Warnock's Traore rant - though extraordinary - was just the tonic

Neil Warnock has never been a man to mince his words.

That’s why, even after lingering for a good hour inside the surprisingly swish Loftus Road media suite in the wake of QPR’s dramatic 1-1 draw with Aston Villa on Sunday, his belated arrival at the post-match press conference still aroused in me a pang of keen anticipation. This, I thought, will surely be good.

I figured he would rail against referee Michael Oliver’s admittedly mystifying decision to award Villa a penalty just after the interval, and question how Alan Hutton had afterwards gotten away with several pieces of defending more in keeping with basketball than the beautiful game. He did.

I also thought he might bring up namesake Stephen Warnock’s ugly-looking challenge on his skipper Joey Barton midway through the first half, the kind of challenge Barton himself has subjected many an unfortunate opponent to in his controversial career.

That he didn’t was surprising, but even more so was the vitriol he reserved for the tackle which earned full-back Armand Traore, recently signed from Arsenal, a second yellow card with a minute of normal time remaining.

Warnock collars Traore as the fullback heads for the tunnel

“I thought it was a disgrace, and I’ll fine him as much as I can,” Warnock said of the incident. 

m“I pulled him back in the tunnel to tell him what a disgrace he was. I think he understood what I was saying. It’s not clever at all.”

The QPR boss then went on to temper his criticism with the more standard ‘he’s a young lad and a very good player so I’m sure he’ll learn from this’ line, but it was the cutting nature of his initial remarks which stuck – both in the mind and in the following day’s headlines.

There is no question that what Traore did was worthy of the rebuke. With time running out, his team chasing the game and despite the knowledge he had already been booked, either laziness or frustration prompted the full-back to make a challenge he knew, or at least should have known, would end his time on the pitch and hinder the efforts of his team.

But while Warnock’s response was utterly justified, it was still extraordinary. In an era of unprecedented media coverage, it has become virtually unheard of for a top level manager to chastise one of his own players so unequivocally in public.

Indeed, the opposite has actually become the norm: to justify or at least to mitigate dubious actions even when all sound reason and logic suggests otherwise.

You would be hard pressed to find an example of Sir Alex Ferguson setting upon one of his own charges in such ruthless fashion regardless of the transgression, and Arsene Wenger has ‘failed to see’ far worse from Arsenal players.

Wenger was far more peaceful in his handling of a young Traore

Moreover, it’s easy to understand why most coaches opt against this kind of public shaming. Footballers already receive enough criticism on a regular basis from journalists, ex-pros and fans without their own boss weighing in, and often a gentle arm around the shoulder ultimately proves more productive than a sharp slap across the face.

Yet a healthy dose of humiliation can occasionally be just what the doctor ordered to restore a player’s sense of perspective. Mario Balotelli is, and probably always will be a high-maintenance individual, but boss Roberto Mancini’s intelligent use of ‘tough love’ has commanded the headstrong youngster’s loyalty and respect to an extent which no other manager has so far proved capable.

It is also true that singular bouts of ill-discipline, if left unchecked, can gradually spread throughout a club and create an entire culture which is much harder to eradicate.

Just ask Arsenal, who are consistently near the bottom of the Premier League’s disciplinary table and whose players have already racked up three red cards and a retrospective ban in the first six games of this season.

Warnock’s public reprimand does not guarantee that Traore will never get needlessly sent off again, but it will certainly make him think twice before making further rash decisions which could have dire consequences for his team. 

So too will the rest of the QPR squad, for fear of being subjected to similar treatment in the future. The boss has made his point, and made it well.

Although one wonders whether Warnock would have been quite so vociferous in his criticism had the player in question been Adel Taarabt or, heaven forbid, Joey Barton. Twitter might have exploded with the backlash…