Neil Warnock may be the last of the old school managers, but Cardiff City’s players still want him taking the register when they turn up on the first day of term next season.
It will be a campaign in the Championship, following their relegation from the Premier League, but a squad left frozen in the bottom three with a game to go believe the fire and fury of their touchline warrior can warm them again.
A few weeks ago, Warnock was talking openly about his desire to stay on for one more season, help the club find a successor, and then look after his garden in Cornwall.
But the cold, hard reality of relegation – and the calculations made in the face of lost millions – has put the future of the 70-year-old in severe doubt, even though he has a year remaining on his current contract.
Warnock is due to hold talks with the club’s Malaysian owner Vincent Tan over the next few days after Crystal Palace’s 3-2 victory on Saturday sentenced Cardiff to an immediate return to the Championship, just as happened in the 2013-14 season.
Cardiff, it seems, yearn for the rarified atmosphere of the top level, but as soon as they get there they choke. With Swansea City failing to reach the play-offs, it means that for the first time in eight years there will be no Welsh representation in the Premier League next season.
But as Cardiff prepare to go in search of their third promotion in eight seasons, both goalkeeper Neil Etheridge and winger Nathanial Mendez-Laing believe their best bet is to stick with Warnock.
“It’s massively important he remains,” said Mendez-Laing, a typical jewel in the rough Warnock signing who arrived on a free transfer from Rochdale.
“He pulls together everyone throughout the club, he’s got a good relationship with the players, and he’s won eight promotions.
“He knows the Championship better than anybody. If we does stay, I don’t think there’s anyone better to get a team back out of there.
“On a personal level, when I first came here he pulled me aside a lot and spoke to me on my own. His man-management with me was very good.
“I felt he gave me confidence when I needed it – on and off the pitch. Off the pitch, he’s been there for me as well. The relationship he has with his players works wonders for what happens on the pitch.”
Those eight promotions are more than anyone else has achieved in the professional leagues. But, like the club he manages, Warnock finds the difficulty starts when the journey ends and he reaches his destination.
His spells in the Premier League with Sheffield United, QPR, Palace and now Cardiff have all ended with him either him losing his job or the clubs he was in charge of being relegated.
At all four he could point to circumstances that conspired against him, starting with the Carlos Tevez controversy at West Ham in 2007 and its subsequent effect on Sheffield United on the final day of the season.
None, however, have proved as emotionally draining as the Emiliano Sala tragedy at Cardiff this season. The club’s record #15m signing was meant to supply the goals to keep Cardiff up after joining in January, but his death in a plane crash was described by Warnock as the most difficult thing he has had to deal with in 40 years of management.
The manager’s links with the agent who brokered the deal, Willie McKay – and the chain of events surrounding the transfer – may yet have an influence over whether Tan decides to stick with Warnock, but Mendez-Laing insists that from the squad’s perspective their boss did everything that could be expected.
It was, says Mendez-Laing, a time when their admiration for Warnock improved rather than diminished.
“When he came into training, I know there were times when he was not feeling his best,” he added.
“But he always put a smile on his face and got on with his job. He was there for the boys. We talked and support was offered for anyone who needed it.
“All those little things show why it’s so important he’s here again next season.”
Etheridge – whose shot-stopping has alerted a number of Premier League clubs and who made a world class save to deny Palace’s Michy Batchuayi a second goal – is another avowed Warnock admirer.
“He’s had a lot of faith in me and he’s turned my career around,” said Etheridge, who was signed by Warnock from Walsall, again for a round figure – nothing.
“He’s a fantastic man-manager, he knows exactly what to do. He’s been in the game long enough to know what players need – whether it’s a kick up the backside or an arm around them.
“As players we want him to stay, but that’s something he’ll reflect on this summer.”
Roy Hodgson – the Palace manager who is of similar vintage to Warnock, but a different temperament – also thinks the Cardiff manager deserves recognition of the job he has done in the most difficult circumstances.
“The fighting spirit they’ve shown to try to maintain their place in the league, that’s been well documented and most people have paid tribute to the fact the club did its very, very best and the players did their very best,” said Hodgson.
“Of course, the Emiliano Sala situation, everyone in football feels enormous sympathy to lose a player in such tragic circumstances.
“To have to deal with everything that comes afterwards – that takes a lot out of the manager, I’m sure the players as well, and in particular the whole of the club.”
But Hodgson thinks Cardiff should stick with Warnock if they feel he’s the best man for the job and not just because he’s been around for longer than most.
“Experience per se isn’t of much use to you if it’s not linked with some degree of competence and something which the team needs from you in terms of your management, leadership and coaching ability.
“I’ve got to say, I would never champion people on the basis of experience alone because being in football a long time does not make you necessarily good at it.
“Hopefully, what we are able to bring is what our clubs have needed at this particular moment in time. I guess we can both be satisfied with that, Neil and I.”