Michael Smith, Chiedozie Ogbene, Rotherham United and the January transfer window

Michael Smith, Chiedozie Ogbene, Rotherham United and the January transfer window

By Paul Davis | 29/11/2021

Michael Smith, Chiedozie Ogbene, Rotherham United and the January transfer window
Michael Smith

 

CHIEDOZIE Ogbene, the international golden boy scoring for his country in an orange shirt.

Michael Smith having the season of his life as he chases a black-and-white one.

The pair have been showing such shades of excellence for Rotherham United that they may well be wanted men in the January transfer window.

Ogbene is the new darling of the Republic of Ireland set-up, Smith the hot-shot who has hit 13 goals already in the push for League One promotion.

No Miller wants to see them leave; not just yet anyway.

Both may move on to bigger things at some stage — and would leave with everyone’s best wishes after sterling service at AESSEAL New York Stadium — but not just yet please; not in January.

Rotherham have unfinished business in this division and the pair have unfinished business with Rotherham.

Paul Warne knows that a third successive rise from this level is much more attainable with Smith tearing it up in the middle and Ogbene tearing up and down the right.

“I have got people in place in my head who we would like if we lost someone but I don’t want to lose anyone,” the manager said.

“I had an agent text me last week — my old Millers teammate, Paolo Vernazza — and he said: ‘What do you want in January, Warney? I am just trying to line everything up.’

“I said: ‘Look, Mate, I don’t want anything. If I lose someone, I will phone you.’ If I can get through the season with the group of players I started with, I will be buzzing.

“If I got someone in January, it would take them six weeks to get used to how we train and what we expect. If I can keep the group, I will. I have no intention of losing anyone.”

Ogbene and Smith are out of contract at the end of the campaign. The Millers have an option to extend the winger’s deal by 12 months but the centre-forward walks away if he wants to.

Rotherham will do their utmost to tie the pair to new deals. However, the money and opportunities on offer elsewhere may be too much to compete against.

Hopefully that is a scenario for the summer after the Millers have kept hold of the duo in the New Year.

Ogbene has represented the Irish tricolour with distinction since his first call-up in June: an October goal in a white jersey in a 3-0 win in Azerbaijan, a performance in green that ran mighty Portugal ragged in a 0-0 draw earlier this month, followed by that goal — and a man-of-the-match display — in orange in a 3-0 triumph over Luxembourg.

Newcastle United fan Smith has been lethal in League One as he looks to reach the 25 target that would see Rotherham’s assistant manager, Richie Barker, handing over his signed, framed Alan Shearer shirt.

Much as ‘Smudge’ covets the Shearer prize, his form in this campaign isn’t down purely to his desire to get his hands on a prized memento of the former Magpies number 9.

It’s the culmination of four years of work on the training ground as the Millers coaching staff have turned him from selfless frontman into slightly more selfish hitman with the basic, oft-repeated Warne message of: ‘Get in the middle of the frickin’ six-yard box.’

Rotherham have a number of other players out of contract at the end of June but hold 12-month options to extend in at least half a dozen cases. New-deal negotiations are expected to begin in earnest before Christmas.

After his latest Ireland exploits, Ogbene and his ever-present grin were back at Roundwood last Thursday when he was given a round of congratulatory applause in the team meeting.

The 24-year-old is a grounded figure but there’s always the risk of him having his head turned by rubbing shoulders with high-earning fellow internationals from the Premier League.

Warne said: “If Chieo came in my office crying his eyes out and told me ‘Brighton are going to offer me £50,000 a week, you can’t stand in my way’, I’d be like ‘If they offer you 50 grand a week, you are a £10 million player, so ask them to send a cheque and I’ll happily spend it’.

“I understand the issue, though. if I went to an LMA (League Managers Association) bash and I found out every other League One manager was earning ten times what I do, then I would want more.

Chiedozie Ogbene

“It is only human nature that the lads want the best, it’s not them being greedy.

“I am always concerned that my best players could leave, but I am also aware of the fact that they won’t leave while they’re under contract unless we want them to.

“I’m not naive enough to sit here thinking we can offer him a deal that will absolutely water his eyes and no-one else can compete with that. However, we will still have the conversations with him and try to sell him the dream.

“At the moment, I haven’t had any conversations with him. He seems more than happy and is playing well and that is all I am worried about.”

For now, it seems the likelihood is that only fringe players might be allowed to depart in the next window.

“There might be one or two who feel they want to get more game-time somewhere else,” Warne said. “I’ll have to look at it if that’s the case. I don’t want people who don’t want to be here. I might lose one or two, but I am hopeful that I won’t lose any.”

January would be the last chance to demand a fee for Smith, but there is much more money to be had — not far off £7 million in extra solidarity payments and TV money — by taking a seat at the Championship table.

Owner Tony Stewart, who lacks for nothing in foresight and ambition, will recognise the value of a sensible gamble on Smith’s continued presence leading to promotion.

He has always backed his manager and Warne said: “I cannot see us letting anyone go in January unless the money is ridiculous. The chairman has never said I have to sell anyone.

“If we get another six months out of Chieo or another 18 months, great. We’ve got an option on him but I don’t need to activate it yet. I’d rather sit down with him when the time is right and try to get him on an extended deal.

“Would I like to sign him on a five-year deal? Of course I would. That becomes more difficult if he keeps taking on teams like Portugal

“The more games Chieo plays against Europe’s greatest — he’s playing against Portugal, he’s not playing, with all due respect, against San Marino — the more awareness other people will have of him and the harder it will be for us to keep him.”

Ogbene and Smith are set, one day, to benefit from what is increasingly becoming the trademark Rotherham way: sign a player, develop a player, move a player on for good money.

It’s making the Millers a stronger, richer club and helping to attract recruits of extra talent who realise that New York is a place where they can grow and enhance their career prospects.

In the case of Smith, the departure might be for no fee at all, but the Millers have already had an outstanding return on his free-transfer arrival four years ago.

So he might leave, Ogbene might go.

But not just yet; not in January.

Barring crazy offers, red and white will be their colours until Rotherham know their promotion fate.

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OUT-OF-CONTRACT BENEFITS

PAUL Warne believes there could be a silver lining to having so many players approaching the end of their contracts.

The number of Rotherham United first-team squad members whose deals expire at the end of the season stretches into double figures.

But the manager reckons that could lead to even better performances from them as the Millers look to secure their third League One promotion in his five-year tenure.

“As a former player, I know what it’s like when you’re out of contract in the summer,” he said.

“It didn’t make me try any harder but I definitely played with teammates for whom it did.”

Preliminary chats have come to nothing and the Millers plan to step up contract talks as Christmas approaches in the hope of wrapping up some deals in the New Year.

“I’m know I’m running the risk of players leaving,” Warne said.

“However, if they don’t want to sit down and sign a new contract now but they keep performing at a level and get us to where we want to be, I’ll take that if that’s all there is to take.”

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CONTRACT SITUATION

Out of contract in the summer: Chiedozie Ogbene, Viktor Johansson, Freddie Ladapo, Jamie Lindsay, Mickel Miller, Michael Ihiekwe, Michael Smith, Kieran

Sadlier, Richard Wood, Joe Mattock, Angus MacDonald, Josh Chapman.

* Rotherham have 12-month options on Ogbene and several other players but not Smith.

Contracts until 2023: Ben Wiles, Dan Barlaser, Josh Vickers, Shane Ferguson, Curtis Tilt.

Contracts until 2024: Ollie Rathbone, Hakeem Odoffin, Josh Kayode, Tolaji Bola.

Loans to end of season: Will Grigg, Rarmani Edmonds-Green.

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MICHAEL SMITH FUTURE ... 'NO APPETITE TO CASH IN IN JANUARY,' SAYS PAUL WARNE

MANAGER Paul Warne believes it would take “lunacy money” to persuade Rotherham United to sell top scorer Michael Smith in the New Year transfer window as they chase a place in the Championship.

The Millers, who leapt into top spot by beating Ipswich Town on Tuesday, are seeking a third successive promotion from League One and their top scorer, who has hit the target 13 times already this season, is a central figure in their ambitions.

Smith is out of contract at the end of June and has so far rejected a new deal, so January could be the club’s last chance to cash in on one of their prize assets.

But, with a spot in the second tier worth somewhere close to £7 million in extra solidarity payments and TV money, Warne is confident the 30-year-old will still be at AESSEAL New York Stadium when the wheeling and dealing comes to a close.

“I would keep him until the summer, 100 per cent,” the boss said. “I don’t think there is any appetite from the owner (Tony Stewart) to cash in. He wants promotion and you wouldn’t sell your best players if that’s what you want.

“I am not saying this as a warning to other clubs, but I have no intention to sell. If someone phoned up and said ‘I’ve got X million for Smudge’, I’d say ‘Great, but we could earn more from going up and your bid is not enough.’

“I can’t see anyone leaving unless it is lunacy money in this window because I can’t spend it. If you give me £2m for Smudge, thanks, but what am I going to do with it?

“I have got to try to get a player who fits our wage structure who is as good as Smudge, I’ve got no chance.”

With the Millers, who visit Oxford United on Saturday, performing so well during their 15-match unbeaten run, other players like winger Chiedozie Ogbene and midfielder Ben Wiles could become targets of clubs in a higher division.

However, Warne reckons that, after more than 18 months of the Covid pandemic, teams won’t be spending in the manner they have in previous years.

“I don’t think there are loads of clubs in the Championship who are raining cash,” he said.

“Most are not that flush that they are going to make the window exciting.

“I don’t foresee a problem, but if there is I will speak to the owner and it will come down to that. I don’t think that is going to happen.”

Smith, who returned to the side against Ipswich following a one-match ban, is approaching four years with Rotherham after arriving on a free transfer from Bury in January 2018. He hasn’t ruled out staying, although he would obviously be tempted by the opportunities and bigger wages that may be on offer elsewhere.

Talks over a new deal have yet to begin in earnest after his earlier rejection of new terms but there will be discussions as the Millers’ promotion prospects become clearer.

Warne said: “I would like to have Smudge in my office most days and keep giving him my favourite coffee and then he will have a weak day where he comes in and says ‘Gaffer I have brought my own pen and I’ll sign a new deal’.

“If I get to April time and we look like we have a real chance of going up, I probably have more chance of getting him to stay. That is my best sales pitch.

“He could have the security now but I assume his agent wants to see how things go.”



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