Gavin Whyte: Cardiff boss Neil Warnock says winger is 'just my cup of tea'

Gavin Whyte
Whyte has been named in the Northern Ireland squad for next week's Euro 2020 qualifier against the Netherlands

His touchline persona may suggest rugged defender or tough-tackling midfielder, but Neil Warnock was a winger in his playing days.

He makes no secret of how important he believes wide men are to football, his eyes lighting up when asked about their contribution to his teams.

And the man who once managed Keith Gillespie in England's top flight while at Sheffield United now has another Northern Ireland flyer at his disposal at Cardiff City.

Gavin Whyte made the step up to the Championship when he made the move to Wales from Oxford United in the summer - and he could barely have made a more favourable impression on his new boss.

"I haven't seen a lad like Gavin in many years - and I've had some good players," enthused Warnock.

"It's just the way that he is. He knows there is no time to lose - he wants to get on to the next game and be the best. He's learning all the time and the future is definitely bright.

"He's a manager's dream - just my cup of tea. He's naive but he's a breath of fresh air, what I call an old-fashioned winger as he gets the ball and runs at people.

"Wingers are often the first players to get the blame when things go wrong. People will say they can't do this or they can't do that, but I prefer to look at what they can do."

From a reserve to a regular

Neil Warnock
Warnock has formerly managed QPR and Sheffield United

Whyte, 23, scored nine goals in what was his first season in professional football at Oxford, having joined the League One club in the summer of 2018 from Irish Premiership outfit Crusaders.

As Warnock explained, however, he was not his original target at the Kassam Stadium, nor was his signing met with much positivity from the Cardiff supporters.

"He was recommended to me by a lad who has only recommended me two players, and they have both been good," he explains.

"I had been looking at someone else at Oxford but when I saw the clips of Gavin, I tried to sign him straight after that. It took a few weeks but we got him.

"He only came here as back-up and now he is a regular. A lot of our fans were questioning why were signing a lad from Oxford but, just eight games in, I don't think anyone is questioning it now."

As effusive as Warnock is in his praise of the Belfast native, he also stresses there are still elements of his game he needs to improve.

"He's probably doing a little bit too much defensively - although the full-back isn't complaining. I want him to do a bit more going forward and in scoring goals," he continued.

"The great thing is he is willing to learn and he listens. We do a lot of work with him on the video as there are different aspects of the game that he needs to get better at."

Irish League grounding 'helped make Whyte tough'

Gavin Whyte
Whyte was a major success at Oxford after moving there from Crusaders

The rapid acceleration of Whyte's career has been enhanced by the impact he has made on international football.

He scored with his first touch for Northern Ireland after coming off the bench in a 3-0 friendly win over Israel at Windsor Park last September, and has gone on to win five caps for manager Michael O'Neill.

Like Gareth McAuley, Stuart Dallas and Liam Boyce before him, the 23-year-old learnt his trade in the Irish League before making the move to England - something which his current club boss believes has been a key factor in his development.

"We have an Under-23 league and I feel it is an absolute waste of time. I feel sorry for the players because it is all 'pass, pass, pass' and they don't teach players how to win games.

"In Northern Ireland. it is an ideal preparation for the likes of Gavin, because you have to learn quickly or you'll end up on your backside.

"The grounding that playing in the Irish League gives you stands you in good stead. It's a man's game there, you've got to be tough to survive. Gavin learnt a lot there."

'Crusaders made me the player I am'

Gavin Whyte
Whyte won the NIFWA Player of the Year award in his final season at Crusaders

And what of Whyte himself - how is he enjoying life at Cardiff City?

"I love it," he said. "It didn't take me too long to settle in as the boys have been really good with me.

"I've played a lot more than I thought I would. The style of play in the Championship is quicker than I was used to but I've done well and the more I play the more I will improve.

"I do still have to pinch myself as everything has happened so quickly. It's been an incredible journey so far and really this is just the start."

Having won three Irish Premiership titles with Crusaders, Whyte is still very close to his former team-mates and he is always looking out to see their highlights on a Saturday evening.

"Crusaders, the manager Stephen Baxter and the backroom staff made me the player I am. I'm still best mates with some of the players there and speak to them every day.

"I'm glad I took the route of playing men's football really early. Getting a few years' experience before making the move to England has helped me massively."

His manager certainly thinks so.