IT was a pretty unequivocal statement. As Neil Warnock strode into his first press conference in his new position, he was immediately asked about his long-term plans. “This is my last job,” he said, smiling into the cameras. “There won’t be another job for me.”

His mission statement as Middlesbrough manager? Not quite. That was Warnock back in 2007, when he was appointed as the new boss of Crystal Palace. Since then, he has been to QPR, Leeds, back to Palace, back to QPR, on to Rotherham and Cardiff, and now finds himself closeted on the banks of the Tees. And to think Frank Sinatra was accused of stretching out his comeback tours.

Like Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, Warnock certainly does things his way. And that’s why for all that he might insist he has not discussed the future with Steve Gibson, the glint in his eye as he strode along the Madejski Stadium touchline on Tuesday night told you all you need to know about his plans for the next 12 months. One last job, one last challenge. At least until the next one arrives.

Even at 71, Warnock’s appetite for management remains insatiable. “I love this Championship,” he enthused at the start of the week, regarding a relegation battle at Reading with the same kind of unbridled excitement that would usually be reserved for an FA Cup final. “It’s the best league in the world. Mind you, I prefer it when you’re up there battling for promotion or the play-offs. I’m not enjoying being down at the bottom so much.”

And there, in a nutshell, is the equation Warnock will have been weighing up in the last couple of weeks. If he stays on next season, as he will surely be invited to do in the wake of what now looks certain to be a successful rescue mission, will he be signing up for another battle amid the muck and nettles of the Championship relegation zone? Or, with a couple of tweaks here and there, and maybe the odd call to players and agents who have helped him out in the past, might he be able to transform the current Boro squad into promotion contenders? As the Championship expert knows only too well, it does not take much to move from one end of the most unpredictable league in football to the other.

Despite Boro’s struggles for most of the current campaign, if Warnock opts to stay for another 12 months, he will not be remoulding a squad devoid of talent. Ashley Fletcher has provided a timely reminder of his goalscoring qualities since the end of lockdown and, like a number of previous Boro managers, Warnock has fallen in love with Jonny Howson’s yeoman-like qualities. In George Saville, he can also see a midfielder who can perform most of the tasks he likes his central midfielders to carry out.

Most excitingly of all, Warnock has seen at first hand the crop of youngsters that began to emerge under Jonathan Woodgate. Djed Spence excites him, although holding on to the youngster could prove a problem if Premier League clubs come calling this summer. Marcus Tavernier remains raw, but is hugely talented, while Hayden Coulson should have learned plenty from his first year in the senior ranks. Aynsley Pears did not let him down in goal on Tuesday night.

Clearly, some surgery is required. Warnock describes Boro’s current defensive ranks with undisguised incredulity, bemoaning a lack of ‘natural defenders’ as well as an absence of defensive leadership. Cast your eye over the Cardiff backline that will visit the Riverside this weekend, and that was assembled by Warnock, and you will get a good idea of the type of players the Boro boss will target if he takes charge of the club’s recruitment this summer. He will almost certainly want one or two of his own strikers – possibly as replacements for Britt Assombalonga – and will no doubt mine the loan market to see if he can come up with another Patrick Roberts. None of this sounds outlandish though, and crucially, thanks to Warnock’s abilities as a wheeler-dealer, it should be relatively cheap.

Why would Gibson want to turn to a 71-year-old after putting so much stock in Woodgate’s youth? Because Warnock gives him the best possible chance of mounting a viable promotion push for a relatively limited investment. Tony Pulis mark two in many ways, just without the baseball cap.

Gibson has installed a stopgap before, and while Pulis’ reign didn’t quite produce the results that had been hoped for, the fact Boro made the play-offs in the Welshman’s first season before narrowly missing out in the second stacks up pretty well when posited against this season’s struggles.

True, handing Warnock a 12-month contract would not exactly tally with Gibson’s previously-stated desire to put an overarching long-term plan in place, but having had his fingers burned when the ‘golden thread’ project trumpeted under Woodgate unravelled so badly, it would be understandable if the Boro chairman felt compelled to take a much less risky option this summer. Warnock, perhaps the ultimate safe pair of hands, might not be the Boro manager in five years’ time, but in terms of steadying the ship and pushing towards the play-off places next season, it is easy to see why he would tick most of Gibson’s boxes.

When it comes to appointing managers, Gibson tends to veer from one extreme to the other. Promoting Woodgate was a gamble that failed, so his successor is likely to be a safe pair of hands. And when it comes to succeeding in the Championship, hands don’t come much safer than Warnock’s.