When Cardiff sacked Warnock, Cardiff fans ran amok with the manager they wanted to replace him. Chris Hughton seems to be out in front, with others looking at Gareth Ainsworth, or Tony Pulis as potential replacements. But quickly, two names appeared through the fog; Lee Bowyer and Neil Harris. And the latter is taking the reins.
Rumbles of discontent started to appear as Cardiff fans questioned the ambition of appointing someone who, from the outside, failed at Millwall. Possession stats, win percentages, goals scored, were all quickly trotted out as fans looked for the negatives in this appointment. Even the fact that he’s a young manager has been questioned.
I think it’s clear that someone like Harris wasn’t many Cardiff fans first choice. He spent three games on loan with us as a player and while he started well at Millwall, last season ended with them fighting relegation and this year hasn’t started much better. Indeed, Harris was replaced just before playing us and replaced by the abject Garry Rowett.
And while I am disappointed we haven’t gone for Ainsworth, I do think there is some merit to appointing Harris. I’ve tried to break it down below:
Young manger – Years of experience
People look at Ainsworth as a young, up-and-comer and Harris as age-wisened. But the reality is, Harris has four years of youth on Gareth and nearly as much managerial experience. While some clubs have shown the benefits of hiring from abroad – Huddersfield and Wagner is a prime example – other appointments from the content have failed – Huddersfield and Siewert is another prime example. Harris is a man who knows the Championship inside and out, both as a player and a manager. He understands how much of a slog the season is and knows how to navigate tricky games.
Millwall fans really rated him and he brought them back from League One and took them to two FA Cup quarter finals. So he’s clearly no slouch and Cardiff fans have craved a cup run over the past few seasons. Something Warnock hasn’t delivered.
Makes teams hard to beat
The season Warnock took Cardiff up, Millwall finished in 8th. Right on the cusp of the playoffs. We lost 10 games that season. Millwall lost 10. We conceded 39 goals. Millwall conceded 45. And the investment in their squad would have been less than ours.
Warnock made us hard to beat that promotion season while this year, we’ve become easy to beat. If Harris can have one short term impact, it would be making us defensively sound again. We need to get back to basics and ensuring our defence is playing for each other and working together to become solid once again, then we could lay the groundwork for a run during the second half of the season. When Millwall ran close to getting the playoffs, they went unbeaten for 18 games during the second half of that season. And they were only beaten by resurgent Fulham and Middlesbrough, who were also in the playoff running.
The first half of the season has been so inconsistent at Cardiff. If Harris can turn it around for the second part of the season, we give ourselves a fighting chance.
Giving the youth a chance
Millwall has three players making regular appearances who came through their academy. One of the biggest criticisms of Warnock has been his underuse of youth team players. We’ve seen Joe Ralls come through in recent years but beyond him, there really hasn’t been anyone else.
Warnock has given squad places to Brown and Coxe this season, but they haven’t really made the cut through into the first team. With a lack of resource at Millwall, Harris has probably been accustomed to looking to his youth team to see what players he can bring through. Ben Thompson and Aiden O’Brien are testament to this.
He was also a youth team coach so that understanding of academy systems and how those younger players work is going to give him a new perspective on things at the club. We have players who are on the verge of coming through. Coxe, Brown, but also players like Waite, Bolger. These are players who could make an impact on the first team if given a chance. A new way of doing things could open the doors.
The start of a new approach
Dalman has indicated that they are open to appointing a Director of Football, or similar, to expand the football knowledge on the board. It’s something a lot of Cardiff fans have been calling for, rather than the short term approach that Warnock comes with.
If Harris is accompanied by someone in this role, creating a more long-term approach to planning and recruitment and everything else, then we are laying the groundwork for success in the future. If Harris was to fail, then a new manager is required, this DOF approach could negate the bumps in the road that come with a complete about turn when it comes to managers leaving.
This approach could also deliver results in the short term. There would be more of a link between dugout and boardroom and recruitment would planned in advance, rather than seemingly done on the fly. It also means that the boardroom bods, who may be naive when it comes to football, can learn from someone who has been there and done that, thus creating a better environment for managers and players to flourish.
The middle ground
When it was announced Warnock was leaving, all sorts of names were thrown into the ring by Cardiff fans. Some were perhaps completely unrealistic – Bellamy and Alex Neil – and some were just completely unimaginative – Hughton, Flynn. But what struck me was that people were really unsure as to what they wanted from the next manager. When we appointed Ole after Malky, people were largely happy with a radical new approach. When we appointed Trollope after Slade, people were largely unhappy with this approach.