How Leam Richardson has been let down in his first few months as Rotherham United boss

“WE'VE had a few of those conversations,” he said pointedly.

Leam Richardson was responding to a question at a press conference about the message to players not of his choosing having the run-in to the season to prove they should still be around next year.

Rotherham United are certainties to return to League One after two seasons in the Championship. They've lost more than matches in that time, they've also shed the identity that took them to the second tier in the first place. Change - and much of it - is coming.

Richardson was the man the Millers turned to in December, following the departure of Matt Taylor, to lead the revival. The appointment came too late for this term and was made with an eye on the next one when AESSEAL New York Stadium will be a League One venue again.

Rotherham United boss Leam Richardson. Picture: Jim BrailsfordRotherham United boss Leam Richardson. Picture: Jim Brailsford
Rotherham United boss Leam Richardson. Picture: Jim Brailsford

“When you put the shirt on, there are certain expectations of you,” the 44-year-old said. “Every club has a DNA. You can tinker with it slightly but there are certain demands that you have to meet.

“You have to be aware of that whether you're the head coach, a player, the kitman or the chef. Everyone has to be pulling in the right direction. This club needs to go back to that.”

The former Wigan Athletic manager has been let down by the squad he inherited; not by all of its members, but by some of them.

Earlier in their new boss's tenure, Rotherham were more competitive than they had been, but that has slipped away as a run of nine consecutive defeats has seen the gap at the foot of the table expand to unbridgeable proportions.

No naming the culprits in this article, but regular watchers of the Millers will have worked out for themselves who's pulling and who isn't.

Richardson wasn't the club's first-choice candidate to succeed Taylor and Neil Warnock, Chris Wilder, Nathan Jones, Gary Rowett and Mark Warburton had all been ahead of him at various stages of the month-long search.

Yet he was willing to take on a challenge others weren't even though he knew he was walking into a club that had deviated from the template that had served it so well during the reign of Paul Warne.

“I was very aware of what I was coming into,” he said. “I was told of fundamental changes that were needed around the club. I knew it was going to be painful at times. Nothing has surprised me.

“You're waiting to try to get a hold of things and start making positive decisions. As soon as there comes a point where we can change things positively and build this club back to where I think it should be, the better.

“It's obviously challenging in this league. You get judged as equals against these multi-million-pound organisations. People just see 11 v 11 and think you should beat these teams.

“That's why managers change very regularly and why fans have got a voice on social media. They know probably about ten per cent of what is actually going on within a club sometimes.”

Richardson is beginning to open up with the local press. In the early days, he hid behind manager-speak, now some of his character is beginning to emerge. It's encouraging to see that, to pinch one of his oft-used phrases, he's evolving moving forwards.

He's a good bloke, quick-witted and friendly once the ice is broken. Maybe he doesn't have Warne's public charisma, but he knows football, has a coach's eye and understands leadership.

One win and three draws in 18 matches represents a grim start to his tenure, yet was it ever going to be any other way? He'll say 17 games. He's not having the defeat against West Bromwich Albion the day after his arrival, when someone else prepared and picked the team, on his CV.

His track record at Wigan as a manager and, before that, as Paul Cook's right-hand man at Accrington Stanley, Chesterfield, Portsmouth and the DW Stadium, is something that sustains him.

“I've built football clubs before,” he said. “I'll build this one again to a level if given the opportunity.”

'If given the opportunity.' Owner Tony Stewart has backed him for next season, but that was before the last two damaging matches and Richardson will acknowledge as much as anyone that successive 5-0 defeats, on the back of seven smaller ones, do little to guarantee job security.

“The chairman has been very consistent since I met him for the first time about the job,” he said. “My thought process about where I want to take the club hasn't changed.

“You need time to do that and opportunities in terms of transfer windows and certain things around you like staffing. In any organisation, you need a philosophy, you need a culture.

“If you've got habits that are quite negative and you're losing games and the culture needs shifting, then do something about it and change it. People want it yesterday, I understand that.”

It won't be yesterday, it won't be tomorrow, but Richardson believes it will come once he brings in players who want to be here.“I don't think you can put a time frame on it,” he said. “I spoke to another manager the other day. He's been in the job for about 17 months and he said: ‘It's taken me this long to feel like it's my club and it represents me and what I want to do with it.’

“We need a strong identity of what Rotherham is all about. It's a working-class place where people expect and demand certain things. That's not just on the pitch, it's around the community. We want to do our best to represent that.”

Run hard, work hard, fight hard, then run harder, work harder, fight harder. That's the Millers way. Warne built it over six years until he left for Derby County, Taylor jettisoned it over 13 months and is now at Bristol Rovers.

Rotherham, and Richardson, need a result and, maybe even more importantly, a performance against Huddersfield Town on Saturday in the last match before the international break.

No-one wants to head into a lull in action on the back of another damaging display that will see frustration stew and doubt fester for a fortnight.

Another question the head coach was asked was, what does finishing the season the right way look like?

“It looks like winning games,” he replied. “You find out great things about people in adversity. In difficult situations you will see who's on board, who's accountable. I've learned a lot of things about people in my short time here.”

He's been there and done it in the third tier, using a decent budget at Wigan wisely, organising his team superbly and guiding them to the title, just ahead of Warne's Rotherham, in 2022, before imploding ownership saw him sacked in the Championship six months later.

The accusation from some Millers supporters, following the recent no-shows at Coventry City and Norwich City, is that he's taken his new club backwards. But he's working with some figures in red-and-white shirts whose time is done and who aren't prepared to work for him.

“Tough times don't last, tough people do,” he said. “I've come through worse situations than this and been successful. Fingers crossed this will be no different.”

Many players won't be here next season. The head coach deserves to be.