IN his four decades in management, Neil Warnock has seen just about everything. So, when he reflects on the events that have blown football apart in the last few days, with six English clubs joining a breakaway group looking to establish a European Super League, the 72-year-old cannot say that he is shocked.

Disappointed? Undoubtedly. As someone who cut his managerial teeth at Gainsborough Trinity and Burton Albion, and who fully appreciates the importance of the whole of the football pyramid, how could he not be? Concerned? Yes. For both his current club, Middlesbrough, and the good of the wider game.

But surprised? Not exactly. Football has been heading in a certain direction for quite some time now, so while the plans that were unveiled on Sunday night might be the most brazen attempt to divorce sporting competition from financial priorities yet, it can be argued it is merely the latest stage in a process that was already well under way.

“The problem has been coming, it’s not just arrived,” said Warnock. “The problem has been coming for many years, and we’ve not done anything to stop it. We’ve just let anybody who’s got a lot of money buy football clubs.

“If you’re going to allow that, then it’s like anything else, money thrives on money. When you’ve got a bit of money in your pocket, you want more and more. I suppose the pandemic has hit everybody in the pocket, and these guys are very clever people and think they’ve spotted an opportunity to make some more money.

“The problem is that they’ve never been at the grassroots level, so they have no understanding of it. They’ve never stood on the Kop anywhere or been to Tavistock to watch a non-league game.

“It’s difficult because these people who own the clubs, and the chief executives who run them, they’ve never experienced anything other than money and business. That’s their priority, not football, and it’s hard to educate anybody that doesn’t need to listen to anybody else. They’ve got that much money, they can do whatever they want.”

To Warnock, football’s direction of travel will always be dictated by the owners at the very top of the game.

If your club is run by someone like Steve Gibson, who was a boyhood supporter of the team he now leads and who continues to have lifelong roots in the communities his club serves, key decisions will always reflect the wider responsibilities that have historically gone hand-in-hand with football club ownership.

If, however, your club is run by a hedge fund, or an overseas state, or a foreign oligarch, do not be surprised if the supporters who are supposed to be its bedrock are ignored or left behind.

“It comes down to who’s in charge,” said Warnock. “Steve Gibson is in charge here and there’s no way he would do anything other than trying to help the fans. He is a fan. He’s as bad as anybody – he gives me his opinion and I tell him to shut up at times!

“I remember the uproar when the Glazers first came in at Manchester United – well, they’re still there now, aren’t they? That’s what makes you realise how lucky we are to have Steve Gibson. He’s a fan. He’s thrown money away left, right and centre, but he wants Middlesbrough to do well. I know there are different issues at the top of the Premier League, but I still think it comes down to how a hierarchy see their fans.”

Success, for Gibson, would be a return to the top-flight, but not because it would lead to increased revenue streams. The Boro chairman wants the buzz of Boro’s Premier League glory days in the 1990s and 2000s to return, strengthening the bond between club and community and creating a sense of excitement right across Teesside.

At other clubs, success is purely measured in pounds, shillings and pence, to the extent where owners care more about the balance sheet than the league table.

“With a lot of the people higher up, I don’t think they understand about English football and where it comes from,” continued Warnock. “I was at Bishop Auckland not so long ago watching the Under-23s, and Bishop Auckland have got dreams.

“It’s hard for the type of people we’re talking about, with the billions they’ve got, to understand that. I was once at a chairman’s house, and while I was talking to him, he was looking at these arrows going across the screen showing him how much his shares were going up every two or three minutes. That was all he was interested in."