I gave Neil Warnock the England job on Football Manager and he won the World Cup
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Me: "Neil, were you ever offered the England job?"
NW: "No, give over!"
Me: "Would you have taken it if they approached you?"
NW: "You're joking? It's the worst job in the world. You can't win."
Me: "Well then, let's make it happen..."
He may have announced his retirement from football this year after 42 years in management, but Neil Warnock has been given one last job to sink his teeth into.
It's 5:30pm on a Friday afternoon in central London, and with three months to go until this winter's World Cup in Qatar, one of football's biggest characters sits down with SPORTbible to name his England squad. Why? To simulate his picks into Football Manager, of course.
With spells at Sheffield United, Crystal Palace and most recently Middlesbrough under his belt, the man who holds the record for the most promotions in English football history will try and lead the Three Lions to their first piece of silverware since 1966.
And let's be honest, there's no better candidate.
Warnock has a shed load of experience when it comes to getting the best out of big personalities. His methods are, at times, a tad old-school and years of disagreements with referees earned him a pantomime-villain reputation amongst fans.
But he created a team spirit like no other. Players would run through walls for the former Notts County boss; even the so-called 'bad eggs' of a team would flourish. Adel Taarabt, for example, was declared unmanageable by some on his arrival at QPR. Three years later, the Morrocan said Warnock was a gift from god.
The 73-year-old also holds the record for most games managed (1,603) in English football. During that time, Warnock graced areas like Yorkshire, the East Midlands, London and Wales, where he achieved Premier League promotion with Cardiff.
But the question remains. Can he lead England to glory? His profile doesn't exactly match up with the FA's previous appointments and in his own words, Gareth Southgate is a "perfect fit" for England. But let's have a bit of fun and see if Warnock - the king of promotion - can lift international football's greatest prize.
It begins. As we embark on a five-day heatwave in the UK, former Sheffield United manager Neil Warnock has been appointed as the new England manager. In a statement on their official website. the FA have backed the 73-year-old by claiming he is "capable" of guiding the team to success in the upcoming World Cup.
With expectations at an all-time high following their performance in the European Championship last summer, there is the small matter of selecting a team to compete at this winter's tournament in Qatar. And before you ask, Dan Burn is on the plane. But more on that later.
After a lengthy discussion over his picks, here is the England squad that will try and lift the 2022 World Cup. Breathe it in.
First choice goalkeeper:
Jordan Pickford [Everton] - "I don't think Pickford has let anybody down in an England shirt and I think him getting picked as first choice is a foregone conclusion now. He gesticulates. He's reliable. He's a strong voice, even in his own half. I like goalkeepers that talk to their defenders all the time; those who say, 'man on' or 'show him inside'. These are the things that are important for me."
Nick Pope [Newcastle United] - "I'm expecting big things from him at Newcastle. I think he could easily be one of the best goalkeepers in the country in the next 12 months."
Aaron Ramsdale [Arsenal] - "To be fair to him, everybody thought it'd be a disaster when he left Sheffield United but he's done excellent at Arsenal. He'd be in my squad."
First choice right-back:
Trent Alexander-Arnold [Liverpool] - "I just can't see how you can leave him out but for me, you've got to play him in a five. I love his vision, his passing, his acceleration. He excites me. And he ain't too bad defensively either. I think he's got all the attributes to make that spot his own. But I wouldn't want to play him in a back four."
Reece James [Chelsea] and Kieran Trippier [Newcastle United] "I'd pick Reece James and Kieran Trippier before Alexander Arnold in a back four but I would start with a 5-2-3 formation, so Trent would be my first choice."
First choice centre-backs:
Kyle Walker [Manchester City] - "I feel Walker as a right sided centre-back is a must for England. He gives us that bit of pace. I'd actually let him go forward and support the attacking play as well. Walker can push on and then Jordan Henderson can drop back in. I think England could be a little bit more fluent in that respect."
John Stones [Manchester City] - "He got left out a few times under Guardiola at City didn't he, but he came back stronger. When he got a kick up the backside, he didn't dwell on it and worked hard to prove people wrong. He's got a great attitude and I really like that, me."
Ben White [Arsenal] - "He improved throughout the course of last season and I think he's as good as anybody now. And compared to the likes of [Harry] Maguire, [Tyrone] Mings and [Conor] Coady, he has that extra bit of pace that'll be crucial against the bigger teams."
Back up centre-backs:
Fikayo Tomori [AC Milan] - "I think he will come into the reckoning as a starter after this World Cup but with only two games in the Nations League left to go, it's asking a lot really."
Dan Burn [Newcastle United] - "I don't think Gareth will pick him but Dan Burn would be in my squad. I think a naturally left-footed player is worth his weight in gold. And I just love his attitude. He's a talker as well. He's my kind of player."
First choice left-back:
Ben Chilwell [Chelsea] - "I look at the options and I just think he's head and shoulders above the rest. He's reliable but to be honest, there aren't many left footers out there at the moment. I think we're a bit short in that department."
Tyrick Mitchell [Crystal Palace] - "I feel like he's grounded at Palace. They are a great club for him. I had Nathaniel Clyne when I was there and he ended up playing for his country. He reminds me of that type of player. He's very positive and solid defensively as well."
First choice midfielders:
Declan Rice [West Ham] - "He will be the captain of England one day, I'm sure of it. And he'll be our leader for many years to come. It's great to see him being so loyal to West Ham as well. I just think he's got everything in his locker. He can get in the box as well as defend. Oh, and he's a lovely lad as well. My type of player."
Jordan Henderson [Liverpool] - "Talkers are few and far between nowadays and he's definitely one of the best out there. If I'm honest, I never thought Henderson would do as well as he has done at Liverpool. He just kept surprising me. He's like a bottle of wine. He's got better year after year."
Back up midfielders:
Kalvin Phillips [Manchester City] - "If one of Rice and Henderson were injured, I'd pick him. Without a shadow of a doubt. Actually, depending on the number of games, I might rest Henderson and play Kalvin. I think he's developed over the last couple of years more than anybody, but I still feel you need that old head in there."
Jude Bellingham [Borussia Dortmund] - "He wouldn't be a starter for me but he's got time on his side. He's so composed on the ball. You see somebody like that. So calm and collective. You just hope he continues to develop as he has done in the past couple of years."
First choice right-winger:
Raheem Sterling [Chelsea] - "I just think England is his place. Some players just play well for their country and he's definitely one of them. He excites me whenever I see him play in an England shirt. He doesn't overly excite me at club level but on the international stage, he's done really well, so that's why he'd be in my team."
Back up right-winger/attacking midfielder:
Mason Mount [Chelsea] - "I do like him. I know he's not pulled up any trees at times, but I think if I played a 4-3-3 formation then I would ask Mount to push forward from midfield and support [Harry] Kane. That's where I like to see him; in more attacking positions.
"He'd do a really good job behind the striker, in my opinion. But he can also drop back and help out in midfield."
First choice left-wing:
Jack Grealish [Manchester City] - "I have to say I've been a massive fan of Grealish in the last couple of years and I think I'd get the best out of him.
"I remember having an argument with him on the pitch when we played against Aston Villa a few years ago. I thought he was diving all over the place and things like that, so I let him know about it. But he's matured since then. He's an excellent player now.
"In fact, I think he should have started more games for England. He can turn games at the flick of a wrist. He does get some stick and he's a bit theatrical at times, but I say there's nothing wrong with taking a fall here and there if you're gonna get stick like he does.
"You can't leave him out. He's a match winner."
Phil Foden [Manchester City] - "I just don't think he does anything wrong. I think he's got real enthusiasm. He's got pace. He can go past anybody. There's a goal in him, he's got a nasty streak and can get stuck in. I love that. I think he's the future of our country. We are blessed down that left side, so I'd interchange with Foden and Grealish depending on the opposition."
Harry Kane [Tottenham] - "I hope he doesn't get injured. I don't know who else we've got, really. That's why I think it'd be great to see Marcus Rashford getting get his confidence back in the next few months because when he's in full flight, the lad is a handful and he works hard."
Marcus Rashford [Manchester United] - "He has been a little bit subdued in the past 12 months but I think Rashford will get a new lease of life under Erik ten Hag, especially if Ronaldo does leave. And that's no disrespect to Ronaldo. He's a fantastic player but I do think it's slowed down the progress of somebody like Rashford.
"I think Marcus will have a good start to the season and turn Gareth's head. I think he's as good as anyone beyond Kane."
Dominic Calvert-Lewin [Everton] - "On a good day, he's as good as anybody. I've not seen Abraham enough, but he's scored the goals and doing well. Tammy's got a chance but I'd go with Calvert Lewin as back-up. He's great in the air and can finish."
Captain - Jordan Henderson [Liverpool] - "He's the captain of Liverpool. He's got the most experience. He knows what he's talking about. And I think on the pitch, he'd be moving everybody where he wants because there are going to be gaps. He'd be instrumental in the talking side of things. I don't see many talkers playing in England's top flight these days. It's so important."
Formation: 5-2-3 [main tactic] and 4-1-2-3 [secondary tactic]
Warnock says he would ask Foden or Grealish to tuck back in to help Henderson and Rice out against stronger opposition. He also wanted to give Kyle Walker more freedom to roam into attacking positions, so the Manchester City defender was given a 'support' role at wide centre-back.
Captain-marvel Henderson, who is described in the game as a model citizen, will mop things up in that crucial ball-winning midfielder position, while the prolific Harry Kane leads the line up top.
According to his Football Manager attributes, Warnock likes intense pressing and counter-attacks but isn't a fan of expressive creative freedom or playing out from defence, so we integrated those details when creating tactics and instructions.
And here it is. England's starting line-up ahead of their first group game against Chile.
Warnock's men will also face Germany and Iran in Group C - a set of fixtures labelled one of the toughest of the tournament by British media. In fact, going into their opener against Chile, the Three Lions are big outsiders at 15-1 to bring it home.
The inclusions of Dan Burn and Tyrick Mitchell have surprised many ahead of November 22 and despite calls to include Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho and Luke Shaw, amongst others, the experienced manager is ready to prove people wrong... again.
The big day has finally arrived.
After months of preparation [a 45-minute chat over Zoom], Warnock takes a deep breath and makes his way to the virtual dugout at Education City, a venue located in the city of Al Rayyan. Chants of "There's only one Neil Warnock" ring around the 45,000-capacity stadium at kick-off. This is it.
The referee blows his whistle and it doesn't take long for England to make the perfect start in this blistering Qatar heat. Harry Kane chips a delicate ball over to the right before Raheem Sterling replicates his European Championship heroics with a goal in the ninth minute.
Things soon go from good to great. Goals from Harry Kane , Jordan Henderson and Marcus Rashford  - the man Warnock placed so much faith in going into this winter's tournament - give the Three Lions a quite remarkable 6-0 win in their World Cup opener.
A sign of things to come?
Four days later, after making no changes to their starting line-up, England go 1-0 down against Germany after some slack defending from ball-playing defender John Stones. An air of uncertainty fills the 40,000-capacity Al Janoub Stadium as the Three Lions trail at the break.
Sources close to the England squad suggest a half-time 'hair dryer' could be heard from the dressing room, with Warnock heard saying, "I'd f**king die for you lot. F**king hell fire. Let's get leathered in, but properly, and believe in yourselves. I think we've got a chance."
With the sound of Warnock's voice ringing in their ears, Jordan Henderson leads his team out for the second half with a noticeable swagger. They look re-energised by their manager's team talk and on the hour mark, a sumptuous cross from Trent Alexander-Arnold finds Harry Kane, who heads home to equalise.
After almost taking the lead on several occasions, Warnock's men earn an important point going into their final group game.
For the first time this tournament, Warnock has opted to play his secondary 4-1-2-3 formation against minnows Iran.
Marcus Rashford, who netted a brace against Chile, is given a well-earned start and unsurprisingly, the Manchester United forward repays his manager's faith by converting a penalty with six minutes gone.
Warnock also decides to give Dan Burn his first start of the World Cup alongside Ben White. He may not be playing regular first-team football for club side Newcastle in the virtual world, but he walked back to the team hotel with three things that night; a clean sheet, a 7.7 rating and his first England cap.
Burn even spoke to the press about his pride at being handed his international debut, but joked that it was "easier to get a game for England than for Newcastle" as the Three Lions topped Group C with an emphatic 4-0 win. That's the spirit, Dan.
Still wearing his first England cap as he strolls past the hotel reception, a delighted Burn walks alongside an equally as happy Harry Kane, who is making headlines for becoming the nation's record goalscorer after netting a late brace against Iran.
The Spurs forward has overtaken previous record holder Wayne Rooney in the standings. Rooney amassed 53 goals in 120 games during his international career but that feat will likely be surpassed even further in the coming weeks, with Kane currently topping the Golden Boot standings with five goals in three games.
Another sign of things to come?
As predicted, England quality from Group C with two wins in three games. They are showing character befitting of any Neil Warnock team, with stand-out performers including Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jordan Henderson, Marcus Rashford and of course, Harry Kane.
But this is where the men are separated from the boys. A last-16 clash against Portugal awaits.
Warnock is well aware of their attacking threat. He's gone back to his trusted 5-2-3 formation, with Kyle Walker, John Stones and Ben White making up a pacey back three to deal with Cristiano Ronaldo. Raheem Sterling suffered a damaged foot against Iran, so the rejuvenated Marcus Rashford is deployed on the right wing as his replacement.
The rest of the team is unchanged from those opening two group games. Consistency in tournament football is key, after all.
Captain marvel Jordan Henderson walks out of the 50,000-capacity Ahmed bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan in confident spirits and that translates to their performance on the pitch. Harry Kane gets England off to a flyer with a volley before Jack Grealish doubles their lead with 25 minutes on the clock.
Kane goes on to score his seventh goal of the tournament to secure a place in the quarter-final - a tough clash against Holland. Warnock can sense something special on the horizon.
After the final whistle, Phil Foden tells the media that team spirit couldn't be much higher after knocking three past a team considered to be at least "on par" with England. "We are feeling extremely confident about our chances," he says.
The games are coming thick and fast now. A semi-final clash against great rivals Argentina is in sight but Warnock's men will need to find a way of breaking down Holland's solid back four, who have only conceded two goals all tournament.
But I guess that's relatively straightforward when you have Harry Kane in your ranks.
The 29-year-old was once again the difference-maker in their toughest game to date. After some great play from Ben Chilwell down the left-hand side, Kane volleyed home with eight minutes remaining of the first-half.
Nobody expected England to progress this far. In fact, a day after their win against the Oranje, outsiders have labelled Warnock's side the "surprise package" of this winter's competition, with a senior figure in the England camp describing their journey as a "fairytale which has exceeded all expectations."
The next day, fan favourite Dan Burn was once again spotted wearing his first England cap in a local restaurant as he joined his teammates for lunch, where the main topic of conversation was Lionel Messi.
One defender was heard asking how they were going to stop Argentina's captain and all-time top goalscorer. It's a question many have lost sleep over down the years.
It's semi-final day and a confident Neil Warnock is making his way around the dressing room at the Al-Khor stadium.
Speaking to some of his key men ahead of tonight's crucial semi-final clash against Argentina, the former Sheffield United manager gets an especially-positive reaction from Harry Kane, who has eight World Cup goals to his name already this winter.
Trent Alexander-Arnold will not take part after picking up an automatic one-game ban, so Reece James will take his place.
Despite picking up a solid 7.3 rating against Holland, Marcus Rashford is dropped for the dependable Raheem Sterling. "Some players just play well for their country," Warnock said when choosing his squad. "And Raheem is definitely one of them."
It's a cagey first half from Warnock's men.
As the media predicted, Lionel Messi has caused England's back five some serious problems, especially down that left flank, but Ben Chilwell and John Stones have just about done enough to keep the scores level. In more positive news, England have had more shots on target, so that important xG stat looks promising as the second half gets underway.
Warnock is happy with what he's seeing. Kane is getting into some dangerous positions and in the 58th minute, the joint top scorer at this winter's World Cup is brought down in the area by Nicolas Otamendi. An eerie silence fills the stadium as referee Agossou Cisse makes sure with a VAR check.
The replays confirm it was a stonewall penalty and Kane dispatches a powerful effort into the bottom corner to give England a much-deserved lead. Lionel Messi gives teammate Otamendi a stare that says, 'you might have thrown away our chances here.'
England continue to dominate and once again, that man Kane puts the game to bed. Emiliano Martinez directs an abysmal pass into his feet and the 29-year-old taps in from five yards to seal their place in the World Cup final against France.
Against all the odds, they've only gone and done it.
All things considered, It has been a relatively straightforward journey to the final for Neil Warnock's men.
They have scored 17 goals in total [10 of those have come from Golden Boot leader Harry Kane] and remarkably, they've conceded just once, which suggests Warnock's trademark 'enjoy it by being disciplined' motto has become a way of life in camp.
But let's be clear, defending champions France are a different animal. From the strike partnership of Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema to Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante in midfield; Didier Deschamps has some of the world's best at his disposal. And like their opponents, Les Bleus are unbeaten going into Sunday's final.
In fact, the media say both teams are 'evenly matched' as they make the short journey to Qatar's biggest venue - the Lusail Iconic Stadium.
It's a warm afternoon as the Three Lions disembark from the team bus in Lusail.
Jordan Henderson, who suffered a bruised thigh in Wednesday's semi-final win against Argentina, can be seen limping as he makes his way to the dressing room. Warnock decides to start Kalvin Phillips alongside Declan Rice in midfield but other than that, England are at full strength.
The referee calls both teams to meet in the tunnel. Stand-in captain Harry Kane looks to his left and exchanges a quick nod with club teammate Hugo Lloris before looking over his shoulder to see his manager, patting everyone on the back with a bit more force than usual.
A remote control car delivers today's match ball to the centre circle - a moment that brings a hearty chuckle from Warnock - and the referee blows his whistle.
As expected, it's a tense opening half. England players have been told by their manager to "get stuck in" and that resonates on the pitch, where France struggle to find their rhythm. Uncharacteristically, Kane spurns a couple of chances in the latter stages of the first half and both teams go into the break level.
With a historic win in sight, a frustrated Warnock delivers a speech like no other in the Lusail dressing room. "It feels like you're in Majorca on your holidays," he says with passion. The team talk echoes around the corridors; even Paul Pogba raises his eyebrows at former teammate Marcus Rashford as he stretches in the tunnel, as if to say, 'that was a bollocking and a half.'
England have once again come out fighting in the second half. They are dominating possession and with 58 minutes on the clock, the man for the big occasion - Raheem Sterling - opens the scoring with a subtle chip over captain Lloris. With his arms aloft, Neil Warnock runs down the touchline to celebrate with his players. Shades of a young Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford in 2004 come to mind.
There's half an hour to hang on. In years gone by, this is where England have crumbled on the big stage. France are trying to overrun Rice and Phillips in midfield, with mixed success. But in the 82nd minute, playmaker Nabil Fekir plays a wonderful through ball to Antoine Griezmann, who slots past Jordan Pickford with a powerful effort to equalise. Typical.
But wait...a VAR check is underway.
On first inspection, it looks like Griezmann was level with John Stones. After 60 seconds of agony, the goal is disallowed. Warnock breathes a huge sigh of relief on the touchline as stand-in captain Harry Kane attempts to motivate his teammates with a few big claps.
England are getting stuck in. Lucas Hernandez is forced off in the latter stages with broken ribs after a heavy challenge from Mason Mount, which adds some more agonising minutes to the game. Somehow, after conceding just one goal all tournament, they've done it.
For the first time since 1966, the Three Lions are world champions.
He may have been spotted limping before kick-off but Jordan Henderson sprints from the bench to join in the celebrations. Half an hour later, he joins stand-in captain Harry Kane at the podium to lift the famous gold. Even the hardened Warnock, a man who has seen it all, sheds a tear.
Football Manager's full-time match report attempts to paint a picture. "For an occasion which promised so much, the fixture was marred by a succession of fouls by England that prevented the match from ever truly getting into a rhythm," it read.
But nobody remembers how the match was played. England are World Cup winners for the second time thanks, in part, to Neil Warnock and his expertise.
What a journey.
Neil Warnock's 'Are You With Me?' Tour runs from September to November. You can book tickets at: https://www.ecmevents.co.uk/ticketsales.
Topics: Football Manager, Spotlight, Sheffield United, Neil Warnock