Neil Warnock cycled off into the North Yorkshire countryside this week to find a “nice fishing pond” to plot his 41st season in management.
Staring at his float, immersed in “tranquility,” it is where the 71-year-old's mind drifts off into plans for new signings, tactics and fresh ideas.
He ended up getting a bit lost on the way home, clocking 35 miles, and making it back to Boro's Rockliffe Hotel after dark. But it was his “perfect” escapist preparation.
Warnock came out of retirement (again) to help rescue Boro from relegation last season, and on Friday night faces “the best team in the Championship”, promotion favourites Watford, to kick off his latest quest.
“It is an intense thing, football,” Warnock said on Thursday. “If you are not careful it is a drug that can kill you, and I don't want to be carried out of Middlesbrough if I'm honest.
“Football drives me on. That is why I am still in the game. It is my 41st season, that is frightening! I still have the same enjoyment, butterflies, referees.
“I also like sitting somewhere tranquil, watching my fishing float. If I don't catch anything I am not bothered.
“It is amazing how many decisions you can make and plans come into your mind about football when you are looking at a nice little pond. I like switching off, the family, cycling to National Trust places. Fabulous.
“I would not have come back for anyone other than Steve Gibson (Boro chairman). Here I am. How long I will last we will have to see!
“It has been great coming here with Sharon's (his wife's) blessing. It is great to have her support.
That has helped. But the enthusiasm is there and I want to show the young pups what it is all about.
“I wouldn't be watching the season kick off on TV if I wasn't manager. I'd be fishing. The only good thing about the pandemic was the wife didn't mind me clearing off to be manager again. We planned to go to Italy for a few months to walk around Lake Maggiore.”
Warnock is fighting the usual pre-season battles – finding it tough to get a bite in the transfer market with 4-5 deals falling through recently.
“You have to laugh, I read Watford have 11 injuries…. I have only got 11 players! The bench is a bit fragile. I used to be a firefighter, Red Adair. Now it's Double Red Adair.
“But I have never been among the favourites. I would not recommend people putting money on us, don't throw your money away!”
In reality, Warnock still hopes for a promotion campaign which he reckons would be a bit of a miracle.
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He added: “The club wants to do well. Clubs like Watford and Norwich are way above with the parachute payments, and we have to make up for that with the team spirit. I am always optimistic. You can always push on towards the play-offs. Be there in January and you can get a couple in.
“We are in big trouble if we don't. We won't get away with 11 or 13 players.”
Warnock is still driving Boro on to be a big fish in the Championship pond, his 18th job at 16 clubs.
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