Neil Warnock knows that being written-off, released or declared surplus to requirements does not signal the end of a footballer’s career.
So when Chris Wilder revealed he would be offering a handpicked selection of free agents the opportunity to earn contracts with Sheffield United, it drew a nod of approval from his predecessor at Bramall Lane.
Warnock, who reached two major cup semi-finals and the Premier League during eight successful years in South Yorkshire, turned rehabilitating players into an art-form. It became known as his ‘Stray Dogs Policy’ but, as Warnock told The Star last night, produced a number of pedigrees.
“Plenty of good players end up without a club or unwanted,” he said. “So it’s always right to back you judgement and take a look. You are probably never going to change someone’s character and, the chances are, there’s going to be a reason why they are available in the first place. But that doesn’t mean they can’t bring something to the table or that they aren’t any good.”
Wilder, whose team visits League One leaders Scunthorpe this afternoon, yesterday signed Reece Brown until january after the former Bury defender impressed during training. Fellow trialist Cameron Stewart could join the 24-year-old in United’s squad having parted company with Ipswich Town two months ago.
Although neither comes with any baggage, the same could not be said of Michael Brown, arguably Warnock’s best piece of business in the transfer market.
“I remember everyone at Manchester City, where he was at the time, warning me off him,” Warnock said. “They kept saying ‘he’s trouble’ but, when he came here, he never gave us any bother at all. What a player Michael was and what a great buy he turned out to be. It just goes to show that, even though it might not work out for someone at one particular club, that doesn’t have to be the case somewhere else.”
“Wayne Allison was another one,” Warnock continued. “Albeit for different reasons. I think a lot of people thought he was over-the-hill but, again, what a job he did for us. He never let us down.”
Wilder’s decision to prioritise substance over style in terms of recruitment is already bearing fruit with United travelling to Glanford Park searching for their fifth win in as many league games.
“You won’t get every single one right,” Warnock, who guided Rotherham to Championship safety last term, said. “But that’s fair enough. At the end of the day, it’s all about management. That’s why I love the Football League so much rather than the Premier League now. Up there, you can buy ready made players and success but, lower down, it’s more about the ability of the guy in charge and building a spirit.
“I always remember speaking to another manager the year we (United) got promoted and he said ‘Neil, do you know what? If you took a poll among everyone else in the league about who they’d rather avoid on a matchday it would be your lot.’ What better compliment could you get than that?”