There was a time when the thought of Neil Warnock managing Cardiff City would have left me bitterly disappointed. I found his manner abrasive and we always seemed to be on the wrong side of the result when Warnock came to town. He truly was the pantomime villain.
By the time Paul Trollope’s disastrous reign came to an end on October 4th 2016, I think I would have taken Timmy Mallet as manager (look him up kids). The ‘Wales Way’ that Trollope had intended to implement had fallen by the wayside and we were all desperately looking back at the highs of Euro 2016 and wondering, as Noel Gallagher once sang; where did it all go wrong?
Warnock arrived like a knight on an old steed; slightly creaky and with a hint of his best days behind him. Nevertheless, he rallied the troops and even managed to bring a couple of new faces in to boot (literally). Hoilett and Bamba are still getting Bluebirds’ hearts a flutter even now.
A debut win at home against our then-nearest rivals Bristol City wasn’t a bad start and whilst that first season eventually petered out with a 12th place finish, the signs were promising and Bluebirds everywhere bought into the hype. The Blues were going up.
Promotion was the aim and after narrowly avoiding being pipped to the post by an almost unbelievable late surge by Fulham, Cardiff proved all the critics wrong. A sunny Sunday in May saw the Cardiff City Stadium awash with blue as Reading kindly allowed Cardiff to complete more than five passes in a row, securing passage to the promised land of the Premier League.
Suffice to say the top flight brought much drama both on and off the pitch, as is customary for the Bluebirds, but no one could possibly have predicted the tragic events that unfolded in January of this year. It was at this moment, watching Warnock take his seat in a packed press conference to explain how Cardiff were going to try and deal with the tragedy of Sala’s flight, that I thought his time had come.
He appeared a frail, old man, weary of the pressures of the Premier League and broken hearted by the human tragedy that transcended all of the footballing family. This, I thought, was his time to step down and live the good life.
Alas, I was wrong and Neil ploughed on overseeing yet another narrow miss in his attempts to avoid relegation from the Premier League. On one, hand you could blame the awful officiating during Cardiff’s controversial loss to Chelsea at home. On the other, you can be honest and see that the Bluebirds were heavily reliant on Brighton’s capitulation.
In the end, the club were relegated and unity reigned both on and off the pitch. You had the bizarre spectacle of a relegated team getting clapped off the pitch. The only similar situation to this was when Aaron Ramsey was applauded for scoring two goals AGAINST the Bluebirds for Arsenal in 2014.
Surely now was the time he would step aside? Another year of Saturday, Tuesday games with long journeys up north for a man in his 70’s… surely not? Yet again, Warnock confirmed that he was here for another year, but this was “definitely his last in management.”
This was the death knoll for the Warnock reign. The moment Cardiff allowed him to publicly confirm what we all privately expected was the moment the wheels began to fall off. A Bobby Reid transfer saga and no away wins haven’t helped his cause either and now here we are.
It’s pretty much November, Cardiff are mid-table in every sense of the word and perhaps most worryingly of all, on the pitch is where they look at their weakest. The abject, downright awful performance in the biggest match of the season so far, away to Swansea City, may have proved to be the final nail in what will eventually be regarded as an enormously successful reign. It wasn’t to be and Birmingham came to town looking to take full advantage of a side on it’s knees.
Truthfully, Cardiff City should have been dead and buried within 30 minutes of kick off but clung on and eventually finished strongly to see off a decent side. That for me doesn’t end the matter, he doesn’t automatically get a reprieve because we won a match in relatively unconvincing fashion (again).
To give him his dues, Warnock reunited a club that was split so deeply, many feared the divide would never be healed and the bond between Bluebird and club lost forever. He restored a sense of pride in the capital. He has forged a fire in the Cardiff furnace and three years ago, it would have been very hard to believe that possible.
Despite all of that, I think now is finally the time for Warnock to walk away. Not necessarily because results and performances haven’t been great, but for his own sanity. We’re only given three score years and ten and he’s used his up, now is the time when he should be walking the dogs at Ogmore with Sharon, or travelling the world.
At this stage of life, time is more precious than ever before and he doesn’t have a second to waste barking instructions from a cold touchline, whilst a beleaguered defence creaks under the strain. No one lying in their death bed says “remind me how many promotions I had again”, it’s time with loved ones that matters most and he may be using up precious seconds on a vanity project when he could be enjoying the fruits of his labours.
Warnock should let someone else take the reins. He can hold his head high knowing he reunited a community club and brought smiles to thousands of faces both young and old, male and female. He will always be remembered fondly, so go and earn your rest sir, you’ve earned it.