Inside the Cardiff City dressing room with Neil Warnock's

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Inside the Cardiff City dressing room with Neil Warnock's

Postby Forever Blue » Thu May 17, 2018 6:13 am

Inside the Cardiff City dressing room with Neil Warnock's No.2 Kevin Blackwell: How honesty, tactics and arguments won promotion


By Dominic Booth


Thursday 17th May 2018



"Time off? You must be joking."

It is a throwaway remark at the end of this interview that reveals so much about Cardiff City assistant manager Kevin Blackwell and his ethos.

You might think Neil Warnock's trusty lieutenant would be enjoying some well deserved down time after helping mastermind the Bluebirds' transition from Championship also-rans to unlikely promotion winners.

Not the case. He's out scouting, researching and preparing for the Premier League season to come.

And it is that work ethic, that insatiable desire to keep striving, keep "coming up with answers" that has served Cardiff so well over the past 18 months. Its role in securing promotion cannot be understated.

Also — and this is a far less heralded element of Cardiff's success — the tactical insight in training that Blackwell and first team coach Ronnie Jepson provide has been vital.

Because while Warnock's wonderful man management and masterful media soundbites have stolen the limelight this season, the grizzly day-to-day work done without hesitation by men like Blackwell has contributed an untold amount.

What words were exchanged in the meeting rooms? How did the coaching staff approach key moments in Cardiff's season? Ultimately, how did Blackwell help Warnock pull off the most remarkable promotion?





KEVIN BLACKWELL:



The tactical role behind the scenes

When interviewing a man who remains largely away from the spotlight, there are so many questions to ask, but it is the nature of Blackwell's job that most intrigues.

We all know about Warnock's infamous team talks. He is a master exponent at dealing with individuals, but there are gaps to fill — Blackwell's job.

As well as tactics, Blackwell provides Warnock with the ultra-honesty every manager craves from his assistants.

"Neil's man management is the best I've ever come across and I tried to use that when I was managing Leeds, Sheffield United and Luton," he says.

"When I work with him, it leaves myself and Ronnie free to concentrate on the training ground and the opposition.

"As a manager, you've got to be able to trust people around you to give you the right information.

"I've done over 500 games as a manager and I always wanted someone around me who could give honest feedback when the heat was on.

"Ronnie and I try to take as much pressure off Neil's shoulders when we can and provide cold, calculated answers. We try and clear the fog.

"It's vital as well that when Neil asks us a question, we have the answer for him as quick as we can.

"Myself and Ronnie see things differently and we argue like cat and dog. If we disagree with the gaffer we'll let him know. And the good thing is Neil knows our honest opinion has worked in the past... with eight promotions, we can't be far off."

But as much as game day is about stepping up and coping with intense pressure — for both players and coaching staff — Blackwell's forensic approach throughout the week ensures the big kick off is a mere continuation of the diligent work at Cardiff's Vale Resort training base.

There was barely a match in the 2017/18 season when Cardiff's players appeared lacklustre or unready for the challenge.

Tactically they looked well prepared for what the opposition produced.

As Blackwell says, Warnock took care of the off-field issues while he and Jepson assembled dossiers on each opponent.

"What we tried to do in training was replicate what would happen on a Saturday," explains Blackwell.

"We worked on how to keep our shape when we were under pressure, also what we call 'handcuffs' at set plays — making sure people mark their opposite number tightly — and just reiterating basics.

"Sometimes it becomes normal for players to go to work they forget the basics. We just highlighted those basics.

"What people have also failed to notice is that tactically we nullified our opposition. Time and time again.

"You can talk about philosophies in football but you can't come into a club with a philosophy that doesn't suit the players. If the players can't play that way, you're knackered.

"So we tailored the way we played around the players' strengths. And teams clearly couldn't work it out.

"Osian Roberts made a point to me about how we used our full backs coming in narrow.

"Osian said 'you won't see that in the training manual', and as I said: 'you're dead right, but you've got to see it in the context of professional football'.

"Because if that's the answer, that's what you've got to do. Nine times out of 10 myself and Ronnie were able to come up with the answers to nullify teams who were particularly strong in attacking areas."






Fostering a feeling in pre-season

It almost sounds too good to be true, but when Warnock recalls having a "special feeling" among his Cardiff squad when they gathered for a pre-season tour of Devon and Cornwall, Blackwell cannot disagree.

"I went to the Cardiff Under 18s against Swansea in the FA Youth Cup the other week and (Wales Under-21s boss) Robert Page was there. And he said 'Blacky, I remember popping in on the first day of pre-season and you saying to me that you won't be far away — and you weren't wrong!'

"So we did have a feeling and we articulated it among ourselves that we had a really good chance of finishing in the top six."







Nobody else had that feeling. Not then anyway.

So it became Blackwell's job to ensure Cardiff's players — cobbled together from various footballing outposts and backgrounds — retained belief in themselves.

They'd had critics, especially the likes of Junior Hoilett who had been cast aside by Queens Park Rangers.

But the three wise men: Warnock, Jepson and Blackwell, truly believed — even if the gaffer wasn't going to divulge such a feeling in the media glare.

His mantra to the press was that Cardiff would simply "enjoy the ride", but as Blackwell reveals it was different behind closed doors.

"We went under the radar because we didn't go spouting that confidence off outside the group. You don't want to end up with egg on your face," he adds.

"But quietly we told the players they had a good chance if they worked hard and stuck to what we believe in.

"We were always positive with them. We told the wingers (Hoilett and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing) that they were fantastic at going past people and being aggressive. They are very talented players and with wide men you get ups and downs, because they're creative players.

"Junior blossomed like you wouldn't believe.

"Mendez has hit the heights and had some lows, but he's found out about himself.

"Those two are very much confidence players and when they are confident, they're unplayable."

It wasn't just the swashbuckling forwards given the licence to express themselves. Captain Sean Morrison had been inspired to the point where he was prepared to reject advances from Sheffield Wednesday, who were offering higher wages, to stay with Cardiff.

Morrison has gone on to reveal the belief last summer was decisive in ensuring he remained with the Bluebirds. Not to mention a special relationship with Warnock, Blackwell and one Sol Bamba.

"Sean was instrumental and I know when Sheffield Wednesday came with what I think was three or four bids, myself and Ronnie were adamant that Sean could be massive on and off the pitch," adds Blackwell.

"Because he'd improved no end in his defending and he also meant we were guaranteed seven or eight goals per season.

"And that went on to be a massive weapon. Off the pitch too, he's not a shouter or a bawler but he leads by example and his ally was Sol Bamba. The pair of them were colossuses. What a foundation to build on.

"I'm so glad he's won over all the sceptics... but we had to give him belief to do that. We always encouraged him."







Helping recruit the right kind of characters

While the confidence grew within the likes of Morrison, Bamba and Hoilett, all strongly allied to the 'Warnock Way' and used to the methods of Blackwell and company, last summer saw a major recruiting job.

And while chief scout Glyn Chamberlain anchored that process, with help from Warnock's endless connections around the leagues, Blackwell was involved too.

He was tasked with finding the right kind of players, who could withstand with mental and physical demands of a promotion charge.

"I went to see Neil Etheridge play at Walsall against Oxford United and his warm-up was harder than the goalkeeping sessions I've seen at the club," Blackwell recalls.

"We knew his work ethic was right.

"With recruitment you try and find a player who ticks as many boxes that you think are what we consider to be a Cardiff City player. Attitude, commitment, desire.

"There's no doubt the Premier League will present different challenges. But myself and Neil have been there before and we know what to expect.

"We'll try and be very well organised and hopefully improve on the technical side if we can."

Preparation for the top flight will be no different for Cardiff's players and those who join the club in the coming months.

"The players have all done their end of season medicals and fitness assessments," says Blackwell. "They're given a book by Carl Serrant (fitness and conditioning coach) and will have to follow a rigorous regime throughout the summer.

"People think the players are just off. And yes, they're given a couple of weeks of down time and rest, but they'll all have to do their work.

"Because if someone hasn't done their work over the summer, we'll soon find out on the first day of pre-season.

"But the lads are so professional these days that doesn't tend to happen.

"Every one of the players know with myself and Ronnie, you train at the same tempo you would play at and that becomes the norm.

"It's the same when we sign someone. The players say 'this is how we train here' and that's been one of the templates we've laid down at Cardiff.

"The players who are already here see that it works so they demand it themselves. They set the stall out: 'this is Cardiff City and if you want to be part of our team, buy into it'.


"Those who don't wont be here for very long."






Breeding squad harmony

"I can honestly say I've never seen a squad gel so well before," says Blackwell when asked to explain one of the quirks of Cardiff's season: the fact they used 32 players over the season and rarely had a case of unused stars voicing complaints at a lack of game-time.

You can list those who might have been frustrated: Kadeem Harris, Liam Feeney, Lee Tomlin, Danny Ward, Gary Madine. At various times they were benched or left out completely.

But Blackwell heard no back-biting in the dressing room. In fact, he was tasked with pepping up the fringe players to make an impact when called upon. No easy task? The 59-year-old begs to differ.

"Every one of them was so pleased for whoever was playing there was never a problem," he explains.

"They worked magnificently hard and we said 'we don't know when your opportunity is going to come, but when it comes you're going to be ready to grab it'.

"When we had 10 injuries just before Christmas and big injuries too — Mozza, Gunnarsson, Ken Zohore, Rallsy — others stepped in. That says a lot.

"Neil's credit is how he brought the whole club together. But you cannot pay too little attention to how team spirit and camaraderie got us through adversarial times. When the going got tough this set of players never once buckled.

"Even under massive pressure by Fulham at the end of the season, they responded to the point that Fulham buckled."

That unity was tested to its limit during the promotion run-in.

Cardiff did falter on the pitch. Those missed penalties before a bumper crowd at home to league leader Wolves might have threatened to undermine everything. Ruptures might have appeared, but Blackwell only remembers a unwavering desire to put things right when he scanned the dressing room.

"After the Wolves defeat, it was pure frustration," he says. "There was nothing between the two sides and we had the opportunity in the last minute and made a mess of it.

"That whole weekend it was 'what if'... we could have kept the unbeaten run going...

"We then went to Aston Villa and actually played very well. To get done by a world class goal was frustrating again but we said to the players: 'take the result away, what a great performance'.

"That showed how the players were able to raise themselves from massive disappointment. It showed mental strength."

Mental strength. Tactical preparation. Honesty. Don't underestimate Kevin Blackwell's role in Cardiff's promotion. Don't underestimate his work rate.

Because despite notching another brilliant promotion on his CV, Blackwell is like the players he coaches: he wants to get better.

That's why getting to the Premier League is just the start. The hard work doesn't stop.
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Inside the Cardiff City dressing room with Neil Warnock's

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Re: Inside the Cardiff City dressing room with Neil Warnock'

Postby Forever Blue » Thu May 17, 2018 6:16 am

:bluebird:
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Re: Inside the Cardiff City dressing room with Neil Warnock'

Postby Ebbw Blue » Thu May 17, 2018 6:51 am

Real good read that, you clearly see the togetherness, these 3 have completed mission impossible
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Re: Inside the Cardiff City dressing room with Neil Warnock'

Postby langstoneBlue » Thu May 17, 2018 7:10 am

Excellent interview! It shows we not only have a fantastic manager but a vastly expirenced backroom setup!
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Re: Inside the Cardiff City dressing room with Neil Warnock'

Postby Leytonstoneblue » Thu May 17, 2018 7:31 am

Great interview, sums up all that this team is about. The majority can go on about how good Fulham were and that they deserved automatic, but as Blackwell points out, at the end it was them that buckled and not City :notworthy:
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Re: Inside the Cardiff City dressing room with Neil Warnock'

Postby CaerphillyBluebird15 » Thu May 17, 2018 8:31 am

I wouldn't mind if Blackwell took on the job after Warnock retires.
I think he'd do a similar job. :thumbright:
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Re: Inside the Cardiff City dressing room with Neil Warnock'

Postby 65Blue » Thu May 17, 2018 8:32 am

When NW hangs up his boots I would like to see Bellamy manage with Blackwell and Jepson his assistants
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Re: Inside the Cardiff City dressing room with Neil Warnock'

Postby City Slicker » Thu May 17, 2018 10:23 am

I really enjoyed that; very illuminating. It's clear
Blackwell and Jepson have been integral to our success.
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Re: Inside the Cardiff City dressing room with Neil Warnock'

Postby OriginalGrangeEndBlue » Thu May 17, 2018 12:36 pm

CaerphillyBluebird15 wrote:I wouldn't mind if Blackwell took on the job after Warnock retires.
I think he'd do a similar job. :thumbright:


What a great point.
Unusual for you though mate!
;)
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Re: Inside the Cardiff City dressing room with Neil Warnock'

Postby GrangeEndStar » Thu May 17, 2018 12:39 pm

Good article and I'm pleased their getting the recognition they deserve. I like the way they have quietly gone about their business, meticulous planning and execution which bodes very well for the future.
'Nail 'em up,' I say. 'Nail some sense into 'em.'
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Re: Inside the Cardiff City dressing room with Neil Warnock'

Postby Bluebina » Thu May 17, 2018 2:29 pm

CaerphillyBluebird15 wrote:I wouldn't mind if Blackwell took on the job after Warnock retires.
I think he'd do a similar job. :thumbright:



Some people are just better as a number two, he seems to be doing the perfect job at the moment !!!


I've been thinking for a while we need to start some succession planning to replace Warnock, I think he will only do two more years max.

I would like to see a younger Manager come in and work under Warnock for the next two years with a plan to take over and learn as much as he can in between to have a bit of continuity going forward, maybe Bellamy or one of the younger up and coming Managers?
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Re: Inside the Cardiff City dressing room with Neil Warnock'

Postby CaerphillyBluebird15 » Thu May 17, 2018 2:32 pm

Bluebina wrote:
CaerphillyBluebird15 wrote:I wouldn't mind if Blackwell took on the job after Warnock retires.
I think he'd do a similar job. :thumbright:



Some people are just better as a number two, he seems to be doing the perfect job at the moment !!!


I've been thinking for a while we need to start some succession planning to replace Warnock, I think he will only do two more years max.

I would like to see a younger Manager come in and work under Warnock for the next two years with a plan to take over and learn as much as he can in between to have a bit of continuity going forward, maybe Bellamy or one of the younger up and coming Managers?


Bellamy is huge no for me.
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Re: Inside the Cardiff City dressing room with Neil Warnock'

Postby Bluebina » Thu May 17, 2018 2:38 pm

CaerphillyBluebird15 wrote:
Bluebina wrote:
CaerphillyBluebird15 wrote:I wouldn't mind if Blackwell took on the job after Warnock retires.
I think he'd do a similar job. :thumbright:



Some people are just better as a number two, he seems to be doing the perfect job at the moment !!!


I've been thinking for a while we need to start some succession planning to replace Warnock, I think he will only do two more years max.

I would like to see a younger Manager come in and work under Warnock for the next two years with a plan to take over and learn as much as he can in between to have a bit of continuity going forward, maybe Bellamy or one of the younger up and coming Managers?


Bellamy is huge no for me.


I'm not sure I must admit, he seems really knowledgeable, but is a volatile character I'm not sure how he would cope with the stressful life as a Manager?

If not him it would be good if we could plan ahead and Warnock would be able to teach a younger Manager so much !!!
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