Whatever his acheivements in football, Sheffield United boss Neil Warnock is best known to most fans for something controversial. For Liverpool fans that was his sour comments after Liverpool knocked Sheffield United out of 2003’s League Cup.
It was in the semi-final, Liverpool had lost the first leg 2-1. This was in the Gerard Houllier days and the aggregate equaliser came from El Hadji Diouf. Michael Owen got the winner in extra time, in the wake of one of those mini-scandals the Sunday papers like (this time it was all about his alleged gambling habit.) After seeing his team lose, Warnock made what turned out to be a completely unfounded allegation about Liverpool’s Stephane Henchoz: “I was disappointed at the end as Henchoz spat at me.”
Gerard Houllier rightly denied it: “Neil does a good job in his club but I think at times he speaks a bit too loud. He has said a lot of things that were wrong about us. I saw the incident at the end – there was no spitting in his direction. All players spit on the floor but Stephane did not spit at him.”
Houllier’s now gone from Anfield of course and Liverpool are currently enjoying the Rafael Benitez era. Warnock stayed at Sheffield though and managed to finally get his team promoted to the top flight for the new season. The first team they face is Liverpool – at Bramhall Lane. Rafael Benitez will no doubt be briefed about Warnock’s sense of “humour” before the two sides meet, and also about the type of “football” that Warnock likes to play. Warnock’s mouth was well and truly ready to comment on the game to come: “It’s a tough one for Liverpool.”
The problem is that for the first game of the season it may turn out to be tough for the Reds. Last season Chelsea played their opening game against Chelsea and were very lucky (for a change) to come away with all three points. Liverpool need to be prepared for a match that could end in tears for the Anfield side. No time for complacency.
Warnock expects a sell-out, the first of many: “It’s an exciting one. Obviously, everyone has been waiting for this moment. The ticket sales are already a record and I’m sure they will carry on, when you look at the quality of The Premiership. It’s fantastic. It’s what we went for last season. You want a big club at home and, in the next weeks, everyone will be looking forward to the Liverpool game.”
Warnock isn’t talking about mere survival, he wants to be playing in Europe. He was probably joking, but you can never be sure with Warnock: “It would be nice to get into Europe. We will have to do the best we can to get there.”
At least Warnock won’t be on the touchline for that first game, which will hopefully minimise his chances of causing trouble. He’s banned for the Blade’s first two games.