Why nobody is better equipped to transform ailing Middlesbrough than Neil Warnock - Leon Wobschall

BEFORE Neil Warnock’s arrival on the equivalent of a white charger at Middlesbrough in late June, Steve Gibson had plenty to rue when the subject turned to the most streetwise septuagenarian you are ever likely to meet in football.

Middlesbrough manager Neil Warnock.

The Boro chairman will remember how Warnock’s Notts County side outwitted the Teessiders en route to a 2-1 aggregate success in a two-legged Second Division play-off final semi-final in 1990-91 which was far more comprehensive than the scoreline suggested.

Gibson will also recall countless other occasions when a Warnock-inspired side has turned over Boro. Too many to recount, really.

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Then there was that early Spring night in South Yorkshire in March, 2016 which crystallised the Warnock legend of being able to continually squeeze every last drop out of what he has at his disposal.

Neil Warnock (right) in celebratory mood during his time as Rotherham United manager. Picture: Nigel French/PA Wire.

A last-gasp goal from Rotherham United’s Lee Frecklington saw Warnock’s relegation-haunted hosts turn over a second-placed Boro side going full pelt for promotion in the Millers’ remarkable Great Escape season of 2015-16.

Boro chief Aitor Karanka’s dark expression afterwards said it all.

A few days later, a training ground bust-up with Boro players saw him temporarily placed on gardening leave as his side’s bid for the Premier League threatened to unravel.

After that bitter loss at the AESSEAL New York Stadium, Gibson – amid his deep-seated disappointment – texted Warnock to lament his side’s defeat and ‘congratulate’ him on his achievement, stressing that he knew what was going to happen as the action unfolded on a night when the Millers fought for every yard and ball.

Neil Warnock in the spotlight as manager of Leeds United. Picture: Gerard Binks/JPIMedia.

Warnock had Boro’s number again, but it was a sign of the respect between the pair that Gibson got in touch.

It is why Gibson knew Boro were in good, safe and capable hands when he contacted Warnock earlier this summer with his club’s fate on a knife-edge.

It is why they will be now that Warnock, as expected, has accepted the challenge of managing the club next season.

The self-styled Steel City version of ‘Red Adair’ did exactly what most suspected he would do as Boro recently avoided a disastrous first relegation into the third tier since those dark days of 1986.

Warnock had done it again – but this time, there was mass relief on Teesside at his presence on football’s return after lockdown in the dying embers of 2019-20.

Sailing so close to the wind is something that neither Gibson nor Warnock are countenancing again as plans turn to the Covid-changed Championship of 2020-21.

A Championship where clubs will not be throwing money around with gay abandon as they have done in previous seasons. New financial realities will kick in for most.

It is a time when chairmen will rightly want bang for their buck. A time when those managers with stacked contacts books and well-versed in wheeling and dealing and a spot of sweet talk here and there are likely to come into their own during the truncated transfer window.

Few can compete with Warnock at Championship level in that regard and the work he must undertake to get Boro ship-shape and fighting at the right end of the table is major.

He has already spoken about the need for a ‘large influx of players’ and bringing in some experienced leaders down the spine of a squad which he views to be lop-sided and light in defenders.

It is not a time for five-year plans – who can say what football will be like in 2025? – and a land of locally-sourced milk and honey with seven to eight home-grown first-team regulars in your starting line-up ripping up the division.

Boro may have done that from 1986-88. But that was a once-in-a-lifetime line-up.

In the here and now, Boro – with their promotion heroes of the Karanka era all but gone and a space cleared for new dressing-room leaders to emerge – must reconnect with the Teesside public and bring in some winners with whom their supporters can identify with.

The current set of players have not won so much as a home game since Boxing Day.

Several squad members already present have also been tainted by association with the ill-fated Garry Monk and Tony Pulis eras. They were brought in at some cost to take Boro back to the Promised Land, only to collectively under-whelm.

Can Warnock relight the fires of some – and add the right balance in terms of character, quality, energy and nous to give Boro a chance again next season in double-quick time?

Few are better equipped to start trying to do that in such a short turnaround between seasons than he is. In fact, no-one is.

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