Rob Phillips: Cardiff City's best signing this season was their manager

Neil Warnock
Neil Warnock has 'transformed the Cardiff City team and galvanised the Bluebirds fanbase'

They say football is a young man's game, yet Cardiff City's best signing has been in football for half a century.

Neil Warnock has not just lifted the Bluebirds from the Championship relegation zone to a seemingly once unlikely top-half finish.

The 68-year-old has also reconnected the club with its fans and ensured a sense of optimism for next season.

When Warnock arrived in October, Cardiff were struggling with their 'project' under Paul Trollope.

The former Wales international is undoubtedly a high quality coach, but it was not working for him as a manager.

After 11 League games, only eight points collected and with the club precariously in the relegation zone - Trollope was sacked and the ultimate Championship manager arrived to unusually united acclaim from supporters.

Warnock has worked his magic by transforming the team and galvanising the fan base.

When he meets owner Vincent Tan this month, Warnock will have a strong hand to gain the funds he feels he needs to launch a promotion challenge next season.

Warnock has indicated he desires a war chest of only around £5m to £6m, which is just as well, because the club has been living in the shadow of the Financial Fair Play regulations.

The Cardiff manager believes he already has a solid base upon which to build next season.

Keeping Gabon defender Bruno Ecoule Manga would be a significant boost. The signs are good after it initially looked as if the cultured centre back might seek pastures new.

But negotiations seem to still be hanging in the balance.

Kenneth Zohore
Neil Warnock has made striker Kenneth Zohore a 'formidable Championship force'

Defensive resources appear to be good at Cardiff, particularly with Sol Bamba excelling since his arrival with Warnock.

Of course, the goalkeeping spot has to be a priority, as Scotland's Allan McGregor and youngster Ben Amos return to their parent clubs after loans.

Warnock's unsuccessful January pursuit of Aberdeen's Jonny Hayes suggests the Cardiff manager is looking to boost his options on the flanks, which may see the attempted offloading of Craig Noone and perhaps even Anthony Pilkington.

There is an industrious look to the midfield - when isn't there with a Warnock side? - with Joe Ralls and player-of-the-season Arron Gunnarsson, though more pace is required.

It could yet be the end of an era if a deal cannot be reached with club stalwart Peter Whittingham, though this one could run-and-run, as the 32-year-old mulls over reduced terms and considers his options.

Whittingham appears not to be a priority in the summer activity, though even with selective appearances, few Cardiff fans would want to see him at a Championship rival next season.

Nothing underlines Warnock's effect on the Bluebirds team more than the transformation of striker Kenneth Zohore, who has gone from struggling youngster to formidable Championship force.

'Warnock will be under pressure next season'

The Dane's 12 goals since Boxing Day have made him a hot property - a result of his development under coach Ronnie Jepson, allied to Warnock's powers of motivation.

All of which indicates the importance of Warnock for the future. He's a manager fans of some clubs might loathe - but most would love him to be in charge of their team.

His track record of seven promotions says everything you need to know about his ability and experience in the Championship.

After an initial impact from Tan's money and a season in the Premier League, marked by turmoil, Warnock has been a healing and inspirational character.

Because of the progress this season, Warnock will be under immense pressure to deliver next season. But he'll relish that.

He's never been shy and has no thoughts of retiring. His barnstorming style is characterised by an ebullience that belies his age.

With 70-year-old Harry Redknapp remaining at Birmingham, Warnock won't quite be the oldest swinger in the Championship town next season.

But Cardiff fans firmly believe their old dog still has sufficient tricks for a successful hurrah before he thinks about calling it a day.

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