IT has been impossible not to sympathise with Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock following the tragic loss of Emiliano Sala.

I’ve got to know Neil quite well over the years, since the days when I was managing the likes of Doncaster Rovers and Grimsby Town and he was beginning his playing career as a winger with the likes of Chesterfield and Rotherham United.

He was a tough guy on the pitch.

As I’ve often reminded him when we meet up at end-of-season League Managers Association dinners, I used to shout at him for his tackles and he was never shy in giving me the sort of reply that can’t be mentioned in this article.

He has been managing for nearly 40 years, winning promotion with more clubs than anyone, which just shows how strong he is.

So to see him with tears in his eyes as he acknowledged the applause from the Cardiff crowd before their game against AFC Bournemouth last Sunday, said so much.

Whatever impression people had of him before, his tears prove he’s a genuine fella who felt the situation more than most.

Sala would probably have been playing against Bournemouth were it not for the tragic plane crash.

His previous club, Nantes, have apparently demanded that the £18m transfer fee - a Cardiff City record – is still due, even though the player never played for his new club.

At first, this sounds disgraceful. But both sides have lost a player.

Cardiff are not as wealthy as most Premier League clubs and, as we well know, they are battling with Saints to stay up in what is their first season since promotion.

It complicates an already difficult situation, but apparently the player had signed the contract, he was just having a trip home to collect things.

Could it be that the Premier League and Ligue One, the French equivalent, could get together and sort this out?

The Premier League is not exactly short of money. Maybe a donation to both clubs could be made.

I hope insurance can cover it but it would be very wrong and harmful to a club like Cardiff, who already have enough battles, to have to pay that sort of money with no player to show for it.

What is certain is that, no matter what anyone thinks of Cardiff or Neil himself, they will have the sympathy of every manager and club in the country.

I got to know Neil better when we were both managers, sat together in the stands at other games.

Younger managers enjoyed mixing with older, more experienced counterparts and and vice versa.

We always had a few minutes before games to talk when our teams were in opposition as well as when transfer talks were held between our clubs. I last saw him at an LMA dinner at the end of last season, where I gave him a playful clip round the ear. He smiled at me, remembering what that was all about!

His record as a manager with unfashionable clubs is incredible and I sincerely hope he can keep Cardiff in the league this year, but without getting anything from St Mary’s today. I hope they put on a great show and lose at least 1-0.

Then it will be his turn to give me a clip on the ear – and it better be a playful one!