'Saying it is, like, career suicide. But it’s my genuine belief.' Rotherham United boss Paul Warne's column in last week's Advertiser

'Saying it is, like, career suicide. But it’s my genuine belief.' Rotherham United boss Paul Warne's column in last week's Advertiser

By Paul Davis | 15/11/2021

'Saying it is, like, career suicide. But it’s my genuine belief.' Rotherham United boss Paul Warne's column in last week's Advertiser
Paul Warne

 

FIVE years as boss of this great club ...

The anniversary is coming up later this month and, as it approaches, I can’t help but think back to when I was asked to hold the fort following the departure of Kenny Jackett.

I was new to management and was absolutely convinced I was just standing in until Kenny’s real successor arrived.

I’m the kind of guy who is massive on respect. I wanted the culture of the club to be right so I just treated the lads properly and got training organised how I thought it should be.

I always thought it would just be a caretaker thing. I turned up many times at the training ground in the early days hoping to see a BMW 7 Series pulling into the car-park with the next manager behind the wheel.

Things have changed. I’m totally committed to my job and it’s my Volvo at Roundwood, not someone else’s BMW.

As a manager, humility is key. You have to be honest with your group.

When I was a player, I sat in many dressings rooms and worked for many managers. Some come in and say ‘We’re going to win every game’ and the lads can see through that kind of bluster straightaway.

I would rather a manager come in and say: ‘Look, this is how I want to play. I’ll get to know you over the next few weeks. All I can say is, I’ll take a step towards you, you take a step towards me.’

My door is always open to the players. A lot of managers say that when actually it’s locked.

The lads want to be the best version of themselves, they want to know that you can improve them. Being a good manager is about getting the most you possibly can from your group.

Even if I signed a 34-year-old, I would be saying: ‘Look, you’re good at this, this and this, but I can make you better at that, that and that if you buy into it.’

I was fitness coach when Neil Warnock came here and kept us in the Championship. He was hilarious. His first speech to the lads was: ‘I don’t even know what I’m here for. But we’ll have a good crack at it, won’t we?’ The lads just laughed.

It doesn’t have to be rocket science. He just said we should all give it our best effort. Other managers would have come in trying to change everything.

If we lose, I take the blame for it. It’s me who picks the team. I can make a mistake and pick the wrong team, choose the wrong tactics and make the wrong substitutions. But at the moment I was doing it I was doing it for the right reasons.

I tell the lads if I’ve got it wrong and I also tell the owner.

The other week, on the drive home after our 4-1 victory over Scunthorpe United in the EFL Trophy, I phoned him. He was over the moon that we’d won and I told him I thought we’d been rubbish.

If you have a relationship of pure honesty with everybody, they’re more likely to listen to you.

If I do an interview, I never lie to the fans. I never pretend it was good if it wasn’t. When there is trust throughout the club, even when things are bad, people appreciate that you’re trying to do the right thing.

I’ve taken the club down twice. It’s a skill on its own not to lose your job after that. Maybe that’s due to the fact that I’m honest with the owner and all through our journey together I’ve told him what the problems are and what I’m trying to do.

 

I’VE said I think we have the best team in League One and I don’t regret going public with it.

All I was doing was trying to give an honest opinion.

I don’t say that we’ve got the best players, because I don’t think we have the best players in every position. I just think that, for the first time, we haven’t got much weakness anywhere in our football set-up.

The lads are coached really well by Richie Barker and Matt Hamshaw, they’re highly motivated, the medical team are unbelievable and I’ve got the best analyst I’ve ever had.

Some clubs have two or three. I have just Carl Edwards who works his a*se off. He’s absolutely brilliant. He really understands the game.

When I say ‘the best team in League One’, I just think that collectively we’re all pulling in the same direction. It’s a bit like when Leicester City won the Premier League. They didn’t have the best team on paper but they did have the best team, if that makes sense.

I just feel that when we’re at our best were very hard to stop. Our opponents the other week, Sunderland, are possibly the best team in terms of talent, but I knew my lads would get after them from the first whistle to the last.

That’s the confidence I have in the group.

The lads just ‘get’ it. They take on the information we give them. I’m not saying we have five one-million-pound players in the dressing room but I am saying that they all understand our fundamentals.

When I hold a team meeting, stop the video and ask ‘What don’t I like here?’, they say ‘You don’t like it, Gaffer, because we’ve let that man inside’. And so it goes on ... ‘What don’t I like here?’ ‘We didn’t end with a cross.’ ‘What don’t I like here?’ ‘The line’s too deep.’ ‘What don’t I like here?’ ‘We let a runner go off our shoulder.’ ‘What do I like here?’ ‘We pressed, won the ball back and got a corner that we scored from.’

The players understand everything we want them to do. Individually, are they the best players? Possibly not. Collectively, though, they’re right up there.

I remember when I took this job someone telling me in my first pre-season that if I was asked where I thought we would finish I shouldn’t suggest anything too high because if you don’t get there you leave yourself open to criticism.

I’m aware that, after me saying we’ve got the best team, if we lose three games on the spin some people will be going: ‘He doesn’t know what he’s on about. Get him out.’

Saying it is, like, career suicide. But it’s my genuine belief. If you want someone who isn’t true to what he believes then you’ve got the wrong bloke.

We have, with the chairman’s support, been able to keep most of our best players. I thoroughly enjoy working with the lads and as teams go this is probably the most balanced one I’ve had.

A lot of the lads have been here a long time. They all know their jobs and that is what has given us an advantage over other teams in League One who have done more recruiting

In the past, I have made subs and felt like the team were being weakened. I don’t feel like that now.

We have to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We are still only a quarter of the way through the season and we are not where we want to be.

We still haven’t got it sussed because we are not even in the top two. But performances like the one against Sunderland drive the lads’ determination to be good in training, which raises standards and allows them to perform at the level that they have been recently.

 

THERE’S a lot of fuss about whether Michael Smith will get Richie Barker’s signed Alan Shearer jersey this season.

Smudge, who is a massive Newcastle United fan and adores their all-time top scorer, needs 25 league goals to claim one of my assistant’s most-treasured possessions.

The story first came to light when the Advertiser’s Paul Davis interviewed our striker after a pre-season friendly at Harrogate Town and it’s grown from there.

Smudge’s league tally is 12 at the moment and every time it looks like he is going to score a hat-trick I take him off to try to help out Richie.

When I was a player, I would have wanted Zico’s shirt. The Brazilian was my hero.

My brother got me a signed photo, although whether it was Zico who had actually signed it I’m not so sure. I’m not saying my brother signed it, by the way! He will have paid good money for it.

I named my first dog after him. Zico, that is, not my brother. I was obsessed with the attacking midfielder as a kid.

He was the absolute opposite of me: he didn’t run around a lot but he was very talented.

I’m reliably informed that when Zico was asked by a Brazilian journalist whose shirt he would have liked he chose mine.

 

WE’VE had some big results against big clubs recently and I can’t  think of a more satisfying period in my managerial career.

As always, I want even more. I’m still disappointed that we only drew with Wycombe Wanderers.

Our performances have been really good, but I am very aware of how quickly things can turn. After winning three on the spin, you can lose three on the spin.

I don’t get too carried away with victories, I just try to drive performances.

We came through a really tough October unbeaten and then drew at Charlton Athletic in our first game of November.

I didn’t think we were at our best there but respect to the Addicks, I thought they were very good. They have responded to a new manager and will quickly climb the table.

We are doing something right because we’re scoring goals and winning games. We’re top of the stats for expected goals and not giving the opposition many chances.

The strangest thing about October was, it felt like we were winning every week but we weren’t moving up League One. It took ages for us to shift from fifth and it was only after the Charlton game that we hit third spot.

I don’t think by any stretch of the imagination that we’ve got it sussed, but we’re really pleased to have got the points we have.

 

MY poor old knees ...

I’ve sensibly decided to run 5k a day in the Prostate United November challenge because my dodgy joints won’t take more than that.

I was going to do 10k on day one then drop down to 5k but I knew that if I did the big distance first time out I would then have to stick with it for the rest of the month.

I’d have been one of those people taking, like, two hours to do it.

My lungs and muscles are fine. I’m running 5k in 21 minutes and cruising. It’s just that the pounding isn’t good for my knees, particularly the right one.

My running trainers went with me to London for the Charlton Athletic game last week and on the morning of the match a big contingent of staff hit the streets.

We also took two bikes with us so those doing the biking challenge could stay involved as well.

At one stage, I thought we’d got lost. I had visions of 100 Met police officers out looking for us while the players kicked off against the Addicks in front of an empty dugout.

 

BOY, do I love an international break and a bit of family time.

I did consider a quick trip abroad this weekend but, and I know this might sound ridiculous, I didn’t really want to leave my dog.

I’m planning to go back to Norfolk on Sunday to see family while on Saturday I might just treat the lovely Mrs Warne to a day out in Leeds or York.

The break comes at a good time . All the lads have felt a bit jaded and there is a bit of illness in the camp after a tough run of games. They deserve a bit of time away, plus they need a rest from my voice.

I gave them Sunday and Monday off after our 3-0 win over Bromley. They were in on Tuesday and yesterday and will also train today, then they’re off for a long weekend.

We get the break because we have three international call-ups. Chieo Ogbene and Josh Kayode are off with the Republic of Ireland and our summer arrival, Shane Ferguson, has joined up with Northern Ireland.

During team meetings before international breaks, I always joke: ‘As you all know, I signed Shane to make sure we can all have a free weekend every now and then.’

I look forward to the breaks but then I worry about the lads who are away. I’m always glad when they return to us unscathed.

It’s a bit like my missus when our kids are out. Once they’re back in, she feels like she can lock the front door and her nest is complete again.

 

WHAT a sport-athon l enjoyed last weekend!

After our FA Cup win over Bromley on Saturday, I headed straight off to the Sheffield Steelers ice hockey game.

Then on Sunday I treated myself to a whole  night of NFL on TV, which is a dream for me.

I was stuffing myself with nachos and drinking beer. All I needed was a Pittsburgh Steelers sombrero.

 

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FREDDIE'S FIRING AGAIN

“HAND on heart, had you been in JJ’s position, would you have passed?”

“Yes,” lies Freddie Ladapo.

The striker is talking to the media after hitting the target for Rotherham United against Bromley in last week’s 3-0 FA Cup win at AESSEAL New York Stadium.

But it’s one of the two goals he scored a week earlier in the 5-1 League One statement-of-intent victory that he’s laughingly fielding questions about as the interview draws to a close.

Substitute Josh Kayode — known to all as ‘JJ’ — unselfishly chose to set up Ladapo late on rather than go for the net himself and the Millers’ record signing duly completed the blitz of the Black Cats.

Freddie is back to doing what Freddie does best after his stuttering beginning to Rotherham’s latest promotion push.

The deadline-day arrival of Will Grigg and Smith’s 13 goals have captured the headlines but Ladapo has quietly gone about scoring five times in his last eight outings, some of which have been from the bench.

“I’m trying!” he says. “I had a rocky start to the season. I started out, first game, feeling good and I scored against Plymouth. Since then it’s been in and out because of illness and injury. I’m happy to have nice, consistent form now.”

He could have sulked after the loan signing of Grigg – himself a scorer of six goals in 13 Rotherham appearances – but has instead responded well to the test as three senior centre-forwards and young prospect Kayode battle for the two places up front.

“I do enjoy challenges,” he says. “Through no-one’s fault, this season I haven’t had the proper chance to fight and be in competition with everyone else. I feel like I’m here now.

“You maybe look at others and think you should play more than them, but you don’t look at them and have any ill will towards them.

Another goal for Freddie Ladapo

“We all talk in the changing room or in the gym about personal things, about anything. There’s never anything wrong between us. It’s just competition on the pitch.”

Anyway, back to the JJ situation ... “So, would you have passed, Freddie?”

“Hey,” the 28-year-old flashes back. “I’ll have you know I’ve got an assist this season!”

And indeed he has. In the Sunderland game he set up the opener for fellow frontman Michael Smith with an inch-perfect chipped cross.

He may have been provider on that occasion, but it’s poaching that Ladapo lives for and he’ll take goals in any way they come. He’d pounced from all of a yard to help the ball over the line against Bromley to put the Millers 2-0 in front.

“That’s my job, to be in and around the goal and feed off scraps,” he says. “I enjoy that as much as scoring a 30-yarder.

“When the ball is bouncing around in the area, you have to be alert, look around and know where the goal is. It’s like an instinct, a reaction, more than anything.”

Cambridge United are the visitors to New York for Rotherham’s next match, a week on Saturday, and Ladapo — 17-goal top scorer when the Millers were last promoted from the third tier, two years ago — is likely to be paired with Grigg as Smith serves a one-match ban.

With Smith rested, Grigg had also scored against Bromley, leading Ladapo to insist: “We can play well together.

“It needs the team to adjust to the pair of us as well. We have things that we’re good at and some things that we’re not so good at. We are different to what Smudge is like as a player.

“We’ve got different types of strikers here. There’s different heights, different speeds, different thinking. Some like to be in the box, some like to be targetmen. We all have our different traits. It’s a long season and we’ll all be needed to chip in.”

He’s quick to include Kayode in the mix: “I say to him always: ‘You have to earn your right to be a part of it. No-one is ever going to give it to you. If you’re up for the competition, you’ll succeed.’”

‘No-one is ever going to give it to you.’

It’s almost as if Ladapo’s talking about what he’d have done had the roles been reversed in the JJ moment against Sunderland.

“Goals are your game, Freddie, and you’ve got the chance to shoot. So, would you have passed?”

Finally, he comes clean.

“Yeah, I do get what you’re saying,” he grins. “Maybe not.”


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