“ONE thing is for sure, he won’t be coming into training carrying a Louis Vuitton bag.”
Paul Warne knew what he was getting when he brought Lewis Wing to Rotherham United on loan from Middlesbrough in the January transfer window.
The 25-year-old was cut from the same cloth as the Millers manager. Like Warne, he’d come through non-league football before being given a belated chance to make it and had a work ethic that reflected his journey.
For Wing, a skilful midfielder, every minute in the pro ranks is precious.
In 20 appearances after his arrival at AESSEAL New York Stadium he was Rotherham’s best performer. He couldn’t quite help keep them in the Championship but did more than virtually any other player to prolong the survival fight to the last day of the season.
Warne had sealed the deal with a Zoom chat and by sending Wing a two-minute-15-second video, complete with a soundtrack of Chipmunk/Chris Brown song Champion, showing how the player would fit into the Millers’ style of play.
“There’s nothing flash about him,” said the boss, making his reference to the lack of designer-label baggage that was coming with the new recruit.
“He’s a brilliant kid who’s fought his way out of local football and is desperate to do well. I’ve tried to sign him several times before but Boro kept giving him a better contract.
“Lewis has an eye for a goal, he can get around the park and he will give us an injection of quality.”
Quality is exactly what Wing brought. Nimble and with a natural, easy way of manufacturing an extra yard of space for himself, he created opportunities for himself and his teammates.
Long balls were raking, short passes were incisive, his set-pieces were dangerous and he was prepared to put himself about. No opponent had an easy ride against him.
The tragedy was, he performed for Rotherham only in empty stadiums. Millers fans really took to him and would have loved him even more had they seen him in the flesh.
Warne the player had started his progression in Norfolk with Diss Town and Wroxham and didn’t enter the Football League, with Wigan Athletic, until he was 24.
The passage to bigger things for Wing, born in County Durham, happened via Newton Aycliffe, Esh Winning, Tow Law Town — who include former England winger Chris Waddle among their former players — Seaham Red Star and Darlington before two goal-laden seasons with Shildon persuaded Boro to take a gamble on him when he was 22.
With Rotherham, he quickly became a big voice in the dressing room, taking defeat badly and unafraid to say his piece when he thought a display hadn’t been good enough.
“He’s one of those that’s always the most emotional when we lose, but that’s because it means so much to him,” Warne said during the run-in.
“He’s a great trainer and a great pro. He’s right up for the fight and he’s definitely added something to the team.”
The loanee gave everything in every game. As Chipmunk and Chris Brown sang in Champion: “I’m always pushing myself to the limit.”
Wing was just right for the Millers and the Millers were just right for him.
“I feel like I’ve come in and done well,” he said. “I’ve been getting back my confidence which I kind of lost at Middlesbrough.”
In a Rotherham shirt, he was below par only once, in the 2-0 win at Bristol City in late March which was his first game back after suffering from Covid and came at a time when the effects of the virus were still in his legs.
He’d earned a reputation with Boro for long-range goals and wasn’t shy to take on a shot from outside the box with his new club.
There were lots of close shaves as he endured an 18-game wait for his first Millers strike, then came two beauties in his last three matches: a 20-yard free-kick against Blackburn Rovers and the stunning final-day volley at Cardiff City that saw Warne’s men come within minutes of staying up.
Prior to his loan, he hadn’t been a regular starter under Neil Warnock and there’s a chance he’ll leave the Riverside Stadium this summer even though he has a year left on his contract.
Sadly, New York and League One almost certainly won’t be his destination. Having put himself in the shop window, Wing will surely be picked up by another second-tier side willing to pay the wages commensurate with his talent.
“I cannot see Lewis wanting to play in League One, and nor should he,” Warne said. “He’s a Championship midfielder, in my opinion. He’s excellent.”
The player said: “I’m at the stage of my career now where I’ve just got to kick on. I’m 25 and I’m starting a family. The next part of my career is massive.”
So, little chance of a Rotherham return, but his brief stay in these parts will be well remembered.
Lewis Wing, the non-league lad with no Louis Vuitton in his attitude and a bit of Chris Waddle in his feet.