Neil Warnock was able to leave Middlesbrough on his terms having achieved the record number of games as a manager in English football following West Bromwich Albion draw
So there we have it then. Neil Warnock has left the building.
At 1,603 games, the 72-year-old is out of English football, perhaps for good this time, after agreeing to leave Middlesbrough by mutual consent following a 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns.
Irrespective of what this season culminates in for Boro, you get the feeling that it was always going to be the last for Warnock who only reluctantly agreed to stay on for another year having been coaxed by chairman Steve Gibson in the spring.
And while it has ended prematurely this season, it was the right decision from both Warnock and Boro to give things another go.
While there is often very little room for sentimentality in football these days, seeing Warnock bow out of the game in front of empty stadia just doesn’t seem right for his ending.
But not only that, Warnock had done a sound job in stabilising Boro after the experiment with Jonathan Woodgate went so horribly wrong.
Warnock came in and did what Warnock does. He steadies ships and galvanises squads. See Cardiff City, Rotherham United, Crystal Palace and Sheffield United for just some of the evidence over a managerial career which has gone beyond four decades.
Having kept Boro up he consolidated in mid-table last season, almost threatening a remarkable charge towards the play-offs in the second half of the campaign. Perhaps it was his undoing.
That late flurry provided fans with hope and optimism they could push on this year and challenge for those play-off spots. But that has failed to materialise as Warnock’s side have been either Jekyll or Hyde so far this term.
The summer window was a mixed bag as Boro were able to move on players deemed either surplus to requirements or with attitudes not applicable to Warnock’s style of management.
But while the likes of Britt Assombalonga and Chuba Akpom were moved out, there were one or two outgoings which left some supporters scratching their heads.
Given the lack of strength in depth in defence, the decision to allow both Djed Spence and Hayden Coulsen to leave on-loan was peculiar, as was the decision to allow midfielder Sam Morsy to join Ipswich Town on a permanent deal. Spence in particular has gone on to prove his worth with Nottingham Forest so far this season.
But in Cameroon international James Lea Siliki and Argentine Martin Payero, Warnock had two glamorous, marquee signings to grab the supporters attention. But unfortunately, they have struggled to hit the ground running.
The question is, were they Warnock’s signings at all?
Put those names against the likes of Matt Crooks, Sol Bamba and Lee Peltier and there immediately becomes a conflict of thoughts as to who Warnock has signed and who might have been brought in on the guidance of the club’s newly appointed head of recruitment Kieran Scott.
While Scott’s official start date with the club wasn’t until after the transfer deadline, his arrival from Norwich City was announced at the beginning of August.
Nevertheless, regardless of whether Warnock had 100 per cent input into every deal at the Riverside, there is still a squad of players who you can argue are underperforming by languishing 14th in the Championship table with just six wins from 17 games this season.
But contrast that with just 15 wins from 44 games in 2021 and there is a suggestion to be made that Warnock has been running out of his magic dust.
Injuries, of course, have not helped Warnock this season. At one point he described Boro’s defensive crisis as ‘the worst he’s had’ in his career - which given its length gives some indication as to just how busy Boro’s physio has been.
It has led to Warnock being forced to play players out of position and rely on academy prospects to fill squad quotas. It’s in those situations where you wonder how much more umph Warnock had left for the game.
Not that he would concede that of course. Ahead of the trip to the Hawthorns he admitted promotion has always been his objective with Boro and why shouldn’t it have been? After all, he has achieved eight of them in his career.
But beyond the injury crisis and forced team selections, there have been question marks this season over some of his decisions. Substitutions, formations and personnel have all brought about scrutiny, but none more so than some of the goals being conceded by Boro this season. They have been very un-Warnock-like.
Boro too, have struggled in front of goal with teenager Josh Coburn being thrust into action of late. But for one reason or another, things just haven't quite clicked for Warnock this season.
Every manager will have dilemmas across a season, but you just wonder whether the uncertainty beyond this year for Boro has played its part. With Warnock almost inevitably bowing out at the end of the season, this year almost feels like a one of limbo which has transcended onto the pitch at the Riverside with more defeats than anticipated.
Warnock has been described as many things throughout his career, but naive is not one of them. When things have started to turn sour on Teesside in recent weeks, he will have been aware of the record number of games within his grasp.
And having eclipsed Dario Gradi’s total of 1,602 against West Brom, to be outright on his own at the top of that particular list, maybe this is the storybook way for Warnock to depart the game.
The general consensus of his departure is one of both thanks and acknowledgement. ‘Thanks for keeping us in the Championship, Neil, now go and enjoy your retirement.’
Maybe now, as he sits back and reflects on 1,603 games as a manager and contemplates that retirement, he can do so safely in the knowledge that maybe he did go out on his terms.