The Croatia call ... how manager Paul Warne laid down the rules for Rotherham United's Championship challenge

Paul WarnePaul Warne
Paul Warne
HE chose a generic, white-walled meeting room in a foreign hotel to set the tone.

Paul Warne was holding court in Croatia.

At the start of the week-long boot camp at the beginning of this month the manager gave a glimpse of the fire burning within as he looks to establish Rotherham United as a Championship club.

In one sentence he said it all: “Success for me is pushing for mid-table, pushing, pushing. Not a fricking fourth bottom, not a relegation. It’s about pushing all the f*cking time.”

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Speaking to players old and new, he implored: “I need all of you to be better than you were last year. If you are all five per cent better we will be cruising. But if we aren’t better we are snookered. You have to have that mindset that you want to improve. If you don’t have that mindset then you’re in the wrong place.

“You’ve found a home here and you will love it. But you’ve got to be better, you’ve just got to be better.”

Warne — modern in his thinking, old-fashioned in his values, inspiring in his leadership — is the master of League One promotions but has yet to avoid an immediate return to the third tier.

No-one can wring more out of a band of men than he can.

The first relegation had other people’s names on it as he assumed control mid-campaign after the rot had set in.

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He took the second survival fight to the penultimate weekend of the season and last time out came within six minutes of pulling off a last-day miracle in the face of Covid-induced fixture chaos and eye-watering opposition spending that in some cases would subsequently prove to have gone beyond the level of sustainability.

There’s been promising recruitment this summer, just not enough of it: plenty early on before a drop-off that is a real cause for concern.

Targets have taken bigger wages elsewhere, too many Millers have been in the treatment room and Warne has been increasingly pained in his interviews after friendlies.

“One or two injuries from a catastrophe” after the visit to Mansfield Town was a good line for the media and a bad state to be in as this weekend’s opening day drew closer.

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Meanwhile, back in that room in Croatia’s harbour resort of Medulin, Warne was doing what he does best: motivating, winning hearts, influencing minds.

The ‘Success’ he spoke of as he addressed his players was one of six key headers written on a whiteboard at the side of a large video screen.

Another was ‘Standards’.

The boss was standing in front of the screen, an image of AESSEAL New York Stadium faded in the background, a Millers badge outsized and prominent in the centre.

The badge, it’s everywhere, everything.

“Standards mean a lot to me, they’re massive,” Warne informed the group. “The badge, to me, represents everybody in the room. All your families, all the people who watch for your results, all your old friends from school ... the badge represents them all.”

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He pointed to it on the screen. “That represents my mum who’s the most important person in my life. It represents everybody I know because everybody associates that badge with me.”

After saying he had learned lessons from the last three failed attempts, owner Tony Stewart has been true to his pledge to increase Rotherham’s spending compared to previous recent campaigns in the second tier.

No-one — not even Warne — wants to stay in the Championship more than the chairman who didn’t make his millions in business by lacking a competitive edge.

The weekly wage put before Michael Smith in a bid to persuade the striker to stay reached five figures and the Millers are offering more to potential recruits than they did in the past.

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Tellingly, however — and this will forever be a problem for a smaller, well-run club like Rotherham who don’t gamble with their stability — every other team in the division — plus two or three big guns in the league below — have deeper pockets, often much deeper pockets.

The question yet to be answered is, will Stewart’s ‘more’ be enough?

On arrival day in Croatia, Warne’s oration went on. “I want to get to know you. The idea is for you to get to know other people. Don’t sit in the same seat every night for food. Go and sit beside someone you haven’t sat with before, go and meet someone else.

“Get to know people, shake their hands. Your season, your success, is 90 per cent of this room.”

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Players, some in white T-shirts, some in red ones, some still wearing their Catapult-branded GPS vests from a just-finished training session, listened attentively.

Dan Barlaser had been the last to sit down, causing a slight delay, to the mild chagrin of Warne who places a premium on punctuality.

The boss invoked the power of the badge again.

“Even when our football careers separate, it will always connect us,” he said. “If I talk to you in ten years’ time I will remember you were a Miller when I was. That means something to me.

“That’s why you can’t stand on the badge on the dressing-room floor. If you stand on it, it’s a fine. If you don’t like fines, don’t do anything wrong.”

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Smith’s departure and the exits of two more members of the old guard, Michael Ihiekwe and Joe Mattock, will give the dressing room a different feel. That may be no bad thing in a sport where to not change is to stand still or go backwards.

Ben Wiles and Chiedozie Ogbene need to avoid the distraction of outside interest and maintain the thrust and focus that made them wanted men in the first place.

It’s a new dawn, a new challenge, a chance to scratch the itch that has bothered Warne and Stewart for the last five years as they seek to shed ‘yo-yo’ from the club’s description.

A reasonable start is crucial for belief, for momentum, and is the overriding reason why the manager was hoping to have most of his recruitment wrapped in July rather than spending August in search of the extra quality his squad still needs.

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The only certainties are that Rotherham will be fit, up for the fight and giving every last drop of effort in every single minute.

It’s the only way under Warne.

Pushing, pushing, pushing all the f*cking time.



BOTTLES and socks were bothering Paul Warne.

The manager wasn’t happy how both items were being treated by his players and he rammed home his message in the squad meeting on the opening day of the trip to Croatia:

“It’s definitely not my f*cking job — although I did it today — to pick up empty water-bottles after training. Put them in the bin,” he said.

“My staff are highly-qualified people, they’re not paid to pick up your bottles or your strappings or anything like that. Please, pick them up yourselves.

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“The same with your kit ... if I had to clean your socks I’d be having an absolute meltdown because half of them are inside out. To turn two socks the right way round for the person who washes them makes life a lot easier. You’re just being respectful to someone who has to wash 40 fricking pairs of socks.”

All players and members of staff had to address the group at some point on the trip as a bonding exercise and Warne urged them to open up.

“You can talk about anything,” he said. “You can talk about your worst experience in football if you wish because everyone in this room, including the coaches, have had a sh*t time in football at some stage or another.

“You can talk about your best game, you can talk about your sister, your dog, your mum, your dreams, your fears, whatever you want.

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I’ll tell you anything: all my fears, all about my imposter syndrome, all my anxieties as a kid.

“We’ve all had things happen that have made us the people we are. I’m interested in what’s made ‘you’.”



July 1: Parkgate 2 Millers 4

Scorers: Tolaji Bola, Georgie Kelly, Josh Ayres, Conor Washington

July 7 (in Croatia): Millers 2 Fleetwood Town 0

Georgie Kelly 2 (one pen)

July 12: Harrogate Town 0 Millers 3

Hakeem Odoffin, Dan Barlaser, Ciaran McGuckin

July 13: Salford City 1 Millers 1

Josh Kayode

July 16: Mansfield Town 1 Millers 1

Josh Kayode

July 19: Doncaster Rovers 2 Millers 2

Hakeem Odoffin, Georgie Kelly

July 23: Crewe Alexandra 1 Millers 2

Conor Washington, Georgie Kelly