“MY wife or son would say: ‘Do you know this lad? He’s hammering you and your tactics on Twitter. He’s saying ‘Warne out’.’ My son reading something like that would ruin me.”
The new Paul Warne is talking about the old Paul Warne.
Rotherham United’s manager will be five years in the job later this month: three relegations, two promotions with a third being chased, a thousand highs and lows, a million lessons learned.
Not every fan wanted the fitness coach taking the hot-seat when Kenny Jackett pointed his car out of the Roundwood car-park on November 28, 2016.
Not all supporters bothered to understand the reasons why the Millers haven’t been able to survive in the Championship.
Social media hasn’t always been kind. Not that the boss really cares anymore.
The humour, the decency, his character, his personality haven’t changed at all yet it’s a different Warne I’m speaking to on a Zoom call.
“First of all, take out the first five months because that was an absolute ‘blur-off’,” he grins. “That doesn’t even go on my managerial record!
“When I read in programmes that I’ve lost, like, 3,000 games I think 2,000 of them were in the first season when I was caretaker manager, so they don’t count.”
The drop from the second tier had been inevitable by the time Jackett vacated his parking spot and chairman Tony Stewart had seen enough in the new man to offer him the job permanently the following April.
Warne pauses for a long time ... “What have I learned most about myself? Good question.
“One of the things I’ve learned to do is reduce the problem-making in my brain. Being a football manager is a lot harder than people think. You can make up phantom problems so easily.
“I used to do that a lot. I might, say, have worried because I knew Lee Frecklington was going to come and see me.
“I’d think ‘I need to work out what I’m going to do, I need to work out what I’m going to say, I need to get a stats package together to back up what I’m saying’.
“I used to obsess a lot at the start of the week about things that might not materialise. Nowadays, I have the mental attitude of ‘Right, there’s a blank piece of paper. Write down the actual problems you have this minute’.
“And there aren’t any. You can find problems for the sake of finding problems. Now I think ‘I’ve got no problems today’ and if someone knocks on my door I’ll just say ‘Right, give me ten minutes’ and I’ll work out there and then what I want to say to them.”
Twice he’s taken the Millers back up, twice they’ve come back down, the last time agonisingly so in May when they were six minutes away from a survival feat he would have regarded as his biggest managerial achievement.
Twitter, once more, had its moments.
“The thing that used to happen with my wife and son, that doesn’t happen anymore, thank God,” Warne says.
“They don’t show me anything like that now. I’m well aware of the fact that, even if we are winning a lot of games, you can’t please everybody.
“I’m fine with that now. I didn’t used to be. I used to want to invite fans in for a coffee so they could tell me what they didn’t like and I could explain to them why I had picked a certain team. I was a bit: ‘Please like me, I’m trying really hard.’
“Now, as a 48-year-old bald man who would love a hair transplant, I accept you can’t always be liked.
“I’m much better at not being interested in anyone else’s opinion apart from the people I work with and the people I love.
“All I have to do is have an environment where my team and staff are respected and loved and my players feel like they’re part of something.”
Rotherham, by the way, are winning a lot of games. They’re third in League One, unbeaten in 13 matches, and so good, so tough to beat, that they’re the most-feared team in the division as they target a remarkable promotion hat-trick.
Top for expected goals, top for fewest chances conceded, maybe top of League One itself before too long.
“These days, I manage my mind confusion a lot better,” Warne says. “Even last year in the Championship when we were losing games and had the whole Covid and relegation thing, I managed to structure things better in my brain so I wasn’t suffering as much when I wasn’t at work.
“I had issues the other week after the MK Dons match and before the Sunderland game: Do I picky Icky? Do I pick Chieo? Do I pick Woody?
“I thought ‘The week will just see itself out and after training on Thursday the staff and I can have a conversation’.
“In previous regimes, that would have been a conversation I had in my brain at 6pm on Saturday on the coach on the way back from MK Dons. I’m a bit kinder to myself on worrying.”
Five years into the Warne way, Rotherham have never been in better shape and their boss’s standing has never been higher.
The irony won’t be lost on the manager that after giving up on trying to be liked he is more liked than ever.
“When I left out players, I used to get obsessed by the need to text them to explain,” he says. “I used to beat myself up. Now I don’t. I tell them straight, I tell them: ‘This is the reason you’re not in the squad, I’m sorry.’
“I’m a bit nicer to myself. You can’t be liked all the time. My personality throughout my life has been one of wanting to be liked. I want to be the most popular person in the room, I want people to find me funny. I border on narcissistic with it.
“But in the last five years I’ve sort of grown out of that and allowed myself to be uncomfortable.
“Is Freddie Ladapo going to love me because I’m not playing him every week? No, he isn’t.
“Why do I need him to be over-friendly with me all the time? He’s entitled to not be happy with me because he wants to play.
“If I leave Icky out, is he going to be disappointed? Yeah. Just let him be disappointed.
“Before, I would try so hard to make the players like me, which was just naive.
“There is a difference between being liked and being respected. I’m more towards the respect these days.”
The twinkle is always there ...
“With some ‘like’ as well, obviously, because I’m still hilarious!”
With that, he’s gone. It’s a Monday morning, he has the following day’s trip to Charlton Athletic to prepare for and the players are starting to assemble for a team meeting.
He leaves me reflecting on what social media is making of his fifth year at the helm.
Top for expected goals, top for fewest chances conceded, maybe top of League One itself before too long.
Suddenly, I have the inclination to type ‘Warne’ and ‘#rufc’ into Twitter’s search facility.
The first tweet from a fan that pops up contains winky-face, clapping-hands and fire emojis to emphasise its point.
“Anyone remember them ‘Warne out’ wallies? Not heard owt from them for a while. There’s only one Paul Warne.”
MISERY OF MAY
PAUL Warne is still haunted by the last-day events that cost Rotherham United their Championship status in May.
The Millers were leading 1-0 late on at Cardiff City and were only six minutes away from the victory that would have seen the manager keep his team in the second tier for the first time in three attempts.
Rotherham, ravaged by Covid throughout the season, had put up a magnificent fight in their bid to stay up, battling against teams with much bigger budgets before falling just short.
Warne, who has won promotion every time he has been in charge in League One, said: “In the eyes of the paying public, relegation possibly is failure, which is heartbreaking.
“That’s why it still gripes me to this day that we didn’t win at Cardiff. We were so close to potentially building a side the following year to try to get a little bit further up the Championship.”
The boss will celebrate five years in the hot-seat later this month but still feels the pressure of a town’s hopes being on his shoulders.
“I had my brother up the other weekend for the Sunderland game,” he said. “I went out with him on the Saturday night afterwards and he said: ‘You could pay me any amount of money and I would not do your job.’ I was like: ‘Correct, you wouldn’t!’
“It does give me satisfaction that me and my staff have done it for so long. In fairness, there have been stalwarts within that.
“Ross Burbeary (performance and medicine manager) has been here virtually throughout my whole tenure, as has Hammy (coach Matt Hamshaw), as has Rich (number two Barker). The chairman has also stayed the same, which helps! I’ve got people I really trust, people I don’t have to micro-manage, people who are brilliant in their roles, and collectively we’ve been lucky enough to have success.”
Rotherham headed into the international break in third spot in League One and unbeaten in their last ten league outings as they look for a hat-trick of promotions under Warne who is the fourth-longest-serving manager in the EFL, behind Simon Weaver (Harrogate Town), Gareth Ainsworth (Wycombe Wanderers) and John Coleman (Accrington Stanley).
“Five years in today’s football is pretty remarkable,” said the 48-year-old. “I told my mum the other day and she couldn’t believe it.
“I try not to reminisce about anything yet. I’m trying to keep the energy and drive for Cambridge United at home in the next game and then Ipswich Town and Oxford United away.
“But when I get older I’ll definitely look back with a lot of pride.”
PAUL WARNE ON TONY STEWART
PAUL Warne says he is still manager of Rotherham United because owner Tony Stewart held his nerve.
Boss and chairman have been in partnership for five years during which time there have been three Championship relegations and two League One promotions.
Warne, who has led the Millers to third place so far this season as he looked to take them up from the third tier yet again, said: “The real reason a manager keeps his job is because he has the support of the club’s owner.
“Loads of Rotherham fans probably wanted me to lose my job in the summer after relegation, as they did two years ago and as they did when I was first given the role and they weren’t keen on me having it.
“You need a strong owner who sees everything for what it is. He sees what fans don’t see. He sees what you’re working with, what you’re working towards, what you’re trying to do.
“He sees your work ethic, he sees your culture. If you have an unsupportive owner, you’re always in trouble.”
Warne and Stewart have a close working bond and speak on the phone or face to face almost daily.
“I can only do the job as I see fit,” the manager said. “I’m honest and I tell the chairman everything. I don’t hide anything from him.
“If we lose, I tell him why. If we win but aren’t very good, I tell him why. I have a really open relationship with him.”
Warne accepts that, no matter how close the pair are, the relentless pressure for victories could one day lead to a parting of the ways.
“I know it isn’t going to last forever,” he said. “I know that one day the chairman’s not going to be happy with my performance. We won’t fall out, we’ll just shake hands and that will be it. There’ll be no drama.
“You want to bring young players through your system but at the same time you need to win on a Saturday. Do I develop Josh Kayode or do I win a football game? I need to win a football game.
“Fundamentally, that’s what keeps you safe. On top of that, it doesn’t half help if you have a completely candid relationship with an understanding owner.”