Warnock lifts mood to raise Cardiff once again
Veteran manager says things will be different if Bluebirds take him back to the Premier League
Neil Warnock has been through too much and suffered too many final-day heartaches to count any chickens before they are on the open-top bus. But the veteran manager believes that should Cardiff City advance to the Premier League either today or through the play-offs, it would be a different and more rewarding experience - both for him and the club.
It has been well trailed that Warnock would set a Football League record with an eighth promotion if they hang on to their one-point advantage over Fulham in this lunchtime's Championship conclusion and while that, naturally, would be an incredibly proud moment for the 69-year-old, the theory is that there would be a sense of foreboding in his celebrations.
After all, Warnock said only last year: "I don't like the Premier League," and his record highlights that, for him, the achievement has always resulted in huge let-down. Three times he has taken sides up and three times that season has ended with him being jobless.
There was also a fourth sojourn in a Premier League hot seat - when appointed to Crystal Palace in 2015 - and he lasted all of four months on that occasion. In light of this, it is perfectly understandable to believe that, for Warnock, the thrill of getting to the promised land is infinitely more enjoyable than the realities on arrival.
"Yeah, I would have said that in the past," Warnock agreed, as he took time out from preparations for the home decider against Reading. "But if Cardiff got to the Premier League, it would be a different ball game. If you look at my previous attempts in the top division, I don't think I had much of a chance in any of them. At QPR, they sold the club and it meant I couldn't sign a player from the day we went up in April, to the last week of August, and you can't do that. And, without getting into too many details, Sheffield United was also disappointing. It was the same at Notts County.
"I'm not saying we would stay up if we get there, but I just think I would want to go into the Premier League enjoying every minute of it. Cardiff is a stable club, with good people. Mehmet [Dalman, the chairman] has been fantastic with me and we are well organised. And, more importantly, the club is together now."
That seemed an implausible, if not impossible, scenario when Warnock arrived in the Welsh capital 18 months ago. Second from bottom in the Championship, the club who had tasted their own bitter single season in the Premier League three years before appeared to be on course for self-destruction. "Every department was looking after itself, really; all pulling in different directions," Warnock said. "I went around them all and asked them what problems they had. I know that's not really the manager's business, but I made it my business because I believed unless we brought it all together we had no chance. I talked to Mehmet and Vincent [Tan, the owner] and they were quite happy with me doing it."
Internally, the bonding operation began, but, externally, the glue would take rather longer to stick. Granted, Tan had relented and reverted to blue after his hated red rebrand but, as Vince Alm, the supporters' club spokesman, recalls, the place reeked of despondency.
"There was a huge disconnect between club and fans," Alm said. "The goodwill of the rebrand being scrapped had all but disappeared. We weren't happy with the previous management appointments [Russell Slade and Paul Trollope], the football wasn't great and the results were obviously terrible. There was a real concern we were on the slide down the divisions. We were selling all our best players and there hadn't been much investment, if any, in the playing staff or around the club. It had dried up and it looked as if the ownership was selling the assets and was ready to run."
Warnock's appointment transformed the mood. "There was an immediate surge," Alm said. "We realised Neil didn't come cheaply and that showed the owner and board were still serious. From that point forward it got better and better. Yes, Warnock has had to do it under financial restraints, but he appears happy with that. Certainly the fans are. There are supporters who will never forgive Tan, but I think the majority see it as he made a bad mistake that he has tried to rectify.
"It's funny, but whether we do it or not, this season has felt more joyful to the promotion under Malky [Mackay in 2012-'13], despite the fact that was our first time in 50-odd years. When we scored under Malky, it was a reserved joy, a static jubilation. Now, when we score it is so much more passionate. That's because we are playing in blue, sure, but also because of what Neil has done. It all feels right now."
- Cardiff City v Reading, Sky Sports Football, 12.30