Rotherham United: How Will Vaulks is winning over the Millers doubters

Will Vaulks
Will Vaulks
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“I hate losing.”

They all say it. Some players really mean it.

Rotherham United midfielder Will Vaulks feels the pain more than most.

You can see it in his body language, in the distaste smeared across his face as he discusses how much Rotherham United’s Championship relegation has hurt him.

Thirty-five defeats in 48 league and cup games for the Millers isn’t what the Liverpudlian signed up for when then-manager Alan Stubbs brought him to New York Stadium last summer from Scottish Championship side Falkirk.

There is interest in the 23-year-old from other clubs. But he intends to be around for what he hopes is a Millers’ League One promotion push next term.

“Unfinished business,” he says. “How could I leave after a season like that?

“I hate losing. I’m so competitive. My family will say, I hate losing at cards, I hate losing at Monopoly; anything, I get annoyed at.

“I have enjoyed it here, although how can you really enjoy getting beaten every week? You can’t. I can’t. I’ve enjoyed the life, I’ve enjoyed certain games, big games against big teams, but I haven’t enjoyed being beaten.

“The middle part of the season was horrendous. I can’t put it any other way.”

The somersault celebration against Wolves

The somersault celebration against Wolves

The desire to succeed burns in him so fiercely he was even prepared to play for nothing as he made his way in the game.

That’s what he initially did when he headed north of the border after rejection from Tranmere Rovers as a youngster. Not long afterwards, he was being named in the Scottish Championship Team of the Year, earning a wage and winning his move from the Bairns to New York Stadium.

Former Rotherham manager Kenny Jackett described his story as “humbling”. Present boss Paul Warne views him as a future Millers captain.

He’s from good stock from the Wirral, and you can tell. He’s intelligent, articulate, aspiring, unflinchingly honest, driven to make the most of himself. If he has a bad game, he’ll say it before anyone writes it.

Not happy as Jerry Yates misses against Birmingham

Not happy as Jerry Yates misses against Birmingham

He had a mixed year in South Yorkshire. He scored a stunning opening-day goal, complete with somersault celebration, in the 2-2 draw with Wolves, in some matches he was off the pace, in others he didn’t give the opposition in inch, he impressed in a few fixtures at right-back, looked decent in a cameo at centre-half and ended the season back in midfield having taken his displays to another level.

The Monopoly man’s game won’t win second prize in a beauty contest, but he’s an intense competitor with a touch of swagger when he’s given time. Athletic. Not quick. The spring of a gymnast. Not the pace of a sprinter. Happy in the face of an opponent, angry at a backward step.

Angry at a teammate too now and again, as anyone who witnessed his reaction when young striker Jerry Yates fluffed the chance of a late winner in April’s 1-1 draw with Birmingham City will testify.

The pair quickly made it up on on social media, an arena where Vaulks’ own fortunes suffered for a while in line with those of the Millers as some people made it personal.

“It is hard,” he admits. “I’ve never blocked people on Twitter in my life, but I’ve got about 20 people blocked now. I think people forget sometimes that you’re human.

“I had a word with myself and said:’ Do you know what, just go for it.’ Don’t listen to what people are saying about you, don’t read the papers.”

Then, towards the end of a difficult campaign, something good happened ... supporters started to really take to him, won over by his effort, improvement and blunt speaking.

They love a whole-hearted trier with attitude. Vaulks never, ever gave up competing and was starting to show he can play a bit too.

League One should suit him more than the second tier. He’s not Mayfair maybe, but a lot better than Old Kent Road.

After 43 appearances in his debut season, he wants to establish himself in the middle of the park, despite the praise for his performances in defence.

Just like his relish for a good, old-fashioned 50:50, it’s all about not turning his back on a challenge.

“I think I can compete in midfield, and in England I’ve not yet done enough to show people what I’m about in there,” he says.

“I think in the last few games, people were starting to think ‘maybe he can play there’. I’ve got to prove it to myself. And I believe in myself. I think I did quite well in midfield in the last seven games, so why wouldn’t I compete there next season?

“I’ve had to compete throughout my career, I’ve had to fight for my place and prove myself, so I’m more than happy to do it again.

“If Warney says we’ve signed seven midfielders, so I’m going to have to compete for right-back, then I’ll go and compete for right-back and take that spot. That’s what I’m about.”

Midfield. Full-back. Football. Monopoly. Wherever he plays, whatever he plays, Vaulks will give his all.

You can put a few houses on that.

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