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.”
ANGUS STEPS IT UP
ANGUS MacDonald has passed a landmark in his recovery as he eyes a New Year return for Rotherham United.
The centre-half hasn’t played this season after being sidelined in the summer by an unspecified condition but is now closing in on a return to full training.
Last week, he took part in a group session for the first time, to the delight of manager Paul Warne who says having the 29-year-old available again will be “like a new signing”.
“He joined in on the outside of a five-a-side game,” the boss said. “He was one of the ‘floaters’ on the outside. That was his first real involvement anywhere near the rest of the players.”
The League One Millers won’t rush the defender who became a big player for them in last season’s Championship campaign following his exit from Hull City.
“He’ll get drip-fed in over the next couple of weeks, doing a little bit more with the lads,” Warne said. “Psychologically, that will help him no end because he won’t feel like such a leper running round the field on his own.”
MacDonald is being put through more fitness work than his teammates as Rotherham look to make up for him missing their gruelling pre-season regime.
“Hopefully, he’ll just keep going in the right direction,” Warne said. “I don’t expect to see him in contention before January. Then he could be like a new signing.”
OLLIE READY FOR ACTION
ROTHERHAM United midfielder Ollie Rathbone is fit again and fighting for a place in the table-topping Rotherham United squad for Saturday’s League One trip to Oxford United.
Manager Paul Warne confirmed after Tuesday’s 2-0 win at Ipswich Town had shot the Millers into pole position that the midfielder had recovered from illness and was due to resume training today (Thursday).
However, goalkeeper Josh Vickers is set to be absent after being forced to give up his starting place at Portman Road to Viktor Johansson minutes before kick-off.
“I would say he’ll be out for couple of weeks; I don’t know for sure yet,” said Warne. “He went down with a sore groin in the warm-up.
"He felt it doing a couple of kicks. He hasn't complained about it before. He didn’t want to come out of the team - no-one does because they can't back in.
"It was our call. We took it out of his hands. We were thinking we couldn't make a sub after 25 minutes because the keeper couldn't take goal- kicks. We can't carry anybody."
Rathbone was close to making the Ipswich clash but Rotherham decided to allow him more recovery time.
The focus now turns to the trip to the U's who won in midweek, despite having a number of players in Covid isolation, to stretch their unbeaten record to eight matches.
"We want to keep averaging two points a game and Oxford will be another test," Warne said.