trophy haul to see that. Yet Warnock has spent his career kicking around the lower divisions upsetting people for no apparent reason.
Maybe the Leeds United boss doesn’t even try. Maybe it’s just that he is so good at getting under people’s skin it is like second nature to him, but either way, the Yorkshireman has made a career of falling out with other managers with his ridiculous comments and behaviour, and Chelsea’s visit to Elland Road to face Warnock’s Whites recalls one of his more infamous spats.
Because when Rafael Benitez takes his Blues side to Leeds for a Capital One Cup quarter-final, Warnock will be reminded about the time he got Sheffield United relegated in 2007, one of his worst managerial failings.
Except it wasn’t Warnock’s fault, was it? Oh no, of course it wasn’t. So whose fault was it? Well, Warnock wasn’t too happy with West Ham for playing Carlos Tevez illegally, he made that pretty clear, but they weren’t the real villains of the piece.
Yes, that’s right folks, Sheffield United were relegated because of Rafa Benitez. It was obviously all his fault. As Liverpool manager, you see, Benitez fielded a ‘weakened team’ in a game against relegation strugglers Fulham at Craven Cottage with a Champions League final looming. Fulham won 1-0 and eventually stayed up, while Sheffield United were relegated on the last day of the season.
So you see, it was that match that cost the Blades their Premier League status. Let’s ignore the fact that the Liverpool team that day included Pepe Reina, Sami Hyypia, Xabi Alonso, Robbie Fowler and Craig Bellamy, and that Fulham should have been reduced to ten men after Michael Brown headbutted Alonso.
And we’ll ignore the fact that on the opening day of the season, Benitez fielded a similarly ‘weakened team’ that featured Fowler, Bellamy, Jan Kromkamp and Momo Sissoko because of a vital Champions League qualifier three days later.
Their opponents? You guessed it: Sheffield United. But just like Warnock, we’ll ignore that because the 1-1 draw worked in his favour on that occasion.
We’ll also ignore the fact that, with an FA Cup final against Chelsea to follow, Manchester United fielded a ‘weakened team’ minus Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo in their last-day defeat to West Ham that secured the Hammers’ top-flight status.
And we will definitely ignore the fact that in late February of that season, Sheffield United were ten points clear of the drop zone but finished in the bottom three because they took just eight points from their last 11 games.
In the same way, we definitely won’t bring up the fact that all Warnock had to do to avoid relegation that season was not lose their final game against Wigan Athletic. At home. Of course, that proved beyond him, but it was all Benitez’s fault, okay?
At least Warnock has been the bigger man in the lead up to the game and not brought any of this up, or said anything churlish like he doesn’t know if he will shake Benitez’s hand. Oh, he has? How predictable.
Warnock just can’t help himself, but if his re-writing of history is laughable, it is diverting attention from his team, who go into this quarter-final with more than a fighting chance of an upset. I wouldn’t be rushing into the 4/5 on Chelsea and the 13/4 on Leeds is not the worst price I’ve ever seen, and neither is the draw at 13/5.
But instead, I’ll be on the 11/5 that Leeds open the scoring in the first half, which would return £64 for new bwin customers successfully backing it with their free £20 bet after registering.
After all, Chelsea are only just back from a huge journey home from Japan, where their bid to become world champions met a disappointing end in the 1-0 defeat to Corinthians.
It is a long, arduous round trip and I think in-form Leeds can catch the Blues cold by striking first. And that description is apt, because Leeds are definitely playing well at the moment: the Whites have won four of their last five to move within four points of the Championship play-offs and for once, Warnock is taking a cup competition seriously.
For years, Warnock has treated the cups with the same disdain he holds Benitez in, but he has played strong teams in the League Cup this term, with Leeds winning four straight home games in the tournament, scoring 12 goals, conceding just one and knocking out Premier League opposition in the form of Everton and Southampton.
So Leeds, backed by a full house, will be up for this one, especially with the draw opening up, and at 11/5 they look a good bet to make an early move against a jet-lagged (and probably much-changed) Chelsea and open the scoring in the first half.