The ones who came, the ones who got away ... every twist and turn of Rotherham United's transfer window

The ones who came, the ones who got away ... every twist and turn of Rotherham United's transfer window

By Paul Davis | 27/10/2020

The ones who came, the ones who got away ... every twist and turn of Rotherham United's transfer window
Paul Warne


SUDDENLY, a Dutch expletive filled the air.

Paul Warne was trying to seal Rotherham United’s final deal of the transfer window and was taking part in an online meeting with Florian Jozefzoon.

The Millers manager knew the Derby County right winger had been brought up in Holland and drew on his own experience of having a teammate from the Netherlands during his playing days at Wigan Athletic in the late 1990s

“Florian’s a Dutch lad,” Warne said. “I can even speak a bit of Dutch. I used to play with a Dutch lad. Well, when I say I can speak Dutch ...”

It turned out Latics midfielder Jorg Smeets had taught Warne a few choice phrases and the boss laughingly tried one out on Zoom to lighten the mood.

“Verdomme,” he grinned. In English? The Advertiser couldn’t possibly say. Look it up, for f*ck’s sake.

His approach worked and Jozefzoon became Rotherham’s ninth signing 24 hours before last Friday’s deadline day.

The arrivals had begun back in early July after Warne, head of recruitment Rob Scott, assistant manager Richie Barker, coach Matt Hamshaw and goalkeeping coach Andy Warrington had whittled down a list of more than 100 names to a select group of targets.

Left winger Mickel Miller was first in. In between him and Jozefzoon came left winger Kieran Sadlier, centre-half Angus MacDonald, right-back Wes Harding, goalkeeper Jamal Blackman, keeper Viktor Johansson, striker George Hirst and midfielder Dan Barlaser.

Every player except Johansson has already seen first-team action. This wasn’t a window for bringing in development projects as Warne and his men plotted a way of staying in the Championship at the third attempt.

A couple of players came through the door at AESSEAL New York Stadium but left without signing.

The Millers had negotiated a deal with NAC Breda for left-back Greg Leigh and also thought former Blackburn Rovers attacker Dominic Samuel would be wearing red and white this season.

With medical procedures at the club more stringent than they have ever been, neither move happened.

Hirst was one of the headline developments. The youngster, who had scored goals in his sleep in Sheffield Wednesday’s youth set-up and was now with Premier League Leicester City, chose Rotherham ahead of around ten other clubs as his home for the season.

Barlaser was the big one. Dopey, deadly Dan. Daft in the dressing room, deft on the pitch, the playmaker had thrillingly proved his worth on loan in last term’s promotion march and his return on a permanent contract from Newcastle United was the coup of the window.

The Geordie was a wanted man north of the border and a team in the in the upper reaches of the Championship were also showing interest.

However, the midfielder had only one destination in his heart once he realised his dream of playing regularly for his hometown club was over.

Warne had waited patiently while the Magpies made up their mind over Barlaser in pre-season. He reached out to Toon boss Steve Bruce personally, respectfully, never forcing the issue but asking to be kept informed.

Bruce, while working at Sheffield Wednesday after losing both his parents, had appreciated an impromptu, heartfelt tribute the Millers manager had paid him during a speech at an awards night a couple of years earlier.

The bond between the two bosses did nothing to harm the prospects of a Dan deal.

Three keepers were under equal consideration: Chelsea’s Blackman, another of last season’s loanees, Leicester City’s Dan Iversen, and  Manchester City youngster Arijanet Muric. The financial negotIations over Iversen and Muric weren’t easy and talks ran more smoothly over Blackman.

In last Thursday’s Zoom chat, meanwhile, Jozefzoon had appreciated Warne’s humour, laughing at the manager’s pidgin mastery of foreign swearing.

Florian Jozefzoon

Warne’s quirky touch was paying off again and so was the work of Scott who has been the Millers’ recruitment chief since February last year.

Having come through the stellar recruitment set-ups at Brentford and Watford, Scott is meticulous in his research and Jozefzoon had long been on his radar.

He knew the winger from their days at Griffin Park and had long had him logged as one to watch. Then the knee injury suffered by Rotherham wide man Chieodozie Ogbene saw the Derby attacker’s name move to the top of the list.

“Rob does love a list,” Warne has admiringly acknowledged on more than one occasion since his former Rotherham teammate’s appointment.

The pair agree a lot and argue a lot, and neither of them would have it any other way.

When the Millers make their move for someone, it’s for a player that has been checked, debated, checked again and has received both men’s seal of approval.

Scott’s attention to detail delivers the target, Warne’s attention to detail delivers the player.

The boss and his management team put together videos to show potential recruits how they would fit the Millers’ mould, and new arrival after new arrival has said how impressed they were by the individually-tailored presentations.

Before the deal is done, they have to pass Warne’s test of character: “I try my best to talk them out of coming,” the manager said. “I spend a lot of time saying: ‘It’s going to be really difficult.’”

In the early stages of the window, Rotherham’s desire for left-back cover saw them bid for Leigh, but the need for strengthening in that area lessened in the final weeks as left-sided defenders Clark Robertson and Trevor Clarke returned to fitness.

They liked Bristol City’s Sammie Szmodics, but the attacking midfielder had been on loan at Peterborough United last season and Posh, flush from the lucrative sale of striker Ivan Toney, were happy to spend big to make that move permanent.

The Millers held talks over Ross Stewart only for Scottish Premier League Ross County to ask over the odds for their striker while the name of Hull City frontman Josh Magennis — of interest in the past but not so much this time — was mentioned. By that stage, landing Hirst was the priority.

Old boy Danny Ward had been close to a return after leaving Cardiff City. The attacker was keen to come back to Yorkshire and relished the thought of working again with Warne who he had known as fitness coach and then manager.

Ward had never forgotten how much help Warne had given him during his rehabilitation from injuries. Equally, Warne had never forgotten how Ward had stayed in the 2017 January window and played for him with a broken wrist during that miserable season, after Alan Stubbs and Kenny Jackett, when Championship relegation was inevitable.

In the end, Huddersfield Town’s bigger budget held sway.

Rotherham paid fees for two players, Harding and Barlaser, and their joint outlay on that duo of around £400,000 was partially offset by them receiving £200,000, plus potential add-ons, for the sale of forward Jerry Yates to Blackpool.

There was no deadline-day panic, no frantic phone calls in the pursuit of last-minute targets, as there had been before Warne and Scott came together in their own effective, combustible way more than 18 months ago.

Business had already been concluded. The recruitment had been calm, planned, measured, considered, as good as it could have been on the Millers’ budget. Crucially, despite Nottingham Forest hovering over Matt Crooks’ shoulder, the club also held on to all of their own main players.

They began the window wanting eight new faces and finished with nine. “Don’t come,” said Warne. They came.

“Good window,” reckoned the boss.

“Goed raam,” Jozefzoon seconded.



“We always make a video, about six or seven minutes’ at least. Within that video are clips of how we play.

“For example, when I signed Hirsty I showed him a video of how Smudge, Freddie and Vass were playing last year and the things we expect from them. I interlaced that with clips of him.

“If there’s a goal where Smudge is at the far post with a header, then I’ll find footage of Hirsty doing the same. If there’s a clip of Freddie running in behind, I’ll find one of Hirsty doing that as well.

“That isn’t me trying to perform a Jedi mind trick; it’s just me trying to show them how they suit the way we play.

“Recruiting players is really easy when you’ve got a big budget. You can go and sign anyone. We have to try to get our recruitment spot on.

“I make them fully aware of the fact that this isn’t just a random, ‘tombola’ thing where we hear a player is available and think: ‘Well, he might be okay for us.’

“It’s more about: ‘We’ve selected you because we think you will improve us. This is what we do, this is what you do and I think you suit us perfectly.’

“I tell them what we’re like as people. When I was playing, I always wanted to know what my manager was like as a person. I explain how the relationships are between the staff and the players and stress the respect values that we have as people at this club.

“Then I try my best to talk them out of coming. I spend a lot of time saying: ‘It’s going to be really difficult.’

“When we were trying to sign George, I told him to sleep on it. He said: ‘Everything is agreed, Gaffer, everything is agreed.’ I said: ‘You have to wake up in the morning and think it is definitely the right thing for you. I’m trying to tell you the ugly side of it. If you play up front for me I will be on you the whole time.’

“I really try to wheedle out the players who don’t suit our personality. There are no grey areas. They can’t come in and say: ‘Well, you never said it was going to be like this.’

“I tell them everything, warts and all — what we’re good at, what we’re not good at, what we’re trying to improve, what everything looks like. We show them a video of the training ground and the stadium. We show them everything.

“From a humanistic point of view, I tell them that, no matter what, I am here for them. Football isn’t perfect for every player every day of the season.

“I just try to show them that we’re hard but fair on our players and that, sincerely, we’re here for them as people. That’s generally how I do it. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong but it’s true to who I am.”



Jul 5: Mickel Miller

Aug 11: Kieran Sadlier

Aug 15: Angus MacDonald

Aug 20: Wes Harding

Aug 24: Jamal Blackman

Sep 2: Viktor Johansson

Sep 16: George Hirst

Oct 9: Dan Barlaser

Oct 15: Florian Jozefzoon


Jul 21: Jerry Yates (to Blackpool)

Aug 4: Josh Kayode (to Carlisle United, loan)

Sep 18: Jake Cooper (to Gateshead, loan)

Oct 15: Curtis Tilt (to Wigan Athletic, loan)

Oct 16: Jamie Proctor (to Newport County, loan)


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