Neil Warnock walked away from Leeds United last night after a 2-1 home defeat to Derby County effectively ended their promotion chances.
Leading through Robert McCormack they conceded twice in the last 17 minutes to Paul Coutts and Jake Buxton to remained marooned in mid-table. Academy manager Neil Redfearn has taken temporary charge while the owners ponder a new manager. Owen Coyle, Gus Poyet and Brian McDermott are among those under consideration.
"I have always said that once promotion was out of reach I would leave and let the club look to the future," said Warnock last night. "The players have been fantastic but we've lacked a bit of quality. It has been a frustrating 12 months but I like to think I've left the club in a far healthier position with the squad re-built. I'm sure the new owners will invest in the two or three players the team needs to go up."
Though Leeds fans had tired of a manager they welcomed 14 months ago this season may come to be viewed as a missed opportunity. No one has won more promotions than Warnock and, Cardiff City apart, the Championship promotion race is wide open.
With £60m the minimum income for next season's Premier League clubs it is perplexing that neither Ken Bates or the club's new owners, GFHC Capital, backed Warnock in the transfer market. Instead he had to turn a profit.
As a result the squad lacked depth and class. Leeds were able to defeat Tottenham, Everton and Southampton in one-off cup matches, but not sustain a promotion challenge, Warnock’s contract ends in June and with his family living 350 miles away in Cornwall he had no intention of remaining at Elland Road if the team failed to go up. Nor were GFHC, who took over from Bates mid-season, inclined to persuade him otherwise.
Initially Warnock has a book to finish but his management career, which began at Northern Premier League Gainsborough Trinity in 1980, is unlikely to be over. Sixty-five this year with two children at school he does not want the 12-months-a-year, 24-hours-a-day commitment required in club management but would welcome short-term roles at the sharp end of the season, either to haul a team out of relegation trouble, or get them over the line in a promotion campaign. He will be in demand. This season alone Warnock turned down four offers, three from Championship clubs.
Warnock joined Leeds on the rebound after being sacked by QPR in January. Though courted by then-Premier League Wolves Bates persuaded him to go to Elland Road. It was a long way from his family, but as a Yorkshireman Warnock could resist Leeds' lure, nor the prospect of a record eighth promotion.
He transformed the squad but had to sell his best two players, Robert Snodgrass and Luciano Becchio, both to Norwich. Whoever replaces him will require much greater investment than GFHC have so far committed.