Neil Warnock on Monty: The ‘biggest heart’ and ‘a manager’s dream’ who was always destined to coach 

In 2000 the veteran English boss launched a career that is now heading for the A-League Grand Final, writes Tom Smithies.

For a 74-year-old who’s just been through a relegation battle, and then laid low with Covid, Neil Warnock is on fine form and the stories are flowing.

In particular Warnock is keen to hear the details of how one of his proteges from a coaching career totalling more than 1000 games has taken up the managerial mantle himself in Australia, and made a very decent fist of his first two years.

“Tell me about Monty, I hear he’s doing ever so well,” says Warnock of Nick Montgomery, and in a flash he’s back in the year 2000 and preparing to give a first game in professional football to an 18-year-old midfielder earning a pittance as a scholarship holder at Sheffield United.

If anyone can track the genesis of that midfielder from a debut in the Championship to becoming head coach of the Mariners – and preparing for a grand final in his second year in that role – it’s Warnock, one of the influences Montgomery is likely to invoke in any conversation about that journey.


The affection runs both ways, for Montgomery became a fixture under Warnock for the first seven years of the 12 he spent in Sheffield United’s first team, before throwing his cards in the air and moving to the A-League. Warnock calls him “a manager’s dream”, and is intrigued to discuss the leadership qualities he saw in those early days – the pride is evident from 15,000km away down the phone line.

“Monty was a player that, if the opposition had a main man in that central midfield area or what have you, Monty would mark him out of the game,” Warnock says. “I used to say to him, listen, if he goes to the toilet Monty, you go with him. If he walks up the tunnel, you go with him. He used to do it and they used to hate playing against Monty, he was like a rash, he would never let go.

“What he lacked in technical ability, he made up for it with a heart as big as anything. The biggest heart I’ve ever had (in a team).

“That’s why I say he was a manager’s dream. He might not have been a fan’s dream because fans always want something a little bit exciting and taking a man on, but Monty was always eight out of 10 with a manager.

Neil Warnock (centre) with Michael Tongue (left) and Nick Montgomery at Sheffield United in 2006.

“He was never six and he was never nine, he was always around an eight out of 10 and you build your team around players like that, those you never have to worry about.

“You don’t have to worry about what he does on the game, you have to worry about the ones that are five out of 10 sometimes and 10 out of 10 the other times.”

The lineage from the early days at Sheffield United to the Central Coast is clear to see in how Montgomery described to KEEPUP last year of learning from Warnock the art of man management – from advising players privately when (and why) they are dropped, to giving young players the space and security in the first team to find their feet and not be daunted by making mistakes.

Maybe this is most of all why Warnock is pleased to track Montgomery’s progress, and to hear the influence continuing of his own way of managing football talent.

“Well, the thing is what you just mentioned there, all my career I’ve said to lads: listen, if you give me everything, I will support you every step of the way,” Warnock continues. “You can have a bad game on the ball, but you can’t have a bad game off the ball.

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“I had a decision to make when I first went to Sheffield United, I hadn’t got enough energy in there and I decided to put Monty, Michael Tonge and Phil Jagielka all in at once from the youth team.

“And I just said to them, look, just play it simple. Don’t try anything you can’t do and that’s what they did. They were just honest. I think when you’re brought up like that it does have an impression on you.

“I always said to Monty, some managers I had used to pin the team sheet up and (that’s how) you used to find out that you weren’t playing.

“Whereas I’ve always wanted to tell the players on a Thursday, really, if we had a Saturday game that I was leaving them out, why I was leaving them out, whether it was tactical or loss of form.

“At the same time, how they’re going to get back in the team and that it’s not the end of the world. (I’d say) do it on the training ground, that’s where I find players to put back in. I always look at the training, how they train.

“We always had fun. I always really built the dressing room around humour, but I think the lads knew when the whistle went, that was it. They had to give me absolutely everything.

“About a year ago, I left Middlesborough and Paddy McNair texted me to say, ‘Can I just say I’ve never looked forward to getting out of bed so much to go training than when you were here’. And I think that’s the nicest thing anybody could say really.

“That’s what I built, that morale where they were all in it together. We might not be the best teams technically. But I used to say to Monty and the others, if you had a survey with all the teams and the managers in our league, I bet you we’d be nearly top of league for the teams they don’t want to play against.”


It was, by any standards, an epic few years for Sheffield United under a manager who grew up as a fan of the club and by 2006 had taken them to the English Premier League. Montgomery has related how his introduction to the team was made so much easier by Warnock making clear he would get a decent run in the first team, not matter how his first performances played out.

“If you do play a young lad, I always think you’ve got to say to him, don’t worry about making mistakes in your first few games,” Warnock says now. “You’re going to be in the team now.

“I go back to a quick story about Adel Taarabt when I went to QPR in 2010. I was watching training and said who’s that? I was told, oh you don’t want to know him gaffer, hel’l get you the sack. He just dribbles everywhere and loses it.

“And I thought, wow, he’s got some ability and we needed goals at the time. So I remember pulling him one day and I said to him, ‘Tabs, they told me you’ll get me the sack if I play you’.

Neil Warnock with Adel Taarabt at Queens Park Rangers in 2011.

“And he said, ‘No, no, no.’ I said to him, ‘That’s what everybody tells me. Well, let me tell you, we play West Brom on Saturday, (they’re) top of the league. 

“You’ll be playing on Saturday, Tabs, and if you’re shite – do you understand what shite means? Good – if you’re shite, I’m going to play you in the next game. And if you’re shite, I’m going to play you in the next game. We’ve got 12 games left and you’re playing.

“I know it’s difficult to say that to some players, but with those young players they all had something and I just felt it was my job to take a bit of pressure off them, that’s all.”

Clearly it’s an art that still works, for Warnock has just briefly come out of retirement to oversee a relegation rescue mission for Huddersfield Town, successfully, working by coincidence with Michael Tongue as a coach – one of the trio he blooded in 2000 with Montgomery and Jagielka.

“Michael and me were talking about Monty and Jags, and he reminded me what I’ve always told the lads: you can be the best coach in the world, you can have all the bloody stats, you could have all the IT guys and all the nutritionists in the world.

“But 95% of winning is man management, 95% of successful teams are man managed. I mean, I’m 74. So I’m a bloody dinosaur but it’s still about getting the best out of what you’ve got. That’s the answer to good management.”

Nearly a quarter of a century since he put his trust in Sheffiled United’s youth players, Warnock can see those skills have been handed down – in fact, he believes he could see it from the beginning in Montgomery.

“Yeah, he was always rabbiting on, always talking to other people; bit like I was as a player, I used to talk all day long to other players even as a winger,” he says, laughing.

“I think you either got that in you or you haven’t really, and I think Monty has always had that in him. He’s always wanted to help people playing alongside him or, or under him.

“Even when he was in the first team, he’d go and talk to the lads in the juniors and the U18s where he’d been (previously). He was always thoughtful. I used to say to him, the only thing missing was he didn’t laugh enough. He was always a bit too serious at times.

“I used to say to him, just lighten up a bit, have a laugh! With him, Michael and Jags, he was the serious one of the three of them. Obviously when they were together they had a good laugh.

“I always said, you know, just brighten up a little bit, smile…”