How the words on the office wall are driving Paul Warne's Rotherham United revolution

A SLOGAN on a wall in the manager's training-ground office sums up what it takes to prosper at Rotherham United under Paul Warne.
Paul WarnePaul Warne
Paul Warne

There it is, in black marker pen on a whiteboard behind the boss's chair, slightly faded because it's been up there for a while but its meaning as strong and as bold as the day it was written.

Talent may get you in the door, but character will keep you in the room.’

Talent helped the Millers get into the Championship earlier this year. Character is keeping them there.

Rotherham emerge from the international break this weekend for a sold-out derby at AESSEAL New York Stadium against fourth-placed Sheffield United.

With more than a third of the campaign gone, they're in 19th spot, and if they still occupy that position in May it will have been a season of success to match last term's promotion.

The bonds that saw them go up last term are keeping them competitive in the division above.

Forward Kyle Vassell didn't arrive at AESSEAL New York Stadium until the summer but it hasn't taken him long to realise what Warne's Millers are all about.

Kyle Vassell

“The best way to describe it is, it's like a group of mates,” he says. “It's the best team spirit I have ever been involved in. Everybody has got time for everyone else, everyone will help each other.

“You enjoy coming into training every day. If you have players bitching about each other — I've had that before — you don't enjoy training. You don't want to be in an environment like that. Here, everybody works so hard for each other.”

A team can travel a long way when a player is prepared to run for the man at the side of him.

Under Warne's guidance, Vassell has earned his first international recognition. “The gaffer's brilliant,” he says. “He's as honest as the day is long. If you need anything or want anything — advice, anything — he's there for you at any time of the day.

“He'll ring you, text you. He texts me all the time when I'm away with Northern Ireland. He's the type of guy you will give everything for.”

Rotherham headed into the two-week rest from league action unbeaten in their last five matches with four draws and a win.

Of all the teams in the bottom half, only Preston North End have a better recent record and only Bristol City and Stoke City have conceded less goals than the Millers' 23.

Warne's men have lost just once at home, have finally started picking up points away from New York and boast one of the most potent set-piece threats in the division.

Marek Rodak has developed into one of the Championship's best goalkeepers, Semi Ajayi looks a class act at centre-half. Nearly every player who was here last season has handled the step up in quality and new boys like central defender Clark Robertson and Vassell have added something.

Everyone in the Rotherham camp gets to see that character-over-talent rallying cry in the manager's Roundwood den.

Warne and his right-hand men, assistant boss Richie Barker, coach Matt Hamshaw and goalkeeping guru Mike Pollitt congregate there to plot second-tier progress and the players are regular visitors.

What the scrawl above the boss's desk stands for is lost on no-one.

On their travels, it's the dressing-room floor rather than an office wall that the Millers turn to for a sense of who they are, of what they're about, of what they represent.

No words this time, just the club's red and white windmill crest that goes with them to every away ground.

The one major worry, with the scramble for positions so intense in the lower reaches of the table, is the lack of goals.

Only bottom two Bolton Wanderers and Ipswich City have scored less than Rotherham's total of 14 and have a worse goal difference than the Millers' minus nine.

Warne doesn't miss a trick. Small things can make the difference against big clubs and the boss is always looking for an edge.

At high-flying Middlesbrough, where Rotherham earned their first away point of the season in an 0-0 draw late last month, Rotherham players ran out ready for a scrap when their sparse coverage in the Boro programme was pointed out to them.

Meanwhile, any opposing captain with the temerity to wear a baseball cap when the teamsheets are exchanged will have his perceived lack of respect exploited in Warne's pre-match pep-talk.

Jon Taylor experienced Championship relegation in his first year at the club, felt the elation of Wembley play-off glory last May and has been a regular starter as Rotherham have kept themselves out of the bottom three.

The winger has seen it all since joining in the summer of 2016 and goes one step further than Vassell: not mates, brothers.

“The difference between now and the relegation season is 100 per cent the team bonding,” he says. “We got promoted together last year and the gaffer has kept virtually everyone here.

“He's brought in a few players who have bought into everything. The gaffer wouldn't have signed them otherwise. And if they hadn't bought into it, the lads would have told them.

“We all work hard for each other, we all want to do well for each other. We're all excellent mates. We're like brothers.

“If someone is having a down day, everyone gets behind them. This is an amazing place to be.”

Before the 1-1 draw at Blackburn Rovers three weeks ago, skipper Richard Wood had been out of the side and the Millers knew they would be missing his stand-in, Will Vaulks, through suspension.

Asked about who might wear the armband, Warne made an unwitting but telling statement about the dressing room he has created. “I could pick any of them,” he said. “There are 11 captains in there.”

The last time the Millers were in the Championship, the rot had set in by this time of the year to such an extent that relegation was inevitable. One manager had gone, another was about to leave and Warne would soon be thrust, reluctantly, into the hot-seat.

Then, Dexter Blackstock, Kelvin Wilson and Scott Allan blighted the landscape. Now,  Smith, Ajayi, Williams, Richie Towell and Will Vaulks and others like them give everything. Already, Rotherham are only five points short of their 2108/17 total of 23.

Will Vaulks

The Blades derby, Queens Park Rangers at home and Norwich City away are coming up: tough challenges, but the Millers will link arms and face them head on.

There is organisation, identity, togetherness, hope. Everyone at Rotherham believes.

On the same Warne wall, marker-penned by the same defiant hand, is a second message.

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.’

This article appeared in last Friday's Advertiser

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