Rotherham United: Suited or booted, Neil Redfearn ready to take Millers to next level

Neil Redfearn and Tony Stewart
Neil Redfearn and Tony Stewart
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In his blue suit and club tie, his black brogues shined to a sparkle, Neil Redfearn cut an immaculate figure as he was introduced to the world as the new manager of Rotherham United.

And you can bet that’s the last time we see him in that kind of attire for a while.

Redfearn is a hands-on boss, a tracksuit manager, and this morning will see him out on the pitch at the club’s Roundwood complex in his football boots and training gear.

The former Leeds United manager is the man charged by chairman Tony Stewart with shaping the club’s new era, and the 50-year-old, a renowned coach, is already making his presence felt.

“I like to get on the grass,” he said as he met the Press at yesterday afternoon’s official unveiling at AESSEAL New York Stadium.

“We’ve had a good morning this morning. I had a chance to do a little bit with (assistant manager) Eric Black and the lads.

“Eric and I bounced off each other this morning, and I’m looking forward to that bit because I know that is the area where we can develop, where we can get better.”

While promotion to the Premier League is his ultimate aim, Redfearn’s short-term target is simply to improve the Millers and see them climb the Championship table.

And he is relishing the chance to work for an owner who he knows will back him every step of the way - a far cry to last season, when he was in charge under Massimo Cellino at Leeds.

“Stability gives you the opportunity to build. And that’s what any manager wants, they want to be able to build something,” he said.

“Last year I was in the process of trying to put that together at Leeds. You could see the benefits of it, and then, for whatever reason, it changes. I want to do something here. We’ve got foundations in place that we know we can go back on. They’re the right things.”

Rotherham named their new man last Friday, 12 days after the departure of Steve Evans, and the process of whittling down nearly 70 applications to find the candidate they wanted most might have taken its toll on Stewart.

“It’s Gordon’s,” he grinned as he poured himself a glass of water before talking about the club moving in a different direction after the Evans reign.

Actually, very little takes its toll on a chairman and businessman who, despite qualifying for his bus pass, exudes energy and ambition.

“I think what we saw last season was that we’d arrived in the Championship and we found it was a big gap between that and League One. It was a big learning curve,” he said.

“I remember saying that I felt we’d prepared better this season, and we now need to kick on.

“The tweaks we have had so far has got us to the point where, as we have shown recently against Cardiff and Birmingham, we are a team that can compete and play some good football.

“We now rely on the new manager and his team to take us to the next level. There will be no lack of trying. This is a new chapter, a new challenge, and I think we have the chap, sat alongside me, who will pick up that cudgel.

“My job is to work with Neil and make sure he has all the tools in the box to be able to do the job.”

Yesterday was a happy, relaxed affair, a far cry from Redfearn’s first enounter with the Millers as a raw teenager just starting to make his name in the game when he came up against that grizzled Scottish madman of the midfield, Gerry Gow.

“I made my debut against Rotherham as a 17-year-old at Millmoor,” he recalled. “I think Emlyn Hughes was player-manager. Ronnie Moore played and Tony Towner.

“I played against Gerry Gow in midfield. I was only 17 and playing for Bolton. A baptism of fire? Just a bit! He said he was going to break my legs.

“I was only 17. I remember playing in midfield with Tony Henry and saying: ‘He says he’s going to break my legs.’

“Tony said: ‘Ah, take no notice of him. He doesn’t mean it.’ He went: ‘I ****ing mean it.’”

Redfearn survived and went on to play nearly 800 league matches, showing for the first time that day the bravery he believes helped him through the toughest time of his career, at Elland Road last term.

Click here for news of Neil Redfearn’s top-flight aim

Having being made head coach, he took the Championship giants to within touching distance of the play-offs only to be undermined by the Cellino regime which had appointed him in the first place.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, that experience will stand me in good stead for the future,” he said.

“One thing I’ve been as a player through my career, and going into management and coaching, is strong. I’ve always been mentally strong. Tough. I think weaker people would perhaps have gone under.”

Stewart liked him before he interviewed him and liked him even more after he had made the six-man shortlist and then the final three.

“Why Neil Redfearn? Local lad. Yorkshire pudding,” he said.

“His CV looked good. He played at a high level and captained the side. He has a good youth policy, and in the short time he had at Leeds he showed he had the potential to be an outstanding manager.

“As far as we were concerned as a board, he ticked all the boxes. It was unanimous among us that Neil got the job.”

Dewsbury-born Redfearn’s work in bringing through young players while director of the Leeds academy is a process Stewart would love to see emulated at New York, but being good with kids isn’t all the new boss brings to the table.

“I’m a good man-manager. I think I understand players, understand people,” he said. “I think I’m a good motivator. I think I understand the game. I’m open-minded. I’m open to different ideas and different things because I know that not all people are the same.

“I think the best managers I’ve played for, and the things I’ve taken from them, is that they were always there for me. They were always there when I needed them.

“I think these players will find I’ll be there for them.

“Player development and bringing the academy a little bit closer to the first team were facets in me getting the job, I think.

“Working with young players excites me. There’s more scope, they are more of an open book.”

He impressed everybody yesterday with his approachable, authoratative manner, a friendly figure with a handshake as strong as his mentality, patiently doing round and round of interviews at a gathering which lasted for nearly two hours.

Now the suit goes back in the wardrobe and his real work begins.