Kieffer Moore, the 6ft 5in striker who became big, big news in his loan spell with Rotherham United.
Manager Warne first encountered him when the centre-forward came on as 63rd-minute substitute for Ipswich Town against the Millers in a Championship clash at AESSEAL New York Stadium on April 22 last year.
“That giant did all right, didn’t he?” the boss cheerily said as he breezed into the media suite to discuss already-relegated Rotherham’s 1-0 win.
“I shook his hand afterwards. Jeez, he’s big.”
Warne never forgot the 25-year-old who had cost the the Tractor Boys just £10,000 from Forest Green Rovers and never really made his mark at Portman Road. In July, Moore arrived, unheralded, in South Yorkshire on a season-long loan.
He looked good in pre-season, he looked good again when he came on in the second half of an August 5 opening-day League one loss at Fleetwood Town, he looked very good when he started in the midweek EFL Cup win over Lincoln City.
Then he destroyed Southend United.
August 12 at New York. A first-half hat-trick. 15 minutes, 16 minutes, 45 minutes. Half an hour when the man who’d never started a game for Ipswich embarked on the journey which would make him one of English football’s hottest properties.
“Told yer!” grinned Warne after subbing Moore in the 77th minute of a 5-0 rout.
The player scored again at Peterborough United a week later and another nine goals would follow by November 11, prompting Ipswich to decide to recall him at the beginning of January and cash in during the transfer window.
“He’s trained with us, but his head’s not here,” said Town boss Mick McCarthy last week. “He’s ready to leave. He sees his future elsewhere. I’m cool with that.”
Rotherham want Moore permanently. So do a number of other sides in the third tier. The Millers have made a bid. Peterborough did and then didn’t. Bradford City have an offer in. Wigan Athletic, Scunthorpe United and Charlton Athletic like him. There’s Championship interest as well, with the Millers’ neighbours, Barnsley, among his admirers.
“He’s a great kid,” said Warne. “He’s been a joy to work with. He’s an intelligent lad who reads a lot. He just wants to make the most of himself every day.”
The player isn’t averse to a return to New York. “I’ve loved it here,” he said. But money, in terms of fee and wages, is likely to talk, and it talks louder in the Championship than in League One.
Third-tier defences couldn’t hold him when he was on form.
He was too tall, too strong, too nimble, his touch too sure. And he never stopped working.
Some defenders in the Rotherham squad talked of how difficult he was to mark in training.
For a while, he was the country’s leading scorer. It was a tag he liked, but it never went to his head. “Yeah, it’s all right,” he’d say with a bashful smile.
After that memorable treble against the Shrimpers, he had only three things on his mind: the matchball, food and sleep.
Moore bonded well with his Millers teammates. He was quiet, never seeking the limelight, but always looking to make eye contact and say hello when journalists descended on the club’s Roundwood HQ for media conferences.
Up close, with his skinny-fit jeans, strong handshake and gym-toned frame, he was an impressive figue. Warne was right. Jeez, he’s big.
His time with Rotherham was the best of his career. He’d been a journeyman at Yeovil Town and Forest Green, a misfit at Ipswich. Suddenly, the headlines were his and Kieffer was king.
“Sometimes, a club and a player just happen to be right for each other,” Warne said.
Rotherham first made a bid in August, around the time of the Southend game, but Ipswich weren’t selling for the amount tendered then.
McCarthy watched Moore in the 3-1 October 17 defeat at AFC Wimbledon, on a night when many Millers under-performed, and made up his mind that, if the money was right, the towering attacker could go in the New Year.
Moore’s final Rotherham goal came in the derby at Doncaster Rovers, an equaliser deep into time added in cementing his hero status in front of 4,000 travelling fans.
As opponents started doubling up on him, and with a three-game ban after a December 2 red card at Bristol Rovers curtailing his involvement, the frontman wasn’t quite as effective in the latter stages of his Rotherham stay.
However, he was back to his best as he signed off on December 30 by wreaking havoc as a half-time replacement and setting up a 2-1 win at Walsall. With respect to the likes of Carl Robinson and James Tavernier, a compelling argument can be made that he is the best Millers loan signing ever.
Rotherham, just a point and a place away from the play-off spots, showed they can win without him, the start of a six-match unbeaten run coinciding with his absence and the real emergence of David Ball. But as Warne said: “It’s a stronger squad when he’s in it.”
The Millers’ latest bid is a serious, substantial one. I understand it’s not at the £550,000 level some observers have suggested but is well in excess of the £250,000 Posh were said to be offering up front.
If their target goes elsewhere, Rotherham have other options and will push to strengthen their frontline before the end of the month.
The hope, however slim, remains that Moore will add to his 25 Millers appearances. 25 outings in which the club helped him turn his career on its head. 25 games in which two things drastically changed.
King Kieffer is no longer unheralded.
And his price is no longer £10,000.