Loneliness in overdrive ... the unseen side of Rotherham United manager Paul Warne's life

Loneliness in overdrive ... the unseen side of Rotherham United manager Paul Warne's life

By Paul Davis | 23/09/2020

Loneliness in overdrive ... the unseen side of Rotherham United manager Paul Warne's life
The stress of matchday

HE has only his demons for company, no peace of mind. A driven man is driving home alone.

This is Paul Warne on a Saturday night if his team have lost at AESSEAL New York Stadium.

For a while, he is off limits. Not even his family are allowed in to break the silence or lift the misery.

The Covid-19 pandemic brought six months of respite by shutting down football from March to September.

Yet Warne, whose Rotherham United side have just embarked on life back in the Championship, is glad to be risking his well-being again.

He's enjoyed the peace but found he needs the pressure.

“My life during coronavirus — and I am sorry if some people elsewhere have suffered — has been really good and enjoyable,” says the manager.

“But it hasn't had the real highs and the real lows. It's been just like a ripple. I haven't been at the bottom of the ocean and I haven't been on a massive rip-tide surfing it either.

“I've just been on a nice, little 'coast'. My life needs that excitement and the drama of matchdays.

“I am looking forward to the season. I'm looking forward to trying to sleep on Friday night. I've got really good at that but I've got a funny feeling I'm going to get bad at it again.”

The world now is very different to the pre-Covid one when the Millers occupied second spot in League One and were promoted when clubs voted not to play the last nine matches of the season.

Online press conferences have replaced the get-togethers at Rotherham's Roundwood training complex which were the highlight of any journalist's week: mugs of tea, around 25 minutes on the record, then more than half an hour of gossip and laughs with the voice recorders and cameras turned off.

Zoom meetings via laptops aren't as intimate as pulling up a chair in Warne's clean, bright office but are still jovial, humorous affairs, and this particular one finds the boss in his usual conversational mood.

“Life for all of us on this screen has been surreal, hasn't it?” he says. “I've been able to spend loads more time with my kids and be a lot more 'present' as a dad.

“I've liked that part of it. However, not having matches to prepare for has felt strange. Ask any manager and they will say the best and worst part of the job is a matchday.”

The public face of Warne is smiles and jokes, and that is no act. He revels in delivering shopping to self-isolating pensioners, recording videos for fans on their birthdays and being approached in Meadowhall for a selfie — not least because he loves how it embarrasses his daughter.

But there's a price to pay for being unremittingly in the spotlight and carrying the hopes of a footballing town on his shoulders.

A happy man isn't always happy.

For the umpteenth time, he stresses: “It's a really tough job.”

The former player and fitness coach adds: “I'm more defensive of managers now than I have ever been and it's because I am one.

“If a manager in the Premier Leagues loses his first two of three games, that's it — everyone's focus is on that manager. People are saying: 'If they don't win the next one, they've got to go.'

“You're like: 'Wow. Hang on a sec.' They've been preparing their team for months and losing might have just been down to a few coincidences here and there.”

Meanwhile, on losing Saturdays Warne's club-issue BMW may be under the speed limit as it travels between New York and Tickhill but the manager's mind is racing.

“I have a really good staff, but that doesn't detract from the fact that after a defeat I drive home on my own,” he says. “I don't have my wife and my kids in the car with me. I just can't. I need that time on my own.”

Escaping the pressure with dog Chief

The responsibility consumes him almost to the point of controlling him. The cinema is his sanctuary — two critical hours when he can lose himself in a plot line. Walking his dog, Chief, is an escape. Family time is precious but, now that football is back, there isn't enough of it.

“I think it's nearly impossible not to let the job take you over,” he says. “I speak to managers all the time. When I first took over, I felt like a fraud. I had massive imposter syndrome.

“I used to feel embarrassed to phone other managers. I thought they could see through me and were thinking: 'Warney as a manager? No way.'

“I don't feel like that anymore. I speak to a lot of managers and they all admit that it's a really tough job and that the pressures are immense. You could also argue that the rewards are as well.

“If my team win on Saturday, I'll get interviewed afterwards and be told 'Well done today' and all that. But, really, how much of a part did I play in it? It's all about the team.

“In the same way, if we lose to an overhead kick in the last minute, I'll come over to the press to be told 'Disappointing today'. I'm like: 'How can I stop an overhead kick from a player who has never done one in his life before?'

“I don't think any manager can get away from that. Every manager I know lives and breathes it all the time. That's why top managers come out of jobs and have six months off. It's just to get their heads back, just to breathe normally.”

“It's a really tough job.” He's saying it again, and you can almost feel his suffering on the New York touchline last season as time-wasting Wycombe Wanderers hold out for a 1-0 victory and Rochdale surprisingly lower the Millers' colours by the same score.

“I think it's one of those jobs: if you've never done it, you never know it,” Warne continues. “Even though I've been involved in professional football for 25 years and I've worked for many managers, when I became a manager myself it was still a lot different to what I thought it would be like.

“Without sounding disrespectful, the person on the street ... their opinion on it is even further away than that. For mental health, managers do need a lot of help. I speak to the LMA (League Managers Association) quite a lot. I have, like, a mentor, which is a great help for me.”

The Zoom conference call begins with his face flashing up on screen just as he's finishing a phone call to a fan celebrating their 74th birthday.

The pair have obviously bonded and talk has somehow turned to the New Zealand rugby union team.

“The All Blacks,” the boss says. “Yeah, I love them as well. I've read that book, Legacy, on them. It's all about making them good people as well as good players.”

Echoes of his own impassioned task at New York.

Later, his tone is less light as he thinks of those solitary half-hour journeys on Saturday evenings.

“It can be a really, really, really dark, lonely, sad place,” he says. “It's a really tough job and we give everything we can to it.”

Just Warne, the open road and the closed-off life of a football manager.

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