ONCE, I wrote a long farewell piece on Paul Warne.
It was a while ago, during one of the very few times his position as manager has ever been under threat.
The trouble quickly passed and I was delighted that the article never saw the light of day.
News that his job is safe even if Rotherham United slip out of the Championship leaves me equally pleased that I don’t have to write another one.
There is no better man to lead the Millers than Warne.
More than four years have passed since he stepped up from fitness coach to rescue and transform a football operation that, following the short stay of Alan Stubbs and even briefer reign of Kenny Jackett, could be described only as shambolic.
Championship relegation was already a certainty that season. Warne jettisoned dead wood like Dexter Blackstock and took Rotherham up in his first full campaign, saw his side of committed triers fall short in the second tier then won his second League One promotion in three years.
The Millers are fighting for their lives. They’ve been brave as Covid and other factors have conspired against them but the incontrovertible truth is that, on their budget, they will never be able to go much higher than where they are now.
Tony Stewart is right not to risk the club’s financial stability by chasing a dream. The biggest compliment we can pay the chairman is that all through the pandemic none of us have worried for a second that our club is in any kind of jeopardy.
And, sensibly, he’s stopped mentioning the Premier League.
Warne, a 24:7 operator no matter how much he tries to balance more family life alongside managing the Millers, remains as committed as ever, although events of the last few weeks have taken a toll.
The humour and twinkling eyes hide a steely, driven competitor, a leader capable of inspiring his players to hit heights collectively that they are incapable of reaching individually.
The highlight of 2020/21 has been the derby triumph at Sheffield Wednesday when Rotherham, riven by injuries and with a man sent off, planted their red-and-white flag in the Hillsborough turf in the seventh and final minute of stoppage time.
Someone inside in the dressing room, a figure who has spent all his working life in the pro game at various clubs, described Warne’s pre-match address that March night as the best he had ever heard.
The most welcome quote of a difficult season came last week when Stewart told the Advertiser: “I am happy with Paul to carry on into next season and beyond.”
His comment met with widespread support and some dissenting voices from those who see good human beings as a weakness and don’t accept the realities of second-lowest budgets and 12-game, 37-day run-ins.
Back when I got prematurely busy with the obituary, the pressure had been building on Warne.
The Advertiser chronicle the Millers in more depth than any other publication and I knew it was on me to write the definitive account and to have it ready for immediate use if the worse came to the worst.
It stretched to 2,300 words and I hated tapping away at the keyboard. Normally, something of that length would take me about four hours to write. This took nine, spread across a tortuous Friday the day before the game that might have sealed the manager’s fate.
Rotherham won, Warne stayed and long may that be the case.
Now 47, he is approaching 20 years’ service in various roles at the club both his children support and the vigour has yet to dim. “Be the best version of yourself you can be,” is an aim he lives by and he expects all his players and staff to do the same.
Constantly, he questions himself, and he devours book after book on leadership, always looking to keep his message and methods forceful and fresh.
“I’m not perfect,” he says. “I make decisions for what I think are the right reasons but of course I don’t get everything right.”
A man who faces up to his mistakes makes less of them down the line.
This could be a summer of large-scale departures and arrivals for the Millers. The time has naturally arrived for a ‘reset’ anyway with a number of players out of contract and Warne is well aware that his mantra needs to be heard by new ears if it is to maintain its full effect.
He and head of recruitment Rob Scott will be spending plenty of time in each other’s company.
The boss appreciates there would be more scrutiny on him if Rotherham aren’t play-off contenders in League One than there is when they’re in the Championship’s bottom three.
If the Millers do go down, it would be foolhardy to automatically expect another instant return as there will be big clubs and even bigger challenges in that division. However, both of Warne’s years in the third tier have culminated in promotion and no-one is more qualified than him to contemplate such a triple achievement.
As for that article, I don’t know where it is now or whether I even bothered saving it. Maybe it’s buried somewhere deep in Windows 10 on my battered old laptop in a forgotten, cobwebby folder marked ‘Things That Shouldn’t Happen’.
I think some of my Blackstock stories might be in there.
What I do know is this: I’ve never been more glad to waste nine hours.
WARNE ON CHAIRMAN'S VOTE OF CONFIDENCE
“It is nice of him to say it. I think he appreciates how hard we work and respects the manner in which we try to run the club. I have got a good relationship with him.
“As good as my relationship is with him, though, I know what would happen if he did not think I was doing a good job.
“He wants what is best for the club.
“While I am pleased with what he has said I also know that he might feel differently in a week, three weeks, ten weeks or three months.
“Respectfully, it is nice of him to say that, but I know what football is.”
THE WARNE/STEWART RELATIONSHIP
HONESTY is the key to the enduring bond between Rotherham United manager Paul Warne and owner Tony Stewart.
The pair have worked together for more than four years and last week the first-team boss was told his job is safe even if the Millers drop out of the Championship this season.
Number two Richie Barker says: “The relationship that the manager has with the chairman is a really positive one. They’re both very honest with each other.
“The chairman appreciates the work Paul does and Paul appreciates the fact that the chairman is loyal and sticks with him.
“I think the chairman appreciates the work we’ve done in the last four years, not just the work on the pitch but off the pitch as well in trying to make the club one that players want to join.
“By that I mean we try to make the players we sign better.
“They come here, we make them better and one day they could be Semi Ajayi playing in the Premier League or Will Vaulks who’s gone on to play international football.”
Barker believes that Warne has repaid Stewart’s loyalty by showing the same quality in return.
“I think it works both ways,” the assistant boss says. “We have a 100 per cent record of being promoted out of League One. I don’t think there are many management teams over the last four years who have got that.
“I dare say there have been opportunities somewhere along the line for Paul to link himself another job somewhere else, but he hasn’t.
“He and the chairman have really good communication and I think the chairman appreciates how the football side of the club is being run.
“We’ve had two out of the last three years in the Championship.”
HOW WARNE AND BARKER WORK TOGETHER
RICHIE Barker said ‘yes’ when Paul Warne asked him to come to Rotherham United but it’s not a word he always uses in front of his boss.
Manager Warne approached his old Millers playing pal about joining him at AESSEAL New York Stadium as assistant boss in 2017 and the pair have been together ever since.
Barker, who had been a boss himself in the past at Bury, Crawley Town and Portsmouth, left his job as number two at Charlton Athletic, to move north.
He says: “When Paul asked me to come. I was like: ‘Yes, I’ll give that a go. It’s something a little bit different.’
“I’m sitting here now, four years later, having had two promotions and two enjoyable opportunities to work in the Championship.
“I did say to him: ‘I will not come in and tell you all your decisions are right. If I have an opinion, I will tell you why I think my opinion is right. Whether you choose to go with it is your decision. You’re the manager and I will back you all the way.’
“I found a few times when I was a manager that I’d got loads of people saying to me: ‘Yes, that’s a good idea.’ However, looking back, they weren’t always good ideas and I fell victim to being told they were.”
Barker, a hard taskmaster with a forthright way of speaking at times, is Rotherham’s main coach, helped by Matt Hamshaw, while Warne focuses on his managerial role.
“In terms of working with Warney, it’s great for me in that he just leaves it to me,” he says. “He recognises my strengths. He also recognises my weaknesses.
“He recognises that sometimes my communication with people outside the club — or within the club even — can be a little bit sharp and tries to get me away from that.
“From a football point of view, he values my opinion. And everyone wants to be valued in terms of their opinion. He listens and lets people get on with their jobs.
“We fall out sometimes but never to the point where I’m chucking my car keys at him. We have differences of opinion all the time. I think that’s healthy.
“I see part of my role as being to challenge him. Challenging people is healthy.
“I say: ‘If you want to play a certain way, that’s okay, but I’m going to tell you the pitfalls of that because of the way the opposition play, the way they set up and the players they have.’
“Once we come to the final conclusion, I give him my total support.”