The self-confessed “quick, brainless winger” has returned to football management with Neil Warnock about to take charge of his 16th League club.
Middlesbrough is the latest stop-off in Warnock’s 35-year odyssey as the man who left Cardiff City last November prepares to take over from the sacked head coach Jonathan Woodgate.
In a perfect football script, Boro and Warnock are now due to host promotion-chasing Cardiff on the penultimate weekend of the season on July 18.
The Teessiders parted company with the former England international on Tuesday morning three days after a damaging 3-0 home defeat by Swansea.
A club statement said: “MFC can confirm that head coach Jonathan Woodgate has been relieved of his duties with immediate effect.
“Jonathan was relieved of his role on Tuesday morning and will be replaced by the experienced Neil Warnock.”
Boro are 21st in the Championship after losing to the Swans in their first game since the season restarted on Saturday.
Former Leeds, Real Madrid and England defender Woodgate, 40, was appointed last summer but oversaw just nine wins.
A year since Neil Warnock squared up to a BT Sport camera. Good times ❤️ pic.twitter.com/DXQvmCuoCW
— Elliot Hackney (@ElliotHackney) May 4, 2020
Warnock, 71, has been without a club since leaving Cardiff City after more than three years and was recently linked with the upcoming vacancy at Birmingham City.
But he is now back at Boro – working in his favourite division and on his second favourite task in trying to save a club from relegation.
He now has eight matches to try to keep Middlesbrough in the second tier, with the Teesside club level on points with 22nd-placed Hull City.
His first game in charge will be away at fellow strugglers Stoke City on Saturday.
Asked about his longevity whilst at Cardiff last season, Warnock said he turned to management because he came to the realisation he would be never be good enough to get to the top level as a player.
“At Hartlepool I had a manager called Len Ashurst and we got beat at Boston in the FA Cup,” Warnock recalled. “He called us all in the next day and started on every player and what he thought of them.
“He got to me and I’ll never forget what he said – what we should have done and why we let him down and the club down.
“But it struck me there, that I was a journeyman footballer. Someone told me I’d made a success out of being a failure. I knew I could never get to the top. I wasn’t good enough. I was a quick, brainless winger.”
Warnock was 24 at the time and had seven more years of running up and down the wing for Hartlepool, Scunthorpe, Aldershot, Barnsley, York and Crewe.
“I couldn’t change direction. I used to be quick, mind you, and they’d have to open the gates at the far end so I could run out of the ground.”
Then came the switch from jobbing footballer to job-hungry manager – a choice that has kept him in sheepskin coats, tracksuits and baggy sweatshirts for 39 years – including non-League – and counting. Margaret Thatcher had just become prime minister.
I had played 300-odd games over 10 years, but I realised the only way I could get to the top was as a manager. I loved talking when I was playing and telling people what to do.
“I started coaching in a Sunday league, at Todwick, then went to Gainsborough and Scarborough. I knew that to become a good manager I had to serve my education.”
He may have gone on to rub shoulders on the touchline with Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, in their Armani suits and grey and black V-neck sweaters, but Warnock’s first taste of management sounds more like the four Northerners sketch from Monty Python.
“At Todwick, I took the washing to the launderette on a Sunday morning. I’d give the girl eight quid to do it all. The treasurer used to collect 50p subs from players for the electricity and we’d train twice a week under one floodlight, having changed outside the dressing rooms.
“It was the same at Gainsborough. I used to take the players to the pub after training and we’d play darts and dominoes with the fans to try and give something back. Burton and Scarborough were similar.”
From Scarborough, he want to Notts County, Torquay, Huddersfield, Plymouth, Oldham, Bury – “the only real disaster” – Sheffield United, Crystal Palace, QPR, Leeds, back to Palace, back to QPR, Rotherham, Cardiff and now Middlesbrough.
Many of his old friends and foes have not just retired from football, but they’ve had the dreaded vote of confidence from life itself before being summoned to the ultimate upstairs boardroom.
“When you get to my age, you look at the newspapers and watch the news and everybody you knew seems to be passing away,” said Warnock.
“Am I dinosaur? I think I am regarding my date of birth. And that’s one of the more complimentary words used to describe me.
“But you can’t do this job at this age unless you’ve got enthusiasm and it’s the players who keep me feeling young.”