12 months ago, Neil Warnock confirmed the 2019/20 season was to be ‘absolutely’ his final year in management - yet he now finds himself the permanent occupant of the Middlesbrough manager’s office.
Warnock was drafted into the Boro hotseat on a temporary basis in June, with the club languishing just a place above the Championship drop zone.
With just eight games remaining, the club were in serious danger of plummeting into the third tier of English football for the first time since 1988. However, 12 points from a possible 24 – having taken just five points from the 12 games prior to his arrival – saw the Teessiders cling onto their Championship status.
While the permanent appointment of the former Cardiff City boss may seem a no-brainer given his achievement at the club in such a short period of time, the juxtaposition between his appointment and the man he succeeded – Jonathan Woodgate – can’t be ignored.
One’s a forward-thinking manager making his first steps in the game, looking to hone his craft and promising adventurous, attacking, free-flowing football. The other, a seasoned veteran of the game, embarking on his 18th managerial position and promising nothing of the kind in terms of fancy football.
However, the truth is Warnock is exactly what Middlesbrough Football Club needs right now, and this isn’t the first time they’ve found themselves in this position.
Steve Gibson is renowned for being one of the best chairmen in football; a local lad who saved the club from extinction in 1986 before ushering in an era of superstars, the likes of which had never been seen at the Riverside.
However, that’s not to say that he’s an owner without his flaws.
One of Gibson’s hallmarks during his 34 years as Middlesbrough chairman has been his willingness to offer opportunities to young managers looking to get a foothold in the game.
Some of these appointments have proved masterstrokes, with Aitor Karanka taking the club back to the Premier League after seven long years in the second tier.
"This is a great club, and I want to take it towards the other end of the table. I just felt it was the right thing to do" ??— Middlesbrough FC (@Boro) July 28, 2020
Neil Warnock's first interview after committing to #Boro ? #UTB https://t.co/V35I2c4nY8
The most notable success of his rookie appointments has undoubtedly been Steven McLaren, with the former Manchester United number two securing the club’s first piece of silverware in 128 years and - rather more improbably – guiding them to a UEFA Cup final.
However, for every success story there is a horror story.
Garry Monk spent a small fortune at the Riverside as Gibson looked to bounce back on the first attempt following relegation from the Premier League in 2017, only for the former Leeds boss to be given his marching orders just six months later – the club are still reeling financially to this day from his splurge and underachievement.
Gareth Southgate was afforded his first job in management in 2006, only to take the club from UEFA Cup finalists to the Championship in just three years.
Despite his readiness to afford young managers a chance at the club, Gibson isn’t foolish – when an appointment turns sour, more often than not there’s a seasoned pro waiting in the wings to offer stability.
Both Terry Venables and Tony Mowbray have previously been brought to the Riverside tasked with essentially fixing an utter mess of a club.
The pair performed minor miracles at Boro, with Mowbray in particular tasked with working on a shoestring budget yet bringing in a number of players who would later become key components of successful Boro sides once he'd departed.
Warnock is the Venables and Mowbray of modern-day Middlesbrough.
Woodgate left the club in a state, with players bereft of confidence, no apparent system, League One-standard signings and a fanbase completely disillusioned by the dream of free-flowing football they'd been sold.
Warnock has been brought in as a firefighter, and his task isn’t necessarily to see Boro promoted, but to steady the club and lay the foundations for future success.
The Teessiders’ downfall in the 2019/20 campaign was unquestionably their attacking play – only managing to score more than one at home on three occasions all season and finishing as the lowest scorers in the division - yet the shoots of improvements under the 71-year-old can already be seen.
While the veteran manager is widely recognised for his defensive astuteness, few recall the brilliance of Adel Taarabt in the Championship under Warnock’s stewardship, or the fine form of Junior Hoilett when Warnock was in charge, despite the Canada international’s career looking set to fizzle out.
Boro only failed to score in one of Warnock’s eight games in charge at the end of last season, having drawn a blank on 13 occasions in the league prior to his arrival.
With one eye seemingly on retirement and only a one-year deal penned, the Boro boss’ time at the club already looks set to be brief. However, if Warnock can depart knowing he leaves behind a team in good shape for the years to come, he’ll have done exactly what’s been asked of him.