CURTIS Tilt was sitting in the dugout chatting to old pal Clark Robertson.
Rotherham United had just beaten Blackpool 2-1 at Bloomfield Road last October and the pair who had once been centre-halves together on the North West coast were catching up.
Tilt had been a target for the South Yorkshire club in the summer but the Seasiders, after initially agreeing to sell, had reneged on the deal.
Unintentionally, as they swapped gossip, the duo had placed themselves in the correct order: Rotherham’s Robertson on the left, Blackpool’s Tilt on the right.
“You do realise that’s how the middle of the Rotherham defence was supposed to look this season, don’t you?” I said.
We all laughed. I told Tilt I’d like to see him in a red-and-white shirt some time in the future. He didn’t say anything but he smiled. He’d turned down a new contract with Blackpool and we both suspected the Millers deal would be revisited.
The 28-year-old duly arrived at AESSEAL New York on last Friday’s transfer deadline day for an undisclosed fee, bringing to a close a successful window for table-topping Rotherham who now have eyes solely on their League One promotion run-in.
Also through the January door were Hakeeb Adelakun and another signing on the window’s final day, Josh Koroma: two loan wingers at the head of the Millers’ wanted list.
Ah, lists. Manager Paul Warne is sick of lists. You can blame head of recruitment Rob Scott for that.
There were only a handful of targets Rotherham actually went for but there were lots of names in a long column of possibles.
“Jesus Christ,” Warne grinned. “Scotty loves a list.”
The boss, who prefers developing familiar faces to bringing in new ones, added: “If you ask him, he will tell you that he finds me horrendously frustrating to work with..
“He’s now come to the conclusion that I don’t actually like signing players. So stop throwing names at me all the time then! It drives me mental.
“It’s easy to get people in. To manage them when they’re through the door is a different task.
“He keeps telling me I need more players and I keep telling him: ‘I don’t, Mate. Stop giving me their names.’
The odd couple work closely together. Whenever you go to see Warne during January at the Roundwood training complex Scott is usually heading there later.
Former Millers teammates, they have been friends for years yet bicker all the time. There is chat but just as much chunter as both thrive off the friction.
Ravenfield-based Scott replaced Jamie Johnson, who lived in Buckinghamshire, last year and Warne said: “We have a very Marmite relationship.
“He wants me to sign everyone, which the fans would love. Scotty will have a statue before I do. I’m all about managing the group and keeping the group tight. If you bring in too many fresh faces it is a problem.
“The one massive advantage is that Scotty is local. He can watch the reserves play, he can come in here and irritate me.
“He’s due in here in half an hour actually.”
Back in October, I shook hands with Tilt and chatted briefly with the ex-quarry-worker who worked his way through non-league football before making his mark at Blackpool.
He was big but in a loose-limbed, athletic way rather than a lumbering, static one. Warne likes quick players and Curtis is rapid when he goes at it full Tilt.
He’d played well in a Blackpool defeat sealed by friend Robertson’s stunning late volley.
Times have changed. Robbo is out injured and in his absence Richard Wood has become almost undroppable while Tilt’s other obstacle to a first-team place is a player who has grown into arguably the best central defender in the division, Michael Ihiekwe.
Warne, putting his trust in players he has been polishing since a summer rebuild, is glad to see the end of the window. His main concern was not losing any of his main men to other clubs — with Salford City sniffing harder than most — and that objective has been achieved.
Three new boys who can add something to the promotion push are an exciting bonus and the product of detailed, sensible planning.
“I didn’t feel the need to bring in players because we were at the top of the league and doing well,” the boss said. “Sometimes you bring in new faces and it rocks what you’ve got going for yourself.
New boy Josh Koroma
“We had to cover Robbo’s injury. To get Curtis now is a boost. In the summer it might have been a lot more difficult for me to get him on a free transfer.
“I brought Haks in to take Jake Hastie’s place in the squad really and I brought Josh in to replace Carlton Morris because Carlton could play out wide and up top, as can Josh.
“I haven’t done anything reckless. I’ve just replaced what I’ve lost. The three new lads are all players I’m really familiar with.”
Early in January, the infamous list contained young defenders Nathan Collins and Calvin Ughelumba of Stoke City and Leicester City respectively.
Rotherham would have taken Cameron McGeehan on loan, but the Barnsley midfielder opted for Portsmouth, and when they were considering signing a centre-forward on a permanent deal Tom Elliott, who eventually went from Millwall to Salford, was in the frame.
Norbert Balogh at Hull City, Leeds United’s Ryan Edmundson and Isaac Vassell of Cardiff City all cropped up in discussions about loan strikers.
Wingers the Millers liked as loan options included Preston North End’s Josh Ginnelly, who eventually went to Bristol Rovers, and Bristol City’s Marley Watkins.
They met free-agent wide man Ben Marshall, who subsequently chose to play in the West Lancashire League and forget he was once a dangerous attacker in the Championship, but sensed problems with him right from the start.
This window has been in stark contrast to 12 months ago when the arrival of only midfielder Matt Crooks — good, though, he has turned out to be — wasn’t enough bolster for a squad already battling beyond their limits in their heroic but futile fight against relegation from the second tier.
“The problem we have in the Championship is that trying to sign players who are going to better us within our structure is really difficult,” Warne said.
“For us to sign League One players is quite easy. We’re reasonably competitive with wages. No-one says to us: ‘You can loan him, he’s on eight grand a week.’ Obviously we’re not taking that player.
“In this league we’re comfortable in our skin. It’s easier to recruit and to change. The Championship is a different kettle of fish because people are talking about 20-grand-a-week wages and loan fees of 100 grand, which is lunacy.
“The January window is the hardest window. The January window for us in the Championship is extra hard. If we go up we need to improve on that and I think we will. Scotty has done well. It’s working really well.
January arrival Hakeeb Adelakun
“I’ve been less stressed than last January. It helps when you’re top of the league as opposed to bottom!”
Last year’s window had ended with Warne stretched out on the floor at New York in mock anguish but genuine frustration when late deals for West Bromwich winger Jonathan Leko and a young German attacker at a Premier League side failed to materialise.
This year’s saw a relaxed man, business already done, planning to head off to the cinema in the evening to watch the latest Tom Hanks film.
He never made it because the timings didn’t work out but the arrivals of Tilt and Koroma had already made it A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood for the Millers.
Tilt was at New York for a long time last Friday completing the paperwork that would make him a Rotherham player.
The head of recruitment commandeers Warne’s office at the stadium during the week and uses it as the nerve-centre for his talent-identification operation.
If Tilt wandered past, I hope he spotted the fan heater.
Written neatly – and bizarrely – on it are all the names of the recruitment team.
Another Scott list.
WARNE STAYS IN TOUCH WITH AGENT TO SEAL TILT DEAL
PERSISTENCE paid off for manager Paul Warne in his mission to sign Curtis Tilt for Rotherham United.
The Millers missed out on the centre-half in the summer when Blackpool performed a U-turn after a deal had been agreed.
But Warne never gave up hope and remained in regular contact with the defender’s agent in a bid to keep Rotherham at the front of the queue
“You’re not allowed to stay in touch with players of other clubs, are you?” said Warne after securing Tilt on a three-and-a-half-year deal last week.
“I kept in touch with his agent quite a bit. I did reach out to his agent a lot. I did say to his agent, we always want to sign Curtis.”
The Millers were ready to pay £300,000 for Tilt in pre-season and have finished up paying much less for a man whose contract with Blackpool was due to expire at the end of this campaign.
Warne made sure he crossed paths with the 28-year-old as Rotherham faced the Seasiders at Bloomfield Road in October and at AESSEAL New York Stadium on New Year’s Day.
“When we’ve played Blackpool I’ve made a beeline for him,” he said. “Unless my head has completely blown off I always try to shake hands with every player of the opposition. Sometimes I might say more to one than others.
“We reached the figure Blackpool wanted last summer but then they got new owners who decided they didn’t want to sell.
“It got to us during the January window that they’d changed their mind and the rest is history.”
Meanwhile, the boss warned his players that he was ready to replace them in a moment of anger during the window.
Warne lost his temper when he wasn’t happy with what he was seeing at the club’s Roundwood training complex.
“I did have a ‘hissy’ a few weeks ago when I threatened the lads I might sign ten new players,” he admitted.
“It was at training. The lads didn’t train very well. It’s normally best to address it there and then and put in on them so I did.”
WHAT CURTIS HAD TO SAY
“It’s nice to know that you’re wanted by people. That gives you a good feeling when you arrive.
“I tried to just stay out of it all while the two clubs concentrated on the business side of things.
“There are a couple of my former teammates here, Clark Robertson and Kyle Vassell. I’d kept in close contact with both of them. I had a solid partnership with Robbo at Blackpool.
“I spoke to both of them and they told me what a great club it is, how the gaffer works and what the team spirit is like here.
“That just helped make my decision a little bit easier.
“It won’t be easy, but I’m challenging myself to get into the team. Obviously the lads are winning and I’ll support them no matter what. It’s up to me to fight for a spot.
“Rotherham are top of the league at the moment and fingers crossed we can get over the line and get back into the Championship.
“I can’t wait to get involved.”
Winger Hakeeb Adelakun (Bristol City), loan
Winger Josh Koroma (Huddersfield Town), loan
Centre-half Curtis Tilt (Blackpool), permanent
Striker Carlton Morris: recalled by parent club Norwich and loaned to MK Dons
Winger Jake Hastie: returned to parent side Glasgow Rangers
Striker Josh Kayode: loaned to Carlisle United
Striker Jerry Yates: loaned to Swindon Town for second spell after brief January recall from the County Ground
Midfielder Matt Palmer: permanent to Swindon after being recalled from Bradford City loan and having contract cancelled
Left-back Akeem Hinds: contract cancelled and joined Lincoln City as a free agent
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