NEIL Warnock admits to already having one eye on next season as Leeds United prepare to embark on the final quarter of the current campaign.
The Elland Road club travel to Hull City tonight sitting six points adrift of the top six and needing a win to draw level with their hosts, who are one place higher in the table but have two games in hand.
Defeat in the East Riding would, therefore, deal a serious blow to any hopes United have of forcing their way into the promotion race, a point Warnock readily acknowledges ahead of a difficult run of fixtures.
The Leeds manager said: “We have to win eight or nine games out of 12. And everyone has seen the run-in. We have Hull away, Middlesbrough away and West Ham at home in our next three games.
“If we lose the next three, I will experiment with one or two things with a view to next season. If we are not good enough then we will know. The players do keep surprising me and I hope they do it again in these three games. But if we come out with no points, we can forget all about it. If we get six or seven then we have a chance.
“In my own mind, I am looking towards next season but I am looking to win all these three games.”
On the job ahead at Leeds, Warnock added: “There is a lot of work to be done. The club has come up so quickly over the last few years and sometimes you go quicker than you imagine. To go to the next stage, there has to be things done.
“The chairman knows that. He has to support me when I ask for certain things over the next few months. He knows I want to do things immediately, not in two or three years’ time.”
One big change Warnock plans to implement ahead of next season is to end United’s over-reliance on loan players.
Since kicking off the 2007-08 campaign in League One, Leeds have brought in 51 loanees – a tally that includes 17 that have joined the club during the past 18 months.
Asked by the Yorkshire Post if, under his stewardship, United would look to drastically slash the number of loan arrivals, Warnock replied: “As much as I can, yes.
“Before pre-season (begins), you have to have people who care. With all respect to loan players, you can get some good ones. But when the chips are down and you have to put your head in then loan players, quite rightly, think about their own future.
“Whereas, once you have signed on the dotted line permanently then you care that little bit more. That is what I look for. The loan system can be used for icing on the cake when two or three injuries come along at short notice. But I don’t believe in it otherwise.”
Warnock had a starring role in a BBC2 documentary, broadcast on Sunday night, that lifted the lid on the often bizarre goings-on at QPR during the four seasons preceding this one.
If anything, the 63-year-old emerged as the hero of the piece after leading Rangers into the Premier League last season despite the antics of owner Flavio Briatore and chairman Gianni Paladini, whose actions as captured in ‘The Four-Year Plan’ can only be filed in the category ‘more hindrance than help’.
The United chief, who has revealed that Davide Somma will not play this season as the striker continues to recover from a torn cruciate ligament, said: “I had to use all my experience in that period to get QPR promotion.
“To come out with promotion in the circumstances and having had to deal with everything, that is why I say that was my best and finest achievement.”
Asked if the QPR he took over in 20th place almost two years ago were in a better or worse shape than Leeds now, Warnock replied: “It is a better place in that QPR were battling relegation. We only need a point here to stay up here so I can assess the players at the club in a healthy situation.
“But at QPR, there was one player who I could never have imagined in my career working with. He was the best player I have had under me, a lad called Ale Faurlin.
“Just looking at him in my first training session at QPR, I knew I could build my team around him. Whereas here, we have a lot of good players but maybe not someone as good as him.
“But I do believe we have exciting players. The forwards are as good as I have ever inherited, if I am honest. I have always loved (Luciano) Becchio and (Robert) Snodgrass, while (Ross) McCormack is someone who can fit in anywhere.
“Another difference is when I went to QPR, we had eight loan players. No-one really cared about the club. You can’t be having that. You must have players who want to wear the shirt.”
Warnock, meanwhile, has been linked with a loan move for Portsmouth striker Luke Varney. He said: “I must have spoken to him 12 times in my career but never got him yet. His agent did ring me, though.”