WITH comebacks more in vogue this week than at any time since Ol’ Blue Eyes was doing things his way, the goings-on at QPR have surely opened up the possibility of yet another ‘last’ hurrah for Neil Warnock.
The 63-year-old’s sacking at Loftus Road came as a surprise, particularly following the minor footballing miracle he had performed during his 22 months in west London by succeeding where six previous managers had failed under a demanding regime of Bernie Ecclestone, Flavio Briatore and Lakshmi Mittal.
Delivering the Championship title in what turned out to be his only full season as R’s manager was a stunning achievement, not least as it was done so on a smaller budget than that afforded many of his rival managers.
It also cemented Warnock’s reputation as a specialist in delivering promotion, Rangers’ success last term being his seventh in a career that has taken in stays at several clubs including Scarborough, Huddersfield Town and Sheffield United.
During his first couple of months back in the Premier League, Warnock was quoted saying the Loftus Road job would be his “last in football”. A young family and a home in Cornwall were mentioned as reasons why it might be time to step off the managerial merry-go-round once his time at Rangers came to an end, reasons that on the surface seemed sound.
To anyone, however, who has followed Warnock’s career closely, not a word of it rang true – not least because similar utterances were made during his stints at Bramall Lane and, later, Crystal Palace.
The prospect of Warnock stepping away from the game seemed a remote one even before the events of the past week. Now, it seems even less likely with someone boasting a CV as impressive as the 63-year-old surely not wanting to end a distinguished career on such a low note.
Warnock certainly deserved better than his treatment at the hands of owner Tony Fernandes who, in the wake of Sunday’s sacking, appealed via Twitter for QPR fans to “be patient” and “give us time” – two things he denied his by now former manager.
The sacking seems just as harsh as when the news first broke. Okay, a return of one point from six games isn’t good enough. But when it is noted that this poor run includes a 2-0 reverse to champions Manchester United and one-goal defeats at Arsenal and Liverpool, suddenly things look less bleak.
Throw in that QPR have not been in the relegation zone all season and that Warnock has had to operate for the opening half of the season with last year’s Championship winners plus a few recruits added in haste towards the end of the summer window, surely there are mitigating reasons for the recent run.
After what Warnock has achieved at Rangers, who let’s not forget were embroiled in a fight to avoid relegation to League One when he took charge in March 2010, he could be forgiven for feeling hard done to.
If the former Blades manager is anything, however, it is resilient in the face of adversity. He has shown that time and time again
With that in mind, it is this column’s fervent hope that Warnock once again performs a dramatic U-turn and that a 13th job – be it in Yorkshire, London or wherever – lies in wait for one of the game’s great characters.
Thierry Henry and Paul Scholes may have made the most unexpected of returns this week to help out their former clubs in an hour of need. Henry even scored the winner against Leeds United in the FA Cup to underline his worth as a golden oldie.
But it is surely football management’s own comeback king who is destined to make the most lasting impact on football, wherever that may be.