Ollie Rathbone and the Rotherham United armband

OLLIE Rathbone walked into the manager’s office at Roundwood to talk tactics.
Ollie Rathbone skippers the Millers against Sheffield UnitedOllie Rathbone skippers the Millers against Sheffield United
Ollie Rathbone skippers the Millers against Sheffield United

He walked out of it as captain of Rotherham United.

With regular skipper Richard Wood not in the side right now and stand-in Dan Barlaser sold to Middlesbrough, the Millers were in need of somebody to wear the armband in last Saturday’s clash with Sheffield United.

Boss Matt Taylor could think of no-one better than a player who has been leading with the quality of his displays all season.

“It was a really special moment for me leading out the side,” said Rathbone, who responded to the responsibility by turning in yet another all-action performance as Rotherham matched the promotion-chasing Blades in a 0-0 Championship draw at AESSEAL New York Stadium.

“The manager had pulled me into his office the morning before the game. He showed me something tactically with Wayne (number two Carlisle) and our analyst.

“Then he asked them to leave the room and just asked me if I wanted to be captain. I hadn’t been expecting it and I was very honoured when he asked. It was an easy answer.”

The midfielder was humbled by the reaction of his teammates.

“All the players, when they found out, were really supportive, which was nice,” he said. “They all congratulated me and said it was well deserved.

However, he wasn’t about to push his luck ...

“Did I give a captain’s talk before kick-off? No! I think they would have taken the mick a bit if I’d tried that.”

As a kid, Rathbone was in the Manchester United youth ranks and is taking a leaf out of the book of Wayne Rooney who was first-team skipper at Old Trafford at the time.

“He was the player I grew up loving,” the Millers man said. “From what I’ve been told, he was very quiet as a captain and didn’t do much talking but really led by example on the training pitch.

“That’s what I want do. I’d like to think I’m a bit funnier, with a bit more banter, than Wayne, mind! I always give my all on the training pitch and I just hope that rubs off on my teammates.

“I try to motivate everyone whether I’m captain or not. I try to encourage everyone on the pitch.. I don’t concentrate on the negatives, I just try to reinforce the positives.”

Last Saturday was the first proper taste of the role for the 26-year-old who joined the club in the summer of 2021 and has turned out to be one of the best signings of recent years.

“I was vice-captain at Rochdale for a bit but that was during Covid when all the games were behind closed doors,” he said. “I’ve never captained a team before with fans in the stadium!”

The armband will remain his for as long as Wood remains out of the starting 11 and he couldn’t be taking it at a better time after a run of form and series of January arrivals that have breathed new life into the Millers’ push to remain in the second tier.

“From the start of January to the beginning of February, the feel around the place is chalk and cheese,” he said.

“I’m really happy with the last month. We’ve sat down and simplified everything.

“We had a good look at ourselves and where we were going and came to terms with what we needed to change. We all got on board with that and have a clearer vision now.

“There’s real belief we can do this. There was always belief through the difficult time.

“With the recent results and new signings, it’s there even more now.”

Rathbone is far too humble a character to make too much of being the new chosen one but last weekend, quietly, he was appreciating the prestige.

“Is it still ‘Ollie’ or do I call you ‘Skipper’ now?” I asked.

His eyes twinkled as he replied: “Make it ‘Captain Rathbone’, please.”