The War Lord: Hail the Miracle Man of Cardiff, Neil Warnock

PRIDE of place to odd couples this week must go to Donald J Trump and Kim Jong Un. But to many people in football, the coming together of Cardiff City's Tan Sri Vincent Tan and Neil Warnock is only a little less astonishing.

Like the duo meeting in Singapore, the reputations of owner and manager precede them with some fanfare – at least from certain members of the British media. Both are very much their own men and don't suffer fools.

Tan has, shall we say, become a pretty hands-on football owner since being stung by a previous regime that, he claims, "went crazy" and "overpaid for players".

For his part, Warnock is just as celebrated for brooking no interference in how he runs his teams.

"They call me the Marmite Man [either loved or loathed] and that's a kind one," he quipped during a stopover in Kuala Lumpur last week.

And, sure enough, one half of his Wikipedia page is devoted to his record eight promotions and the other half to his disputes – with players, with other managers, with referees and with clubs.

Longevity, then, was not on the agenda when he took over Cardiff in October, 2016. When asked if he'd regarded it as a long-term project, Warnock drew laughter when he replied: "I think you've got to say, when you've got an owner like Vincent Tan you've got to say, no."

Second to bottom of the Championship, struggling to score a goal and losing support faster than Barisan Nasional at the last election, chairman Mehmet Dalman told him: "Just try to keep us up."

He did that with some comfort and, crucially in Tan's eyes, minimal spending. A cull of players "who didn't want to fight", a couple of judicious signings and, most of all, a rejuvenation of spirit that is his trademark took them to a 12th place finish. It was enough for him to tell Dalman: "Now let's try to get us up."

Besides avoiding the abyss of the dreaded third tier, Warnock had allayed fears Tan may have had about clashing with a man who has fallen out with the great and good, and not so good, of English football. Far from it, in the common-sense, no-nonsense Yorkshireman, he had discovered a kindred spirit.

"Neil is different," said Tan. "He doesn't want to spend a lot of money – he likes to do it with players from the lower leagues and build a team. It's not necessary to spend big money. Look at Burnley – they hardly spent anything and came seventh." But to do it you need a certain type of manager.

Asked what his management style is, Warnock explained: "Mine is more man-management. I think it's more important than ever these days.

"If you can get people to give a bit more of themselves you get success in any walk of life.

"I'm like the Red Adair of football," he added. "He put out the fires at the oil refineries and that's what I seem to have done most of my career."

He once said he actually preferred the muck and nettles of the lower leagues, having not had the best of luck in the top flight.

Three times he's been there and three times his sides have been relegated, but there were extenuating circumstances each time.

Sheffield United were cheated by the Carlos Tevez affair; Crystal Palace had points docked due to administration and at QPR he was never in the bottom three and sacked prematurely.

"Tony Fernandes tells me that decision cost him £200 million (RM1 billion)," he says.

It also came after one of his greatest triumphs. QPR were a basket case under Formula One moguls Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore. But once Briatore met Warnock, he knew he had the "strong manager" he'd always wanted. He let him manage. Similarly, Tan saw a man who would neither kowtow nor be cowed – and a mutual trust developed.

Warnock, 69, recalls: "When I first met Mehmet and Vincent, it was one of those meetings when you feel it's the right bond. And the emotional ride we've had since – getting away from relegation and this year getting promoted – is by far my biggest achievement ever."

It surpasses even Rotherham which was his previous best bit of escapology. "When I took over they were six points adrift and basically gone" [at the foot of the Championship] he remembers. Putting out that fire he regards as the turning point in his career and one that renewed his appetite for football.

He had actually quit the game to look after his wife Sharon when she developed breast cancer. But her recovery and a less-than-distinguished stint doing the house chores led to his return.

Admitting that he felt unfairly typecast as a lower league manager with critics claiming he couldn't do it at the top level, he said at Rotherham: "I've come here to show people."

Now he says: "It's a bit like that at Cardiff but this will be my finale. I've always loved proving people wrong."

It's another trait he shares with his boss but now he thinks there's a good chance of topping even last season – by keeping Cardiff up. "This is possibly the best chance I've had of building something.

"Whilst it would be a success to be fourth from the bottom next year, I'd like to think we could stabilise the club and look further than that. Like what Burnley have done.

"Our wage bill will be the lowest in the Premier League by a long way but if I can get a few of the right players in – we don't want any prima donnas or big-time Charlies – I feel we can do it.

"We may not have the quality of the £40 million (RM214 million) to £50 million (RM267 million) players, but I don't think they'll have the quality that we have in the dressing room when things aren't going well. They won't have that togetherness. That's important in whatever sport. If you've got that it's amazing how that can get you the results you need. Miracles can happen."

According to the bookies, a miracle is needed – Cardiff are odds-on to go straight back down. But in the hands of the game's great escapologist and motivator, it's one you wouldn't bet against.