Rotherham United: The end of Eaden and Best and the beginning for Stubbs
He was always more than welcome in the media suite at New York Stadium, but it seemed wrong to see him there.
Nicky Eaden, the man brought to Rotherham United to be assistant manager only to find everything changing after just three days, became a regular visitor.
Appointed by Neil Redfearn on Friday February 5, Eaden stood on the touchline as No 2 for only one game, the following day, before his boss was sacked on the Monday.
Neil Warnock came in with his own backroom team that same week to inspire the Millers’ famous Championship survival charge and there was never really a first-team role to satisfy Eaden thereafter.
At home matches, he would pop into the press room at half-time and grab himself a hot drink.
While Warnock, Kevin Blackwell and Ronnie Jepson attended to playing matters in the dressing room as Rotherham closed in on one of football’s great escapes, Eaden would queue for his tea or coffee with the assembled journalists.
It wasn’t the club’s fault. It wasn’t his. Through a cruel twist of circumstance, a man with much to offer was never given the opportunity to show his true worth.
The 43-year-old former top-flight player with Barnsley and Wigan Athletic had been lured away from a steady job leading the under-21s at Premier League Leicester City, where he had built up a good reputation.
Then a horrible last-minute 2-1 defeat in the rain at bottom club Bolton Wanderers saw the end for Redfearn and the beginning of the end for his one-time Oakwell teammate who finally cut his ties with the Millers last week.
The Eaden project over before it had begun.
The ex-full-back’s taciturn demeanour didn’t mask an engaging dry wit and he was well liked, but taking training for fringe players with little or no chance of making Warnock’s squad wasn’t what he’d signed up for.
There was a feeling at the club that they should try to do right by him, a realisation that events had conspired unfairly against him.
However, last Thursday saw the arrival of Warnock’s successor, Alan Stubbs, on a deal until 2019, and a day later Eaden parted company with Rotherham by mutual consent.
Stubbs has his own ideas and own assistant in John Doolan. But the split had been coming before the unveiling of the former Hibernian manager.
Warnock, like Eaden, is also gone, but his thinking may well still be felt as Stubbs, who twice came close to promotion to the Scottish Premier League in his two years with Hibs and lifted the Scottish FA Cup only two weeks ago, embarks on his first managerial job in English football.
The Liverpudlian plans on speaking to Warnock and other past encumbents of the Rotherham hot-seat.
“It’s important that you draw in everybody’s knowledge,” he said, “If I don’t speak to previous managers about the club, what it entails and their knowledge of it, then I am not doing my job.
“I need to engulf myself in what they know, and if I can add to it and make it better, then fantastic.”
The reaction to Stubbs’ appointment from a town still remembering Warnock’s heroics was pleasingly warm, offset by some dissenters. The acclaim for the impact he made at his first press conference was unanimous.
There were no frills, bluster or attempt to work the room, just conviction and common sense from a straight-taking man comfortable with the responsibilty of moving the Millers up the Championship table.
He was a top-class centre-half in his day and reminded me of another character, well respected in these parts, who never shied away from a battle in the heart of the defence.
Stubbs is back in Edinburgh on Monday and Tuesday, tidying up personal business and determined to say goodbye face to face with as many Hibernian staff and friends as he can.
He also plans to phone every Hibs player individually, while he has already been in touch with Rotherham club captain Lee Frecklington.
He’s that kind of man.
Meanwhile, 15 minutes prior to a club statement announcing Eaden’s departure had come confirmation of the first exit of the Stubbs era.
Striker Leon Best scored four goals in the Millers’ survival push and had been offered new terms, with his short-term contract due to expire.
That was before Stubbs’ appointment. The 29-year-old hadn’t accepted and is now free to find another club. The new boss’s influence will have been felt more in this farewell.
Best was signed by Redfearn and shone on his debut at Leeds United before going AWOL through a red card at Elland Road and a groin injury until he became a regular under Warnock.
He was never completely match-fit after surgery, but his physical presence and ability to hold up the ball were important to the Millers’ throughout the 11-match unbeaten run which secured their place in the second tier.
His high point came in the draw against high-flying Derby County when he headed home two of the three goals in the last seven minutes of New York mayhem as Rotherham stormed back from 3-0 down to earn a point.
A week later he scored the only goal at Ipswich Town as the Millers closed out mad March with 10 points from a possible 12 against teams in the promotion mix.
Warnock rated him. And, while Best, with his Premier League background, may have thought he was worth a bigger club than Rotherham, the centre-forward literally gave blood for the cause. Best’s hernia had been a bad one and, despite the operation, he would bleed after matches.
The verdict on four other out-of-contract men made offers before the Millers turned to Stubbs should be in soon.
Leaving aside Kirk Broadfoot, Richard Wood, Stephen Kelly and Matt Derbyshire, the new man has been left only 10 contracted players. But the 44-year-old is already planning his new signings, and the quality of his squad-building didn’t go unnoticed in Scotland.
“I walked into Hibs with a similar situation,” he said. “A lot of people said it was a long time there since a manager survived one AGM. I managed to survive two so I must have been doing something right.”
Already in his short time in South Yorkshire he’s spoken of liking to give young talent a chance and of trusting his own eye for a player.
He’s talked about good results bringing stability, about the “good nucleus” of players already at New York, about the importance of man-management, about his belief that people will enjoy working under him.
But he added: “The most important thing is recruitment.”
He went on: “I think the Scottish market is one I am aware of. But we’re going to try to utilise every market. We’d be missing a trick if we didn’t, whether it’s the loan market, free transfers, a transfer. We want to be competitive and utilise the budget in the best possible way that we can.”
Unconsciously, in his comments about old managers he drew a parallel to his major aim for the squad he inherits.
“If I can add to it and make it better, then fantastic.”