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Will Championship great Neil Warnock earn a final shot at the Premier League?

Neil Warnock
Photo: Reuters

Cardiff City

Will Championship great Neil Warnock earn a final shot at the Premier League?

Achieving promotion to the Premier League with second-placed Cardiff City would rank among Championship stalwart Neil Warnock’s finest career achievements, writes Greg Whitaker.

Earlier this week, Neil Warnock told the assembled press that he “loves it” when his Cardiff City side are not mentioned in the race for promotion this season.

The high flying Bluebirds have certainly proved a surprise package this season, with Warnock once again up to his old tricks and making good use of his vast managerial expertise.

With runaway leaders Wolves, along with the likes of Aston Villa and Derby, taking all the headlines this season, it would appear Cardiff are indeed operating under the radar.

With relatively limited resources at his disposal and no real promotion expectations prior to the start of the season, the highly divisive Warnock, even in his 38th year of football management, is once again showing why he is still the master at this level.

The 69-year-old, who is now managing his 15th club, is a rare beast in modern football.

Unapologetically honest and forthright, he is the last in a dying breed of old school British managers, and one of the very few who has managed to adapt and continue to succeed in a game that barely resembles the one he left as a player nearly four decades ago.

Cutting his managerial teeth in non-league football, Warnock soon began to make a name for himself as an up-and-coming manager during the 1980s.

His managerial career was kick-started when he guided Conference side Scarborough into the Football League for the very first time in 1987, making them first club to win automatic promotion following the abolition of the re-election system in the process.

Successful stints at Notts County, Huddersfield Town, Plymouth Argyle, Oldham and Bury followed, before he took over at his boyhood club, Sheffield United, in 1999.

Under his stewardship, the Blades were transformed from a struggling second tier side into serial promotion contenders, with the club’s long awaited return to the Premier League coming in 2006.

However, a highly controversial relegation the following season, immortalised by the image of the ‘ineligible’ Carlos Tevez scoring a vital winner for relegation rivals West Ham at Old Trafford, saw Warnock resign and take some time away from the game.

Despite the Blades receiving a £20 million settlement after a lengthy court battle, Sheffield United are yet to return to the Premier League – surely Warnock’s biggest regret of his career.

The former winger returned to the dugout with Crystal Palace, before getting his second shot at the Premier League after guiding fellow London outfit QPR to the Championship title in 2011.

Time spent at Leeds United, a second spell at Selhurst Park, and a relegation scrap with Rotherham all came and went before Warnock was announced as Paul Trollope’s successor at Cardiff City in October 2016.

Admitting when he took the job that it would likely be his last in football, Warnock has unashamedly stuck to his tried and tested management style, once again with great effect.

Packing his teams with leaders on the pitch and in the dressing room, organisation drilled into each and every squad member, and a ‘my way or the highway’ mentality, rarely so effectively implemented by anyone else in the modern game, has made him enemies over the years, but also brought him a great deal of success.

This method of success, along, of course, with his infamous short temper and frequently observable explosions of rage, often aimed at match officials, has given Warnock an almost pantomime villain image, and one which he loves to play up to.

Indeed, as he noted in a recent interview, when discussing how the past greats of football should be remembered, he said, “I don’t want silence. I want them all to be chanting “Warnock’s a w*****” over and over again. For a whole minute. That would be my ideal.”

However he presents himself, it cannot be argued that the man gets results.

Cardiff City were deeply mired in a relegation battle when Warnock took to the hot seat at the Welsh capital club in October of 2016.

Less than 18 months later the Bluebirds sit in second position, behind only runaway leaders, Wolves.

A turnaround made all the more impressive when Warnock’s transfer budget is taken into account.

The Welsh outfit have spent a little under £15m on incoming players during the last two transfer windows combined – a shadow of the money spent by other names in the promotion mix, including Wolves, Villa, Derby and Middlesbrough.

Although he has claimed in the past not to enjoy managing in the Premier League, it is hard to imagine Warnock is not itching for one last shot at the big time.

His Championship credentials are unquestionably up there with some of the great Football League managers.

However, fate has been unkind to the Yorkshireman during his only two spells managing in the top flight.

Football is all about theatre and narrative.

Despite a great deal of ‘pantomime’ animosity aimed at the Marmite-esque Neil Warnock, if he manages to take this unfancied Cardiff City side into the Premier League this season, it would surely rank as his finest achievement, and cement his status as one of the second tier’s greatest managers.

Greg Whitaker

Greg is a freelance writer and broadcast journalist who has previously worked as a sports journalist at the likes of the BBC, Yahoo Sports UK, and the Hull Daily Mail. A long-standing Hull City supporter, Greg has also spent time as a Director on the Board of the Hull City Supporters' Trust. Follow him on Twitter - @Greg_Whitaker

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