Cardiff City are seeking a new manager, the 10th who will have managed the club in some form or other over the past 10 years. But the legacy and impact of Neil Warnock is one that stands alone in a turbulent decade, says Josh Thomas.
The Sevenside Derby is almost up and Bristol City are attacking towards the Canton Stand. The ball is slipped through to Kasey Palmer but Leandro Bacuna comes across to clear the danger and send the ball upfield in search for a Cardiff City equaliser. Moments later the final whistle blows and The Robins secure their first away win over the Bluebirds in 17 years.
Loud boos are heard from all parts of the stadium, some fans sit down, dejected, while others stand up hurling abuse towards the players and, in particular, manager Neil Warnock.
Less than 24 hours later, at 5pm, the news came through – Warnock Leaves Cardiff City.
After three years in charge, had he reached the end of the road? Or, as some fans would tell you, he had more to offer in this his final season, as he has been the greatest manager in the history of the club.
With two months left of the decade, surely City’s last 10 years will go down as one of the most turbulent decades in the club’ history. No less than 10 managers, two promotions, two visits to Wembley, but in the middle of that came the despised rebrand from blue to red.
The decision to turn from the traditional colours meant many supporters were driven away and some have never come back.
It was against that backdrop that in October 2016, with two wins form 11 games and second bottom in the Championship table, Paul Trollope was sacked. Cardiff were a world away from the Premier League and after one fleeting season at the top level, they seemed highly unlikely to reach it again soon.
Up stepped Warnock, the man with seven promotions from his previous 14 clubs, who had recently led Rotherham to an escape from seemingly inevitable relegation from the Championship the previous season.
“I was hoping I could get a job where I could get my eighth promotion or have a good go at it,” he said at the time of his appointment.
“Whilst I don’t think it’s impossible at any level to do that (promotion) it’s probably going to be a little more difficult when you’re second bottom.
“Before the end of my career it’d be nice to do that, no one else has done that before.
“You’ve got to have ambitions and you’ve got to have challenges and that still is the last big challenge that I’ve got in my career to do and I hope that I can achieve that while I’m here.”
Warnock dived into the transfer market straight away bought in Junior Hoilett as his first signing before signing Sol Bamba one day later. Both had been discarded and were unwanted by other clubs.
Two more signings followed with Marouane Chamakh and Kieran Richardson before City took on Bristol City at the Cardiff City Stadium on the 14th October.
The Bluebirds came into the game having one win from their first five home games. Peter Whittingham got City’s first from a penalty before a debut goal from Bamba. Despite Lee Tomlin’s consolation, City secured their first home win in four games.
Results picked up, confidence came back, and having been linked with a move out of the club during Christmas 2016, Kenneth Zohore would score 12 goals in the second half of the season to ensure Warnock finished his first season in a respectable 13th place.
In February 2017, Warnock was given a one year extension and said how happy he was to remain at the club, targeting a record-breaking promotion ahead of the 2017/18 season.
“We wanted to stay, they wanted us to stay, we wanted an opportunity to do well next season, they’ve given us that.
“Now we want to try and put the club in a place where we will be strong enough next season to have a go.
“We’ll be up against big budgets so we’ll have to be very good at what we do all over the club to give us a chance to get successful.”
Warnock’s men started the season with a 1-0 win over Burton Albion, with Zohore netting a 90th minute winner, a gritty success which set the tone for the rest of the season.
The Bluebirds won their first five games in a row and in the process made history after their 2-0 win against Sheffield United. It was the first time in City’s 107-year history they had won their opening five League games of a season.
Despite a four game losing streak during the Christmas period, Warnock’s side progressed and would go on a 13-game unbeaten run including eight wins in a row to earn automatic promotion.
Keeping Cardiff in the Premier League proved a task beyond Warnock, although the attempt to stay above Brighton – and escape the drop – was sustained until the final month of the season.
There was also the Emiliano Sala affair to deal with, which appeared to sap the 70-year-old’s energy and emotional drive.
Warnock travelled to Argentina for Sala’s funeral and became the public face of a club that opted to use their manager as their solitary spokesman during the aftermath.
That role appeared to place an extra burden on Warnock, especially as what began as a personal tragedy quickly developed into a murky, bitter and undignified financial battle between Cardiff and Sala’s previous club, Nantes.
Cardiff have won only five out of 16 League matches so far this season and are 10 points adrift of the automatic promotion places.
After Sunday’s defeat at home to Lee Johnson’s men, Warnock walked to the dressing room for the last time after his 144th game in charge.
In that time he picked up 59 wins, 29 draws and 56 defeats leaving a win percent of 41. But his time in South Wales should serve as a reminder of how he picked up a team destined for League One, and on little budget he took the team to the top. Players often ran through walls for him and created so many memories.
He always gave time for the fans including one moment of generosity when he bought Easter eggs and cakes out for the fans who waited behind after the 2-0 defeat at home to Liverpool.
But as with the Sala affair, Warnock has looked isolated and alone for much of this season. Other figures have rarely come forward in public to offer any support as results have proved difficult to achieve – perhaps wary of backing a manager whose style of football has not delivered the excitement it provided in the promotion season of two years ago.
In the end, carrying that pressure alone seems to have worn down Warnock and the club, equally, appear to have lost faith in his ability to turn things around.
What happens next is uncertain, although chairman Mehmet Dalman has claimed it is hoped a quick appointment can be made regarding a replacement.
Warnock called promotion an exercise in “bringing the club together.” He certainly did that and that alone will be his legacy – helping to rebuild the club that was horribly divided.
He instigated a recovery not many expected and some fear will not be seen again for many years. In that sense, he should be remembered as one of the club’s most successful managers.