The big interview: Rotherham United new boy Will Grigg

The big interview: Rotherham United new boy Will Grigg

By Paul Davis | 13/09/2021

The big interview: Rotherham United new boy Will Grigg
Will Grigg joins the Millers. Picture by Jim Brailsford

INEVITABLY, the song crops up.

I’ve decided not to mention it because it seems a bit naff and Rotherham United’s last signing of the transfer window must be sick of talking about it.

But another journalist takes the plunge.

Will Grigg answers good-naturedly. Grigg is a good-natured guy.

The striker is on a Zoom call discussing his season-long loan switch from League One Sunderland to Rotherham United.

He’s looking to rediscover himself after £4 million worth of disappointment following his high-profile move to the North East two and half years ago and knows why he’s been brought to AESSEAL New York Stadium.

“It’s a massive opportunity at a really good club,” he says. “Obviously, Sunderland didn’t work out as I expected, how everyone expected.

“I feel like I’m in great shape. I’ve always looked after myself. I’ve been training to a really high standard at Sunderland even though I haven’t been getting the minutes on the pitch recently.

“I’m still that same player, that same goalscorer. I’m here to get my career going again. We’re a really strong side who are going to be pushing at the top end of the table.

“My job is to score some goals. I like to think I have a lot more to my game than that but at the end of the day I’m here to score goals.

“I’m out of contract at the end of the season so I’ve essentially cut ties with Sunderland. I’ll look out for their results, but I’m a Rotherham player now and that’s all I will be concentrating on.”

The 30-year-old didn’t score much at the Stadium of Light but he has done nearly everywhere else he’s played, starting with Walsall, then MK Dons, Wigan Athletic and back to MK again on loan last season.

“You’re the third-highest scorer in League One history with 109,” I tell him. “”Ah, okay,” he replies, leaning forward, his interest suddenly piqued.

“Fourteen goals for Rotherham will put you top, above Ian Henderson and Paddy Madden,” I venture. “Okay, no pressure then,” he smiles.

“It’s not the initial thing in my mind but to have that as a record would be brilliant,” he continues. “I’ll be going out there to score as many goals as I can to help the team. To have that personal target is good fun. It’s an added little incentive, I guess.”

One of the 109 came at New York in front of the North Stand in November 2018 in a 3-1 victory for the Wigan team that claimed the title that season. A striker never forgets.

“I was doing my photos and stuff at the stadium before my signing was announced,” he says in a voice that betrays his Solihull upbringing. “I said straightaway: ‘I’ve scored down that end.’ It was a free-kick and I got in a little glancing header to put us in front.”

He’s a friendly bloke and the interview with the local media pack moves along easily. We tell him the football environment under Paul Warne and Richie Barker at the Millers is a place where he can be happy and, after his recent travails, he warms to that idea.

“I spoke to the gaffer and it was a really enjoyable chat,” he says. “He just spoke so highly about the group of lads and how I could help and affect them. He come across as a really good guy. His football knowledge is brilliant.

“The main thing he spoke about was the collectiveness of the group. Whenever I’ve been happiest, that’s when I’ve played my best football. You look back to MK Dons and Wigan, that’s when I’ve been happiest in myself.

“What he said really drew me to the club. I absolutely loved working with Richie when he was coaching MK Dons so him being at Rotherham was another massive plus.

“We’ve kept in touch over the years. It seems like only yesterday that we worked together. You meet a lot of people in football and there aren’t many you keep in touch with. He’s definitely been one and it’s nice to be back with him.”

Anyway, that song. It’s 2016 and Grigg has gone from feared domestic player during his time with Wigan to international sensation with Northern Ireland at the European Championships.

Irish fans pick up on the centre-forward’s Latics chant, sing it in their thousands in France and the footage goes viral on the internet.

“Na na na na na na na, na na na na na na.”

The guy from the Yorkshire Post brings it up in a good way: “That famous song of yours, does it make you cringe now? Can you still listen to it? It’s a few years ago. You went high in the charts in Germany, didn’t you?”

Grigg must have heard it all many, many times before but you can’t tell. “I did, yeah,” he replies with a quiet laugh “It’s definitely not in any of my playlists, I can tell you.

“It was good at the time, good fun and it raised a lot of money for charity. I don’t listen to it but if I score a few goals and the fans start singing it I won’t be complaining.”

The bond with Warne has been immediate. Like the manager, the centre-forward had a spell outside of the Football League, with Stratford Town after being free by Birmingham City, and knows the other side of the game.

“I got released as a 16-year-old and reality sort of hits you very quickly about what you’re going to do and where you’re going to go,” he says. “I played non-league and that led me to Walsall.

“I loved it in non-league. It wasn’t for very long but playing men’s football at such a young age definitely pointed me in the right direction.”

We’re talking last Thursday afternoon. Griggs’s wearing a black T-shirt and looking relaxed. There’s a neutral picture on a neutral wall in the background, suggesting he’s in a hotel room.

He’s just trained with his new teammates for the first time but has obviously had time to squeeze in a shower. There isn’t a thick, dark hair out of place on his head and his trademark beard is neatly groomed.

Hotels will be part of his life. He lives an hour and 20 minutes away near Coventry and will divide his time between there and Rotherham.

Sunderland didn’t mention the risk of letting him join a potential promotion rival and, weary of Wearside, the player didn’t either.

“It wasn’t a subject I wanted to get too involved in, to be honest,” he says. “I wanted to bypass it as quickly as possible!

“To be fair, the manager at Sunderland was good. We spoke about where we were at and he said he just wanted me to enjoy my football again. He was very helpful and it wasn’t a stumbling block.

“The main thing my time there has done is make me look back at my successful times, my happy periods. It gives you that extra bit of motivation and drive to get back to that place.

“Everyone sees the glamorous side of football. But at the end of the day players are still humans, we’re still people. We go through ups and downs and emotions, just like everyone in life.

“It hasn’t been easy at all. But I’m not going to sit and moan and make excuses at all. It’s in the past now and I’m looking forward to being with Rotherham.

“It’s an important move, it’s as simple as that. I’ll do everything I can to make it the right one.”

Among many impressive stats on his CV are four third-tier promotions and now he has come to a club that, under Warne, has gone up the last twice they have been at this level.

“A fifth would be brilliant,” he says. “I had four in pretty quick succession and then the one that, on paper, was the easiest, at Sunderland, just hasn’t happened.

“It shows how tough the league is at the moment. This year, it’s probably the hardest it’s been in a long time to get out. There’s nothing better than winning games. I’ve trained with the squad only once but you can see they’re more than capable. The standard was brilliant.”

I ask him why he’s such a proficient scorer and his response is as swift and decisive as one of his penalty-area runs.

“I think it’s just the ability to arrive in the box and be in the right positions at the right time,” he says. “I’ve been lucky enough to play in some really good sides that have created chances for me.

“I’m not going to beat three or four players, cut inside and smash it in the top corner from 40 yards, I’m just not. I think I’ve scored four goals outside the box in my career.

“The manager told me how many crosses Rotherham put in the box during a game. I’m a striker who thrives off crosses and balls flashing across the box.

“I just have that repetitive desire to keep making the runs again and again until something comes off. I’ll be trying to put myself in the right positions and I know the boys have got the quality to put the ball in the right areas.”

The frontman’s League One bow for the Millers could come on Saturday at home to Fleetwood Town.

Rotherham are a point off the play-off places, have looked strong in the early stages of the campaign and the boy borrowed from the Black Cats could make the crucial difference.

Will Grigg’s on hire.

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WILL Grigg is as pleased as anybody that Rotherham United held on to targetman Michael Smith during the transfer window.

As the loan signing was arriving from Sunderland on deadline day last week, the Millers’ talisman was staying put despite plenty of admirers in the Championship

“It’s a massive thing for the club and a massive thing for myself as well that Smudge is still here,” Grigg said.

“I’ve played against him over the years and know all about him. He’s a fantastic player. It would have been really disappointing for everyone to lose someone like him.”

Rotherham’s frontline as they chase League One promotion will be any two from Smith, Grigg, Freddie Ladapo and Josh Kayode.

“All the strikers bring something different,” the new boy said. “It’s up to us as individuals to take that shirt and keep it.

“It gives the manager loads of options. At the end of the day, if you’re scoring, you’re likely to keep the shirt.”

Grigg was back to his usual scoring form during a second loan spell last term with MK and knows he can flourish operating alongside a big man like six-foot-four-inch Smith.

“It’s worked for me before,” he said. “At MK Dons the last time I was there, myself and Cameron Jerome played as a two for quite a lot of the season and it worked really well.

“I’m looking forward to playing with a player of Michael Smith’s quality. It’s going to be relatively easy to play off him and I’m sure we’ll quickly get an understanding that will hopefully work well.”

The only low point of Grigg’s career has been his time on Wearside following a big-money move from Wigan Athletic in 2019.

“I don’t know why it didn’t work out there,” he said. “If I could put my finger on it I would have changed whatever it was and made it work a long time ago.

“There were a few different managers, a few different styles. It seemed like it was never going to work and that’s why it was time to move on.”

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NEW boy Will Grigg has revealed how he came to choose Rotherham United over derby rivals Doncaster Rovers as his destination for a deadline-day move.

Rovers had appeared to be the front-runners to land the hot-shot’s signature on a season-long loan from Sunderland as the transfer window was drawing to a close.

But that all changed when the League One Millers made contact on Tuesday morning, and a deal was duly struck before the 11pm shut-off.

“There was a possibility of a move to Doncaster throughout the window,” he said. “It was no secret I was going to be leaving Sunderland.

“Lots of teams were interested. Ultimately I made a decision and that was Rotherham. As soon as I found out about the Rotherham interest, it was something I wanted to pursue.

“I spoke to my agent about a few clubs and Rotherham were the one I pushed as much as possible. It’s great to be here.”

Rotherham are expected to be among the division’s top teams this season and that suits Grigg who already has four promotions from this level under his belt.

“The manager and he told me about how I could help the team,” he said. “Stats are massive these days. I got sent some information about the high rate of expected goals and the number of crosses the team provide. That was a massive factor.

“Every time I’ve played against Rotherham it’s been a really tough game. As soon as I got the chance to play for them instead of against them, that was something I wanted to explore.”

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Story of the stats

Walsall

2008/2013

71 starts, 28 sub appearances - 28 goals

Brentford

2013/15

17, 19 - 4

MK Dons (loan)

2014/15

34, 16 - 22

Wigan Athletic

2015/19

113, 37 - 65

Sunderland

2019/2021

37, 25 - 8

MK Dons (loan)

2021

14, 6 - 8


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