Paul Warne exclusive: A window into the stresses and strains of January for the Rotherham United manager

PAUL Warne is pleased he can finally give his mobile a rest.
Paul WarnePaul Warne
Paul Warne

Transfer window deadline day came and went last week without Rotherham United making a signing and no-one was more disappointed than the Millers manager.

But at least the phone he was using nearly 100 times a day in the build-up to January 31 as he tried to strengthen his squad for their Championship survival run-in can now stay in his pocket for a while.

One of those calls comes from me on the afternoon before last Thursday's final chance to wheel and deal.

“This week we are trying to prepare for Millwall, and that is tough anyway, and in the same amount of hours you're trying to split yourself in two in trying to organise for players to come in,” Warne says.

“You also have to have conversations with some of your own players who feel uncertain about their future. You're doing it all when you're exhausted as well, to be honest. You come out of the Christmas period of four games in 11 days and you're all over the gaff.

“Things are out of your control the whole time. That's what I find frustrating. The process of trying to bring a player in is like buying a house. You see it, you and your missus love it, you get all your finance in place but the price of the house trebles or you go to sign the contract and they tell you're they're not going to sell it now.”

Having missed out on two attacking loans earlier in the window, the boss is chasing a striker and a winger. It's not easy when Rotherham are the smallest club in the division.

One target went to another second-tier side on wages of £19,000 a week while the other was kept in the Midlands by his parent club after the Millers had agreed the finances of a deal to the end of the season.

Warne's time is tight so he's speaking to me while squeezing in a treadmill run at the training ground before heading off to talk transfers with head of recruitment Jamie Johnson and chief operating officer Paul Douglas.

“The window adds a lot of stress to the job,” he says. “When the summer window shut, I had a few weeks when football was the most important thing. Then, as you get closer and closer to the January one, you have more meetings, more discussions, about recruitment.

“It's difficult personally because obviously I'm not the biggest fish in this pond. We have to be realistic about what we can and can't do. However, we have ambitious fans and an ambitious owner. 

“At every press conference, you get asked about signings. I don't like to lie. I'm a more open manager than most, I like to think. But then you get accused of misleading supporters when the signings don't happen.

“You want to give them good news. Of course I can understand where they're coming from when they're frustrated. I feel the same thing. 

“I see Ipswich sign X amount of players, I see Stoke go and buy a centre-half for three-million quid. It's a really tough league, which is why I keep saying the same thing: our lads are doing unbelievably to compete. I know people get bored with hearing that but it's the truth. The national media had us relegated by Christmas.”

We're on the phone for around 30 minutes. Those texts and missed calls from other bosses and agents will be piling up.

“You work longer hours in the window,” Warne says. “I put my phone on at seven this morning and I had two managers who had texted me late the night before wanting to speak to me. It's a constant thing, Mate.

“The hours are incessant. You can never turn your phone off until late at night. I switch it off at 10pm. It's on 7am while 10pm. Literally every car journey I make I'm on the phone the whole time. 

“I reckon I have a minimum of 30 phone calls a day concerning recruitment and more than double that in texts. 

“Managing a football club is tough because you're involved in virtually every decision. Managing the club during the window, it's like having two full-time jobs at the same time.”

The Millers have been competitive after winning promotion from League One last term but are still caught up in the battle to stay up.

“If you're trying to sign a player on a permanent contract, it's harder when you're around the bottom three,” the boss says.

“You have to come to an agreement on his wages in the Championship but also factor in that if we were to go down then his wages would have to come down. 

“If you're, say, Preston, in midtable, the player doesn't care what his League One money is because Preston are going to stay up and it's not going to be a major concern.

“Anyone we bring in has to have their eye on that worst-case scenario. All the time you're trying to recruit, you have all these things going against you.”

Thursday night, as the clock ticks towards the 11pm cut-off point, sees Warne at AESSEAL New York Stadium, with Douglas, Johnson and the Millers' media team.

Takeaway food and ice creams are brought in to fuel the late shift and two signings are so close that the announcements are written up ready for release on social media.

But fish and chips and McFlurries end up being the only New York arrivals and Warne's hunger to deliver goes unsated.

A day earlier, he had reflected on the mood when anticipated moves don't materialise

“The fans — they don't know everything that is going on, but most of the information seems to get out there somehow — are disappointed,” he says. “My staff are disappointed. The dressing room, to a certain extent, is disappointed. 

“Although the players won't admit it, all the centre-forwards want to see a winger or centre-half come in, all the centre-halves want to see a winger or centre-forward come in and all the wingers want to see a centre-forward or centre-half come in. They all want to see something that they think will make them better, as long as it's not in their position. 

“You don't have a magic wand. It doesn't matter how much harder you work at it or how much more time you throw at it, sometimes you just can't get what you want. 

“It's so frustrating because if a player did sign and saw the passion of our squad, staff and supporters, he would love it. He'd recognise that everything I'd told him is the truth: that we all live and breathe being Millers.

“Championship players, if they're very good at this level, can have a choice of many clubs in the division. There are players we've been after who Wigan have been after, who Bolton have been after, and I reckon we might have a chance.

“Then you hear someone like Nottingham Forest like the look of them and you think: 'Oh no, we're out of it.' It's fricking frustrating.

“I don't really manage to switch off. You're only as good as the team you can put out really as a managerial and coaching team. We try to get the best out of our group, and I think we do. It's hard to turn off because I feel like if we don't improve we're getting very close to the trap-door.

“Realistically, the staff are my best mates whose jobs are dependent on how well we do. Then all the lads in the dressing room are great lads. I don't want them to go to League One and take a pay cut. I want them to have the most fulfilled lives they can. 

“We are trying our damnedest to bring in players. 

“We do everything we can to try to improve the team. No-one wants to bring in better players more than me. The better the player, the easier it is to win points.”

Around 8.30pm on Thursday comes a potential breakthrough. A young winger Rotherham have been tracking who wasn't being allowed out on loan is suddenly available. 

However, a team higher in the table, a side with a Premier League pedigree, are also in for him. 

Warne much prefers to meet players face to face when his humour, passion and vision can really sell the Millers dream, but there isn't time. The manager's mobile is in his hand yet again.

Later in the evening comes the last call of the window. The player has decided on the bigger club.


One signing and many near misses ... the major moments in January

ROTHERHAM United head into the month with the intention of bringing in a striker, a winger and a central midfielder.

Early in January, the Millers are pursuing a centre-forward with a Premier League club. The player, after meeting manager Paul Warne, is keen to join on loan but ends up at a rival Championship team whose budget allows them to pay nearly £20,000-a-week in wages.

Rotherham make their only signing of the transfer window on January 11 as 6ft 4in midfielder Matt Crooks (pictured) joins for an undisclosed fee from League Two outfit Northampton Town.

Warne meets a young centre-forward with a top-end Championship side and the finances for a loan deal are agreed. However, the parent club, after allowing a different striker to sign for one of the Millers' South Yorkshire neighbours, change their mind and hang on to him.

A deal is agreed with a top-flight side for Rotherham to take on loan a young attacker who is down the queue for a first-team role. However, the player opts to stay in the Premier League and not play rather than come to AESSEAL New York Stadium for a chance of Championship game-time.

The pursuit of a young winger at a big second-tier club goes down to the wire on deadline day. The youngster opts for another Championship side but the deal isn't completed in time.

None of the Millers' first-team squad leave. Warne, who said before the window that he would consider it a successful January if he kept all of his key players, reveals there have been no bids for any of his main men.

These articles first appeared in last week's Advertiser