Wanted man Neil Warnock has revealed how his heart is torn as he decides whether to be Rotherham United’s manager again next season.
The veteran boss has led the Millers’ incredible against-all-odds march to Championship survival and loves everything about the club, its fans and the fighting spirit that allows it to punch above its weight.
But the miracle-worker who has seven promotions on his CV and is planning a final fling in the second tier next season knows he may have to leave in pursuit of a record-breaking eighth.
“I don’t just like the club, I like the chairman (Tony Stewart), and I think I work better when I get on with the chairman,” Warnock said. “He knows there are other clubs around at the moment, which is normal after the job myself and the staff have done.
“But it’s not always been the lure of the big clubs that has atttacted me. If you turn down Chelsea to stay at Notts County, as I did, you’re not really a full shilling at times.”
Warnock, who signed a short-term contract when he answered Stewart’s SOS call with Rotherham in the bottom three in February, has been hugely moved by how followers have rallied round his wife, Sharon, who is ill, by sending her flowers, messages of support and raising money for her to donate to a charity of her choice.
Yet he knows one more promotion would move him clear of Dave Bassett and Graham Taylor and make him the most successful lower-league manager the English game has ever seen.
“My heart plays a big part in my decisions, and the fans and the chairman have been really supportive in Sharon’s difficulties as well this season,” he said.
“You’ve got to put everything in perspective. But if I’m having only one more season, ideally I’d like to be the only manager that gets eight promotions. And I’ve told the chairman it would be very difficult at Rotherham! He believes in miracles!”
The Millers, bidding to stretch their unbeaten run to 12 matches, entertain Blackburn Rovers at a packed AESSEAL New York Stadium tomorrow, although Warnock’s has been casting his eye further ahead than that clash and the end-of-season finale at Hull City on May 7.
“I’ve been looking after the club as if I’m here for five years, let alone whether I stay for next,” he said. “I’ve been recommending a retained list which will come out after the last game. I’ve spoken to some agents about some players already about extending their contracts. Everything’s bubbling at the moment and it’s a great place to be.”
The 67-year-old can select his side from a position of strength against Rovers as left-back Joe Mattock (kick to the leg), striker Danny Ward (tight calf) and winger Jerome Thomas (illness) are all fit again.
And he revealed what some of his plans will be if he does decide the magnet of the Millers’ next Championship adventure, a loyal chairman and supporters who revere him is stronger than the pull of promotion.
“Players are out of contract. You’ll be renewing some of those,” he said. “Then you’ll be looking to bring in four or five quality players, better players, of the type you probably haven’t already got around the place.
“You’ve got to be able to score goals and you’ve got to be able to defend, but you’ve got to find that balance without upsetting the squad.
“You don’t want any bad apples coming into the squad. And we haven’t got any. I think you can tell on the field of play how much togetherness we’ve got and how much, against adversity, we can hang in there and come out on top.”
Warnock knows he has some serious thinking to do but, with safety happily in the bag and the thrill of staying up still permeating the club and the town, he found time to joke about tomorrow’s final home game of his unforgettable survival campaign.
“I think the chairman is planning to get one of those planes with a banner on the back saying ‘Warnock is staying’!” he grinned. “It’s coming in at half-time on Saturday. Don’t move seats!”