Twenty-three years after leading Notts County into the top-flight, Neil Warnock is backing Shaun Derry to inspire another upturn in fortunes at Meadow Lane. writes James Shield.
Okay, so the changing dynamics of modern football means they are unlikely to be rubbing shoulders with England’s biggest names anytime soon.
But Warnock, who knows Derry better than anyone else in the business, last night insisted he possesses both the diligence and drive to steer County out of League One’s relegation zone before moulding them into promotion contenders once again.
“I always knew Shaun would take this route,” Warnock told The Star. “He can see things happen out on the pitch and spot patterns developing during a match which is an absolute prerequisite of the job.
“Coupled with that, he’s got the presence of mind to react to them too. It’s no use seeing what’s going on out there on the pitch if you don’t know how to respond and Shaun is a very intelligent character.
“I’ve got no doubts whatsoever that he’ll make a really good fist of things there and enjoy a successful career.”
Nine weeks after accepting his first managerial posting, tomorrow’s meeting with Sheffield United is arguably the most significant and symbolic fixture of Derry’s embryonic reign.
The visitors, five places above County in the table, have been beaten only three since Nigel Clough’s appointment nearly four months ago and, emboldened by last weekend’s FA Cup success at Aston Villa, know another win would represent a major step forward in their own battle to avoid the drop.
Nigel Clough, Derry’s counterpart across the technical area, admitted on Wednesday that the 36-year-old’s lack of pedigree makes it difficult to second guess how he will approach the contest.
Warnock, who managed Derry at United, Crystal Palace and Queens Park Rangers, offered no clues himself but did predict this meeting between two of his former clubs would be a tight, methodical affair.
“Shaun, like Nigel, is a very pragmatic person,” he said. “That means that, whatever else, County will be well organised. Everyone out there will have been well-briefed on their role.
“When Shaun was a player he was always fascinated by the small details. He was always asking questions about why we were doing something and then you’d see him going away to make notes.
“Shaun was my captain out on the pitch. He would be my voice out there and he demands everyone around him gives 100 per cent at all times.
“Really, he was a manager’s dream because you could leave him to look after the dressing room too. You always knew that, with Shaun in there everything would run smoothly and that he wouldn’t take kindly to people who weren’t professional.
“He’s a manager now but he’ll still work to the same principles.”
“I actually sold Shaun when I was with United,” Warnock, who spent seven-and-a-half seasons at Bramall Lane before departing in 2007, added. “I had a lot of options in midfield, there were people interested in him and we needed the money for other positions so I thought ‘Why not?’
“I think Shaun’s forgiven me for that now though because he was brilliant for me when we worked together later on.”
Warnock, now an expert analyst for satellite television and TalkSport, has also been impressed by Clough’s efforts after leading United from 21st to 18th.
“Nigel has done exactly the right things,” he added. “He’s built from the back, brought solidity to the defence and, first and foremost, ensured his team is going to be difficult to beat.
“Then, slowly but surely, you’ve seen the players further upfield start to express themselves more.
“We were in real trouble when Nigel took over and, although there’s a lot of work to do yet, it’s moving in the right direction which is great to see.”
Warnock use of the word ‘we’ is a reminder that like Derry, who made 83 appearances for United, he has enjoyed the honour of representing the club he supported as a boy.
“I’m a United fan so I know how Shaun, who grew up following County, will feel. The time it really used to dawn on me was when I drove into the car park beforehand and after we’d had a good result. You remember how happy your family back then would have been.
“There’s no doubt that the successes become really heightened. I think everyone can understand that.
“But, when it comes to work, you’ve got to divorce yourself from all of that and not be distracted from the job.”