Football’s rebellious rock star Neil Warnock bows out of the Premier League today – most likely with a smile, a glare, and possibly a punch of the air.
The Cardiff City manager – whose Liam Gallagher-style peering into a touchline camera last week went viral on social media during the Crystal Palace match – is taking charge in the top flight for what is likely to be the final time.
Warnock has not confirmed it will be his last appearance inside a Premier League technical area. But with the Bluebirds already relegated, doubts still surrounding his own immediate future, and only a year left on his present contract, it’s a reasonable assumption the old touchline warrior will be going into battle for the final time when he steps out to face Manchester United at Old Trafford.
No more scowls. No more fury flung at the fourth official. No more doubled wind-up punches in triumph to celebrate a victory. The Premier League’s most hissed pantomime villain is exiting the stage – probably.
Warnock on the sidelines is unashamedly old school. When things go wrong for Pep Guardiola, he might unscrew the top on his mineral water and take a sip.
Jurgen Klopp reacts to misfortune with an ironic smile or a solemn-faced stare.
But Warnock lets his passions run unfettered. The agonies are all too obvious – he becomes a twisted vortex of septuagenarian anger and despair.
“What better place to have your final game in the Premier League than at the theatre of dreams,” says the Cardiff manager.
“I think it’s quite appropriate that, for me. It’s always been a special place. No disrespect to all the other clubs – Anfield is tremendous as well – but where I come from, Manchester United was the place and it’s always got a special atmosphere.
“I know it’s a difficult period for them at the moment, but every club has that. It might take another 10 years, 15 years – who knows? But they will come back and be just as good as what the other two are now.
“It’s just ups and downs and the way that football goes. It’s one of those things that you have to bite your tongue as a fan, like some of the other fans have had to do in the past – and enjoy it when you have the success.
“They beat us easily earlier in the season. Was it five? I can’t remember, it was that many. They walked all over us, so I can imagine on the last day of the season, they will want to do the same.
“But I think we have improved since then. I’ve had a lot of pleasure this year, managing this group. There’s been a lot of heartache as well, but they are my kind of players.
“I am labelled sometimes and quite rightly so. But that’s what I enjoy doing – creating a group of lads like this who can punch above their weight.
“I couldn’t be more proud. Most of my teams get together years later and I’m sure this group will do in years to come.
Neil Warnock 👏😂pic.twitter.com/YUCWAsLKqi
— COPA90 (@COPA90) May 4, 2019
Bittersweet Symphony feat. Neil Warnock pic.twitter.com/eKJxOpAURY
— Kristian (@vonstrenginho) May 4, 2019
“That’s what I try to do – create a great bunch of players. I was tempted to write a book about this year, but I’ve decided against it.”
Cardiff lost 5-1 at home to United back in December, a defeat painful enough for Warnock to have lodged it in a distant part of his memory he is not keen to visit.
“I do think we have improved since then. And what better place to have your final game in the Premier League than at the theatre of dreams?
“I think it’s quite appropriate that, for me. When I was a young manager I used to lay on my bed and picture my dreams as I looked at the ceiling.”
Warnock now turns his attention to next season. Despite the speculation over his position, the 70-year-old has received the backing of owner Vincent Tan to stay in the Welsh capital next year, but key meetings with the club’s hierarchy are planned for Monday.
Warnock believes, with a few new signings, the club can make an immediate return to the Premier League.
“If we got two or three decent new signings, and we gave it a good go, we could get back up in the next 12 months. I think the club could take off and see 40 to 50,000 here. I think there’s more than the potential here at Cardiff to hold down their own in the top flight.
“This is now a big club and it has to think big for the future.”