Warnock lifts mood to raise Cardiff once again

Vet­eran man­ager says things will be dif­fer­ent if Blue­birds take him back to the Pre­mier League

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER - JAMES COR­RI­GAN

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.”

‘Now when we score it so much more pas­sion­ate. That’s be­cause we are play­ing in blue’

Cardiff City v Read­ing, Sky Sports Foot­ball, 12.30

‘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’

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