Rotherham United's boss picks his favourite moments during his time in the hot-seat ... The Paul Warne Column from this week's Advertiser

Rotherham United's boss picks his favourite moments during his time in the hot-seat ... The Paul Warne Column from this week's Advertiser

By Paul Davis | 05/12/2021

Rotherham United's boss picks his favourite moments during his time in the hot-seat ... The Paul Warne Column from this week's Advertiser
Freddie Ladapo celebrates his Hillsborough strike

 

HILLSBOROUGH, Wednesday March 3 2021, the 97th minute, Freddie Ladapo.

I’ve been in charge of this great club for five years now and I’m told that tomorrow’s FA Cup clash with Stockport County will be my 250th match in charge.

In all that time, my favourite moment, easily, is Freddie’s amazing last-gasp goal at Sheffield Wednesday to give us a 2-1 win.

It ranks even higher than Wembley 2018 when we won promotion to the Championship in the League One Play-off Final against Shrewsbury Town.

Obviously, Freddie’s strike was made a little bit better because it came in a derby, but that’s not my main reason for savouring it.

It’s my top choice because I felt so wronged in that game by the second-half sending-off of Michael Smith. It was never a red card and ended up being rescinded.

We played well after having a few unlucky results at Hillsborough over the years.

I particularly remember my first game in charge there, in 2017, when we lost 1-0 in the last minute to a penalty.

Tom Adeyemi had had a perfectly good header ruled out in the first half, then Richard Wood was sent off in the dying seconds for bringing down Lucas Joao and Steven Fletcher stuck in the spot-kick. There had been no foul and Woody’s red was another dismissal that was overturned.

In the Freddie game, Wednesday got a corner deep into added time when the score was 1-1. I’m saying to the fourth official: ‘Is that it? Is that it?’ He’s going: ‘It’s the last few seconds, Warney.’

We cleared the ball and I’m shouting to the ref: ‘Just blow, what are you’re doing?’ We were attacking but I still wanted him to blow because I’m thinking: ‘We’re destined to mess this up.’

A goal when you score late, late, late is just amazing because you know there is no time left for the opposition to come back.

I also enjoyed, in a perverse way, Solihull Moors away in the FA Cup in 2019 when we were 3-0 down in the 76th minute and came back to win 4-3. It was a microcosm of the highs and lows of football management.

I used it in the team meeting the day before our FA Cup first-round win over Bromley last month.

I showed the lads the three goals we conceded and said to them: ‘Never under-estimate a non-league team.’ Then on the day of the game I showed them the goals that we scored to underline to them that if we put crosses into the box and do what we’re good at we’re not a bad side.

Oxford United away a few weeks after Solihull Moors was another special one because of how our fans were with assistant manager Richie Barker after the loss of his brother, Chris.

They sang Richie’s name and gave him a standing ovation at the end and it was a really emotional time. We played really well to win 3-1 in Rich’s first game back after Chris’s death.

I’m not religious in any way, but if ever we were destined to have a good performance and a good result against a very good team it was then.

In the same season — when we went up from League One — Shrewsbury away on Boxing Day was also amazing. Michael Smith won it for us 2-1 in the last few seconds with a header and high-stepped his way to the corner flag to do the worst slide ever. God, I loved that.

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IS five years a long time in management? My face says it is. Just count how many lines there are!

It’s weird really. It feels longer than five years but at the same time it feels like yesterday that I took over. It’s definitely had its ups and downs. It’s been an honour to manage the club I love. I’ve had a great time and long may it continue.

Going up is great — and I’ve managed to do it twice — but it’s only great when the promotion finally happens. The ten months of absolute pain it takes to get you there aren’t great!

Until someone puts the ‘P’ beside your team’s name, you’ve achieved nothing.

Promotion is strange. You get the ‘P’ beside your name but the very next day you think: ‘Here we go, we’ve got to try to build a Championship team.’ Then the fixtures for next season come out and you realise just what being at a higher level entails.

I take my enjoyment and satisfaction from the lads performing at their best. In the Championship last time, there were times when I couldn’t have been happier with what we tried to do.

It wasn’t quite enough to stay up, although for 88 minutes at Cardiff City on the last day it felt like it was going to be.

I’ve also taken the team down from the Championship. To be honest, the relegations weren’t the low some people might think, although I did find the last one very difficult because of the circumstances.

Equally, I didn’t find the promotions unbelievable. On a scale of one to ten, promotions are an eight, relegations a four and my general life a six unless I’m walking my dog when it becomes a nine. That’s how I live my life; it’s never that amazing. More often than not, I’m at 10,000 feet and not much higher.

If we’ve gone up, I’m thinking: ‘We’ve got some massive issues to deal with.’ If we’ve gone down, I’ve got different issues to deal with: 1) keeping in employment and 2) trying to build another squad.

Promotions and relegations, neither is that good and neither is that bad. Getting the most from the team is all I can ask of myself and my staff.

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WHO knows what the next five years will bring.

The dream would be hair regrowth. If I had a bit of a side parting I would look a lot younger and Mrs Warne would give me a standing ovation every time I walked into the house.

Hopefully my two kids will be happy in their career choices. From a personal point of view, I just hope I’m doing a job I enjoy.

If it’s in football management, great; if it’s at this club, great; if it’s at another club because this club didn’t want me anymore, great. But if it’s in a completely different role that I thoroughly enjoyed then that would be fine too.

It wouldn’t bother me if I was a kitman at another club or a head of academy at another club or a lecturer in biology at a university. I just want to be happy.

The older I’ve got, as I creep closer to 50, the more I feel me and my family deserve to be happy.

I’d be amazed if Rotherham fans have to endure another five years of my interviews, that is for sure.

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WE’RE in a good place in League One but there is definitely no arrogance in our team, just a quiet drive among the lads to be the best they can be in every single game.

There are a lot of things we are doing well but there are also plenty of things that still need working on.

After every match, we show the players clips of things the management staff weren’t best pleased with.

They know that if they want that feeling of being on their phones after a game and reading about how great they are, they have to perform every week. You’ll soon be nobody on a Saturday if you lose.

We are joint top. It’s not as if we are 12 points clear and romping it. By Christmas, there could have been eight different teams who have led the division.

The lads are level-headed enough to know that we have achieved nothing yet.

Having said that, they have been excellent in the last couple of months and I think our football is as good as any I have ever seen a Rotherham team play. The midfield are a joy to watch.

I have an amazing group of players and staff and we’re all in it together. It’s a great feeling as a manager to hear the people behind me in the dugout encouraging the subs when they go on. They want Tolaji Bola to shine, they want Josh Kayode to score.

I’m feeling a good bond between the team and supporters. The players appreciate the fans getting behind them and I think the fans really appreciate what the lads are trying to do.

What is helping us at the moment is the lack of injuries. I have a board on my office wall that lists all the available players, followed by the ones under treatment and out of action.

Happily, there is no-one along the bottom of my board right now. We’re in a run of seven matches in 21 days so we need everyone to be available.

If I could make five substitutions I would so I could keep players fresh. It’s credit to my physiotherapy team that so many of the lads are in good fettle. Long may that continue.

Everyone will be needed. The lads who don’t play in the league games will play in the cup matches.

It’s nigh on impossible to keep everyone happy. Everyone is competing for a place and there is no-one I wouldn’t trust to wear the shirt. We have committed lads who look after themselves away from the club. That’s important.

There’s always room for improvement. Our throw-ins ... God, they need constant assessment and tweaking. Maybe we could be more ruthless in our chance-taking too.

Our attempts on goal are good, our entries into the final third are good, our-set-pieces are quite good, our work rate is excellent.

But I still want more.

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I WANTED three points at Oxford United last weekend but a draw wasn’t the end of the world.

I took off our flying wing-back, Chieo Ogbene, in the final stages and replaced him with a defender in Richard Wood.

It might have seemed we were accepting a 0-0 draw. However, that wasn’t the case.

Chieo has been a huge threat for us this season, but he is a power athlete and players like that have more trouble recovering between games.

Oxford doubled up on him and he just didn’t get a lot of change. Wing-back is the hardest position to play for us and he looked jaded in a third start in eight days.

On the left, I’d changed Shane Ferguson for Mickel Miller and Mickel was outstanding. I don’t have the same luxury on the right-hand side and it was probably a game too far for Chieo.

I considered putting Jamie Lindsay or Josh Kayode wide right, but then I thought a set-piece might win the game for us.

For that reason, I moved Wes Harding out there from the backline and brought on Woody in the hope that the skipper might grab us three points at a corner or free-kick.

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BEN Wiles would be behind Joe Mattock in the queue if I was picking a quiz team but of all the lads at this club our midfielder probably has more football intelligence than anyone else.

Wilesy is a very clever player. When we have team meetings and show clips, he sits on the front row and always has an answer.

He always sees the press, he always sees the rotations, he always sees the faults in the opposition. He is a real, true footballer. He ‘gets’ the game and has a real desire to get the most out of himself.

Ben just loves to play. If he wasn’t a professional, he’d play with his mates in the Sunday League and then play five-a-side during the week with his colleagues at work.

Because he’s so good, in the past he’s sometimes ended up playing out of position sometimes as a left-back or wing-back. That’s not because he isn’t the best midfielder, it’s because he can play in more than one role better than anyone else.

Having Dan Barlaser in that midfield three enables Ben and Ollie Rathbone to be more aggressive with their forward play. That’s possibly why Wilesy has caught the eyes of so many people recently.

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I TOOK my son, Mack, to the Manchester City v PSG Champions League match last week. Part birthday present for him, part scouting mission for me. You never know if there’s a bargain to be picked up!

There were a few players I quite liked. PSG’s front three, though ... I wasn’t sure about their work rate out of possession. They’re going to have to improve on that if they want to play for the Millers. I hope my strikers didn’t watch and think they could get away with that.

I buzzed off being at the City of Manchester Stadium with Mack as I hardly ever get a chance to go to a game with my son. He’s turns 18 this Sunday and I have no idea where all the years have gone.

It was a brilliant occasion. The music before the game was good, the light show before the game was good, everything was great. The ball hardly ever went out of play. If I’m honest, it was virtually a different sport to what I’m used to.

A few players ticked a box but now we have to go through the personality checks. When I speak to Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar on FaceTime, if they don’t like what I’m saying then the deals could fall through on the ‘good human beings’ test.

Whether they sign for us or not, there were signs of potential in them. I think they might go on to have decent careers.

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RICHARD WOOD COLUMN

THE gaffer went past the five-year mark last weekend and I’m pleased to say I’ve been here all through his reign.

Joe Mattock and I are the only two players who were there on day one back in November 2016, although a young talent by the name of Wiles was already in the Rotherham United youth set-up and not that far from making the leap to the senior set-up.

The gaffer made me his captain and we have a close relationship. It’s funny, he used to be ‘Warney’ when he was fitness coach but I wouldn’t dream of calling him that now.

I like how he’s stuck to his policy of bringing in only good people. He’s always been about developing the right culture here and it’s worked out very well.

In his five years, he’s always made sure the squad has evolved, that it’s had a bit of revamp every year, while at the same time remaining totally true to the way that he wants to play.

We’re in a really strong position now. His recruitment and keeping hold of players has been excellent. Obviously, there have been departures so the club could make money and players could further their careers. However, he’s generally hung on to who he wants.

If he loses players, he fills the void very well. We said ‘farewell’ to extremely good players in Will Vaulks, Semi Ajayi and Matt Crooks, and all the wingers — Joe Newell, Jon Taylor, Ryan Williams and Anthony Forde — went at one stage, but the gaffer has brought in other people and now we’re stronger than ever.

The style under him has always been to hit the wings and put balls into the box. He’s enhanced that over the years and within that framework we’re playing some great football.

Every time we’ve been relegated from the Championship we’ve bounced back with a promotion straightaway. That shows he knows what he’s doing.

The way he and the coaching staff develop players is unbelievable. Chieo Ogbene is a perfect example of that. Look at him now compared to how he was when he first came here.

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NO-ONE is expecting an easy game on Friday and we’ll give National League Stockport County full respect when they come to New York Stadium for an FA Cup second-round tie.

Hopefully we can have a good run in the competition.

An incentive to beat Stockport is the thought of drawing one of the big guns in round three.

I’d love to go to a stadium I haven’t made an appearance in yet.

I’ve played at every top-flight club except Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea.

That’s not a bad record to say I’ve never been a player in the Premier League.

A win over County and an away draw at any of those three would be perfect.



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