Neil Warnock lands in Aberdeen: Going with his gut, 'let's have a bit of fun', meeting cooks and hunger for Scottish Cup

After years of flirting with Scottish football, 75-year-old Yorkshireman makes his bow at Ibrox on Tuesday as he looks to raise Dons’ spirits

We better get used to the Yorkshire tones of Neil Warnock. After flirting with Scottish football for many years, he is finally here, the colourful and quotable 75-year-old who has been lured out of retirement on more than one occasion. Aberdeen become his 17th club in a 44-year managerial career, from Gainsborough Trinity to Pittodrie, via all manner of English teams. Warnock has penned a contract until the end of the season, answering an SOS call from chairman Dave Cormack to hold the fort as the Dons’ hierarchy work out a longer-term strategy.

This is not about money for Warnock. He could be earning more in England, given his penchant for elevating flailing teams to safety. His last job at Huddersfield was a Houdini act, guiding the Terriers away from the drop in the Championship last season from a seemingly helpless position. Aberdeen are not facing the same perils just yet but they need a lift, sitting eighth in the Premiership and 20 points behind third-placed Hearts. He wants to put smiles back on the Dons fans’ faces and has promised to have fun. Strap yourselves in.

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“I've always wanted to manage up here,” said Warnock in his broadcast press conference. “I've got a place in Dunoon, my club is Greenock Morton, I've got bricks with the family's name on it. When you get my age, you think twice, I've had that many retirements. When I spoke to Dave Cormack and Alan [Burrows, chief executive], it just seemed the right thing to do. It gives them a little bit of time to look for the right one to take the club forward as manager and as I said to them, let's have a bit of fun between now and the end of the season. I like to put a smile on people's faces.

New Aberdeen manager Neil Warnock oversees his first training session at Cormack Park.New Aberdeen manager Neil Warnock oversees his first training session at Cormack Park.
New Aberdeen manager Neil Warnock oversees his first training session at Cormack Park.

This is not the first time Warnock and Aberdeen have met – although more accurately, the Dons chose not to have rendez-vous. Warnock went for the Pittodrie top job 20 years ago and was miffed not to even get a response. “I applied for the job once, many years ago, and I never even got a reply, which I felt let down by,” he explained. “I used that a little bit to motivate myself – ‘I'll show them what I'm missing’ – and I managed to get promotion that year.”

The snub did not dissuade him. Hearts also turned him down – “they went for a Latvian instead” – but the desire to work in Scotland has continued to burn bright. “It's a big club and the kind of fans that they've got, I can relate to that,” explained Warnock. “If I say hostile, I don't mean that in a nasty way, it's lovely to get fans behind the team and supporting the team. A one-club city is a really good challenge.

“I know it's a long way [from home]. Sharon, my wife, said: ‘Aberdeen!’ It's not for the money, I've had some right good offers in the past six weeks. It's just I'd like to have a go in this league with this team. Yes, I can't change the squad. It is probably a little bit light in certain areas but I'm not going to worry about that, I'll just do what I can do and try to enjoy it. I got a good feeling about here. It's not the salary now, at my age it's something that ticks the boxes. I always go with my gut. I didn't ring anybody. I wanted to keep it to myself. I didn't want to come unless Dave really wanted me. The owner is important. When I get on with an owner, I usually do well.”

Warnock spent Monday meeting the players and staff at Cormack Park after jetting into the city on Sunday night. He has already fostered important relationships. “I just met the cooks,” he revealed. “They are important to me as I get quite hungry.” Not just for food, though. Warnock wants to taste success. “The only pressure on me is that I want to win. I can't see me getting the sack in four months so I've got to try and enjoy it. Looking at the fans' comments, there are 50 per cent who want me and 50 per cent who don’t.”

Warnock's first match will be against Rangers at Ibrox on Tuesday night.Warnock's first match will be against Rangers at Ibrox on Tuesday night.
Warnock's first match will be against Rangers at Ibrox on Tuesday night.

An opening win over Rangers at Ibrox on Tuesday would certainly help convert doubters, but perhaps overcoming League Two outfit Bonnyrigg Rose on his Pittodrie bow on Saturday is more achievable. That would take the team into the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup. “I'd like to win a cup, I've never won one before,” said Warnock. “Got to the semi-finals but got done by referees a few times but we won't go into that.” What would be success for him? “Finishing as high as we can and winning the cup,” was the response.

One person who Warnock is unlikely to hear from, though, is an Aberdeen hero in Sir Alex Ferguson. The two fell out in 2007 when Warnock, manager of relegation-threatened Sheffield United, raged at the then-Manchester United boss fielding a weakened team on the final day of the season against West Ham. The Hammers won 1-0 thanks to Carlos Tevez’s winner, the Blades went down and Warnock fumed at it all. “We're not really on Christmas card lists,” revealed Warnock. “I don't think we should go into that because he is a legend up here. Since the Tevez situation, I don't think I've spoken to Alex since.”

What matters more is the here and now. Warnock has Burrows in his corner – “Alan wanted me to take over at Motherwell years ago” – and he will hope to have the squad onside. “If the players give me everything, I'll man their corner,” the Englishman added. It’s unlikely they’ll have a choice.