The mistakes, tribulations and all-encompassing relationships shaping Cardiff City and Neil Warnock's Premier League dream; The story of why things are different for both Warnock and Cardiff City this time around.
"I haven't had a fair crack of the Premier League whip."
A phrase you'll be only too familiar with if you've spoken with or listened to Neil Warnock in recent years.
And when you take a closer look at his past experiences in the division, it's easy to understand why the Yorkshireman feels so aggrieved.
The Queens Park Rangers experience alone (more on this later) would be enough to put some bosses off management for good while hideously rotten luck at boyhood club Sheffield United could have been equally damaging.
Fast forward to the summer of 2018, and Warnock is still revelling in his eighth promotion as a manager, and the third in which he has led a club from England's second tier into the Premier League.
He did it with the Blades in 2006, QPR in 2011 and the Bluebirds little more than a month ago.
And each of the three were done in similar fashion. Against the odds.
But while there have been plenty of constants - from lucky rituals to familiar pre-season schedules - during those memorable campaigns, Warnock will no doubt want things to pan out differently as he looks to make it third time lucky when it comes to managing a side in the Premier League after getting them promoted.
Ahead of their top flight return, Cardiff will play a number of minnows - as they did a year ago - including the likes of Bodmin Town and Tavistock.
It's a formula that has arisen as a result of Warnock's family base being in Cornwall, as has been the case for many years.
His QPR side faced both of the aforementioned clubs ahead of their 2011-12 Premier League campaign while Sheffield United came up against his former team Rotherham United -who the Bluebirds do battle with on July 25- during the summer before their top flight return more than a decade ago.
And after another hectic pre-season schedule is over later this summer, the Bluebirds will finally get back into Premier League action when they travel toEddie Howe's Bournemouth in August.
Only this time, things will be different. For both Neil Warnock and Cardiff City Football Club.
Several gruelling campaigns came and went without reward for Warnock and his hometown club Sheffield United until promotion was achieved in 2006.
And while there were some incredible memories along the way - notably the Blades' stunning 1-0 win over Arsenal - the 2006-07 season rapidly descended into one Warnock will always feel that got away.
Top scorer Rob Hulse suffered a broken leg in the final months of the campaign to leave the Bramall Lane outfit desperately short of firepower during their run-in, but their luck was to get even worse.
After moving to the brink of completing a remarkable survival in the closing stages of the season, the Blades' campaign ended in disaster as they were beaten by Wigan Athletic on the final day while West Ham beat Manchester United at Old Trafford courtesy of a goal from Carlos Tevez, a result that ensured the Hammers finished above Warnock's men - who were subsequently relegated - on goal difference.
Tevez's move from Corinthians to West Ham should never have been allowed in the first place due to the league's rules on third party ownership, something that almost came back to haunt Warnock once again later in his managerial career.
The saga dragged on and compensation was agreed between the clubs, but ultimately, the Blades had been relegated and Warnock left his boyhood side.
Final outcome: One crack. One relegation.
But if his first taste of life in the Premier League left a sour taste, then the flavour of his next experience in the division would be enough to ruin any palate.
Having completed a rescue mission not too dissimilar to the one he executed at Cardiff after being named as Paul Trollope's successor, Warnock kept the Hoops in the Championship with games to spare before embarking on a memorable campaign that ended with the Loftus Road outfit tasting a glorious promotion.
Not that it wasn't without complications.
A nightmare of a takeover, meddling owners and the threat of a points deduction that almost crippled his side's stunning progress on the pitch all contributed to what proved to be a memorable and yet oh-so turbulent season.
It's somewhat ironic that the legal action - due to the third party ownership of then QPR midfielder Alejandro Faurlin - that very nearly derailed the Hoops' campaign came as a result of the rule introduced by the FA followingthe Tevez saga that cost Warnock and his Sheffield United side so dearly years earlier.
A points deduction was escaped, and promotion was achieved, but further complications arose.
QPR's impending takeover continued to stall in the summer 2011, and it severely hampered Warnock's preparations for the Premier League.
Morale was low as players complained about facilities while Warnock's frustrations grew as transfer targets passed by due to the precarious situation surrounding the ownership of the club.
But when all was said and done, by hook or by crook, Warnock kept the Hoops out of the relegation zone, although that was still not enough to see him booted out of Loftus Road, being replaced by former Wales boss Mark Hughes midway through the season.
It seemed that - with a footballing equivalent of KerPlunk seemingly being played out at Loftus Road - one rod too many was withdrawn, ensuring the game was over before it was really able to get going for the Yorkshireman.
Final outcome: A second crack, and a sacking.
Jobs at Leeds United and Rotherham were to follow along with brief returns to Crystal Palace and QPR, all the while Cardiff had hammered on the Premier League door, eventually gone up and then swiftly dropped back down again.
And as any Cardiff fan will tell you, mistakes were being made right in the heart of the Welsh capital too, long after Warnock had been left with a double sense of 'what if?'.
After all, the mistakes made in 2013-14 were ones that ensured the Bluebirds were packing their bags within no time at all after unloading their Premier League luggage.
So back to the present.
Having united the club in a way not too dissimilar to how the Together Stronger mantra typified Wales' success under Chris Coleman, Warnock has shown not only is he continuing to learn from the past, but so are those at Cardiff City Stadium.
Only days after their second promotion into the division in May, club iconKevin McNaughton was quick to point that the Bluebirds must recruit players with Premier League experience this summerrather than relying on a raft of foreign imports as they did last time out.
Of the eight signings made by Malky Mackay in the summer of 2013, only two - Steven Caulker and Peter Odemwingie - had played in the Premier League before.
And while the experience is certainly limited in both cases, new recruitsJosh MurphyandGreg Cunninghamhave both already featured in the division in which they will hope to shine over the course of the 2018-19 campaign while they have a significant number of appearances in the EFL to their name.
A lesson learned from the past as pointed out by McNaughton or just good experience from the manager in the transfer market? Either way, the footings are being put in place.
Gambles have become calculated dealings. And nothing is being left to chance, or to the last minute.
But undoubtedly the prime example comes from the top.
"I must admit I made a mistake early on changing the colour, but I removed the mistake. There will be no more tinkering with the colours."
This wasVincent Tan's recent frank admissionabout the club's controversial kit colour change from blue to red, one that infuriated the fanbase, and a decision that has meant some supporters have stayed away, no matter how much success Warnock has brought to CF11.
But again, it shows the club are willing to learn from the past.
And it also shows that excuses are no longer allowed. Goals will only be achieved if every single person connected to the club pulls in the same direction.
It's what Warnock has preached. And it's exactly what's happening in-front of our very eyes.
Everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet, because as past experiences have shows, if they aren't, it'll end in disaster.
And so to the season ahead.
Could the Bluebirds clinch a spot in Europe?
Could they finish rock bottom and go straight back down like last time?
Cardiff City news
Whatever happens,it's been described as a "bonus season" by Warnock.
But the Bluebirds certainly deserve a fair crack at the big time after their determination to learn from the mistakes made last time out.
And few would begrudge Warnock himself the opportunity to prove once for all that he can not only get a side into the promised land, but that he can keep them there, against all odds.
After all, he defied every man and his dog to get the club promoted in the first place.
So things are different this time. Very different.
Because Warnock and Cardiff City have tirelessly worked in tandem to ensure that at long last, they will both finally get a fair crack of the Premier League whip.
Final outcome? We'll soon find out.
Credit: Getty Images Europe
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|Publication:||Wales Online (Cardiff, Wales)|
|Date:||Jun 17, 2018|
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