The Paul Warne interview: Wembley, fashion mistakes, crying and nearly two years as Rotherham United boss

Paul Warne with the Advertiser's Millers man, Paul DavisPaul Warne with the Advertiser's Millers man, Paul Davis
Paul Warne with the Advertiser's Millers man, Paul Davis
HE was watching his team destroy their opponents 5-0, yet Rotherham United manager Paul Warne already knew his next job had to be to tighten up.

Southend United had been hit by an AESSEAL New York Stadium goal blitz in the opening League One home game of the 2017/18 campaign, Warne's first full season in charge.

Having ditched his trademark 'trackies' for smart trousers and pullover, the boss marveled at Kieffer Moore's first-half hat-trick and generously acknowledged the rousing acclaim of AESSEAL New York Stadium.

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No-one realised he was the laughing stock of the changing room.

"I decided I wasn't going to turn up in a tracksuit because I looked like every other member of staff," recalls the man who had just taken the hot-seat permanently after a spell in caretaker control.

"I needed to identify myself as a manager. I turned up in what I thought was good gear and the lads ripped the a*se out of me because they reckoned I had flares on.

"They weren't flares. The trousers just weren't as tight as normal because I was trying to look smart. I got hammered for my shoes, they told me my jumper was too big."

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Next month marks two years since the then-fitness coach stepped up to replace Kenny Jackett. Relegation from the Championship was a formality following Alan Stubbs' disastrous four-month reign and Jackett's 39-day flit.

But Warne rebuilt a club in crisis, gave the town the real Millers again and Wembley promotion via the play-offs followed 12 months later. His fashion sense isn't the only thing he's smartened up since chairman Tony Stewart first turned to him on the November 28 day Jackett jumped ship.

"I had to go and buy a small jumper and tighter trousers," says the 45-year-old, still smarting over his Shrimpers faux pas. "It killed me.

"I'd come in and reckoned I'd get the respect of the players who'd think: 'Hey, check out the gaffer, he looks like a manager today.'

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"Instead they slaughtered me. When my missus came in after the game, they were hammering her as well, saying: 'How could you let him out of the house looking like this?'

"I went a lot tighter after that."

We're sat in his small office at New York. It's less personalised than the one he has at the club's Roundwood training complex and it doesn't look like he uses it very often. He's taking the sofa and I'm on a chair by a fridge containing bottles of Birra Moretti lager, Coca Cola and different flavours of J20.

Two requests have come in for videos, one for a fan's wedding, the other for a 50th birthday. Warne takes the time to familiarise himself with each and then instantly delivers funny, off the-cuff, 30-second pieces into media guy Matt Young's camera. "One-take Warney," the boss grins.

There's a tactics board on the wall and a bag of opened sweets on the table. The Millers playing legend takes one and sucks away as he makes himself comfortable and reflects on his time in a job he famously didn't want at first and which damaged his health.

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"My biggest fear was that I would lose everybody's respect here," he says two days before the home clash with Bolton Wanderers. "You can never get your reputation back, can you?

"I was obsessed that my reputation at this club would be ruined forever, that I was the manager who took them down with a record low number of points, who barely won a game. All the goodwill that I felt during my testimonial year - which I loved - was at risk. I was always anxious about that, that my reputation would be ruined because people felt I was ruining the club.

"It doesn't consume me as much now, but my thought processes are still the same. When I woke up last night for the toilet, I was still thinking about what team I would be playing on Saturday. And this is a Wednesday night.

"I'm never going to convince everybody that I'm the right man for the job - I know that - but I think I've earned some credit. So even if I was to lose the next six games and the chairman wanted to take a different route, I think people would always have a little bit of a smile in their heart for what I did achieve as a manager. I don't feel like a fraud anymore when I walk into a room full of managers."

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Warne's wearing a blue, skinny-fit shirt, with button-down collar, that no player could critcise and a flat cap. I don't tell him that he looks a bit like Ian Holloway. He smells good - "It's Tom Ford, Black Orchid, Mate. Is it expensive? Yeah, it is a bit, about 70 quid" - and there's a whiff of contentment about him that wasn't there in those dark early days.

"During that summer before League One, I started getting players out and convincing others players to come and sign for me," he says. "That's when I thought: 'I'm in it now.'"

"And I'd got Richie (assistant manager Barker) up (from Charlton Athletic) which helped no end. He'd been a manager before and could understand and help with the anxiety. We'd also got a new training complex which gave everyone a boost.

"I realised I had some qualities that could help the team and I'd surrounded myself with staff who could add the qualities I was missing. I just had a massive bout of optimism. With the help of the club, we'd managed to get rid of the people we needed to get rid of while the lads who were coming in were ready to buy into what we were doing, buy into the badge."

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Chief operating officer Paul Douglas pops his head round the door for a quick chat, spots the bag of confectionery and goes off chomping on an Aniseed Twist. Bigger crunches are to come for him and the Millers as the season unfolds.

"The challenge is greater this year than it was last year," Warne acknowledges. "People always say 'It must be great taking your team to Aston Villa or Middlesbrough' but that isn't the feeling you have really. It's great only if your team play well at those places.

"I'm enjoying it a bit more. This year, and I hope I'm not tempting fate, it feels like the club is back to normality. There isn't the toxicity of before. Everyone realises how tough it is for the lads and fans are trying to get behind them and enjoy the season for what is is."

The glory of Wembley gave the Millers the right to rub shoulders with the big guns of the Championship. The League One Play-off Final trophy may have been raised by Warne, but his heart was lifted more by earlier events closer to home.

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"Beating Scunthorpe in the play-off semi-finals was the best thing for me," he reveals. "We played well at Scunny (2-2). It was a bit edgier here (2-0). Woody (Richard Wood) getting that goal just before the break was probably my highlight. I went in at half-time thinking: 'Oh my god, this might just be.'

"After the Wembley game, you get all these instructions about going up and getting the trophy. I didn't want to do that as I didn't think it was fitting and I had an argument with the Sky TV guy. As soon as I went up and held up the trophy - and I enjoyed it, don't get me wrong - I ran back down at full pace because I'd rather stand on the pitch with my staff looking at the players."

Winning, strangely, left him feeling how he found his own dressing room: empty.

"Because of all the press duties, by the time I got back, everyone had gone," he says. "There wasn't a soul left, not a kitman or a physio, not a player, nothing.

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"I was ecstatic, but I just felt like I wanted to sleep. I felt exhausted, Mate. I looked at my phone and I had a lot of texts, which was lovely. I just didn't have the energy to read them.

"Everyone had gone upstairs, all the family and friends. I didn't see any of that, which would have been lovely for me ... you know, when the players first walk in and hug their wives and kids. I always feel a bit cheated."

There were no tears in London. Warne, having worn out the Kleenex in his first few months at the helm, has found a way to keep his emotions in check.

"I could cry most days," he confides. "The last time was while watching Mamma Mia 2 with my daughter. It's about a daughter growing up. It was just me and her and I was thinking: 'Oh my god, my daughter is going to leave home soon. Who's going to love me then?'"

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Talk of young Riley has him thinking of his family and he's ready to head home. As he gets up to leave, his most indignant line about his Southend ridicule springs to mind:

"The players said to my missus: 'When he went to shake the hand of the other manager, his trousers legs were going 'whoosh, whoosh.'"

The jeans he is wearing now make me smile: dark denim on well-muscled legs, footballer's legs, matched with a pair of black Adidas trainers.

Those jeans couldn't be any tighter.

One of many lessons a reluctant boss who became a leader of men has learned in the last two years.

This feature appeared in last week's Advertiser. This Friday's paper: Warne on being abused by fans and what really happened at half-time on that fateful day at Blackpool