Rotherham United: Would Paul Warne be the right choice as next Millers boss?
One man came in for 14 matches, had no feel for the place, blew his transfer budget and was sacked by October.
Another arrived, didn’t like what he saw, knew Rotherham United were heading for Championship relegation and bolted after five fixtures.
And then there was Paul Warne.
He had no managerial experience, no desire to be the boss, but the fitness coach was prepared to step up in his club’s hour of need.
A Millers legend from his playing days, he thought he would be in caretaker charge for four games before returning to his usual job of “putting out the cones”. His description, not mine.
Twenty-one matches later, the 43-year-old - born in Norfolk, but an adopted son of Rotherham- is still at the helm and one of the names in the frame as the club plan to announce their new permanent manager next month.
He hasn’t been able to reverse the slide towards League One - nobody could with the squad he inherited - and it has been a desperate, spirit-sapping, monstrosity of a season, with all kinds of unwanted records being set.
Yet it could have been so much worse without Warne whose dynamism, positivity and innovative way of working haven’t won the points he wanted but have won the respect of players and senior figures at the club.
Chairman Tony Stewart’s gamble on Alan Stubbs 10 months ago failed to pay off. The Liverpudlian, with no experience of the second tier, got his recruitment wrong and created a situation so dire that his successor, Kenny Jackett, came and went faster than the Millers conceded second-half goals in the August derby at Barnsley where Stubbs called out his own supporters and instigated the beginning of his own end.
Jackett was initially committed to the job. He even relocated to Bawtry. But a sobering view of playing standards and 39 days that brought only one point had him handing back the keys and heading south again.
Warne, in awful adversity, has stuck it out, and is now attracted by the thought of a 2017/18 campaign where he can bring in players of his choice and stand or fall by decisions of his making.
“Next season would excite me,” he told The Star. “As a bunch of staff and a bunch of players, it’s been a bleak year. It’s been like a really bad winter.
“It’s felt like a forest fire, where everything looks bleak at the moment. But then within a few weeks you get a few shoots flower and everything grows back a bit stronger.
“The club, this time next year, without a shadow of a doubt - although, obviously, we’ll be in a different league - will be significantly healthier than it is now.
“As I speak to you now, it’s a sunny day at the training ground. The players are all out ready to start training. You have to love what you do and I do love being at the training ground.
“I do love putting on my Rotherham training kit, as cheesy as that sounds. I do love working with the lads. It’s always amazing pre-season. You’re 100 per cent optimistic, everyone’s optimistic. You get new faces in, you have a brilliant pre-season ... we’ve already organised all our pre-season friendlies. We’ve done that for whoever is in place.”
It is a tribute to him that, even as the losses have mounted, his standing with Rotherham fans has held pretty firm.
Some don’t see him as management material - “too matey with the players”, “too nice”, “not enough experience”, “a cut-price option” - yet they still speak of their liking for him and their desire to see him remain with the club in the conditioning role he vacated in November.
He talks often of “good human beings”, and there’s no doubt that he is one; a funny, brilliant one. But there was nothing matey or nice about him at half-time during the home match against Blackburn Rovers in February when, after a first period he wasn’t happy with, he threatened to fight any player who cared to take him on.
He’s put his heart and soul into the challenge. He’s kept up spirits, he’s motivated and cajoled, taken every defeat to heart. He’s gone the extra mile, filming player-family videos to inspire his side to a Boxing-Day victory over Wigan Athletic. With a few grim exceptions, Cardiff and QPR particularly, he’s kept the Millers more competitive than they have had any right to be.
And he understands the real Rotherham, the one Stubbs took away. Hard-working, never-say-die, all-for-one Rotherham. Stubbs showed no desire to buy into it. Jackett turned his back on it. Warne is it.
Recruitment, now that the Millers have revamped that area of their operation, is expected to be so much better this summer than last. It simply has to be.
That would obviously help Warne’s cause no end, if he is the preferred option. He is new to management and it would need the introduction alongside him of an experienced No 2, preferably well versed in League One, for the club to sell his appointment to supporters.
Twenty-nine league defeats, one point away from home all season, 87 goals conceded in 38 matches are grim statistics. The interim boss’s 21 games have brought three wins, a draw and 17 losses, including seven in the last seven outings.
Reservations are understandable. On the face of it, he has overseen most of a sorry year which will culminate in the drop.
However, the big question to ask isn’t, how bad have results been under Warne? Rather, how much worse could they have been without him? If he does remain in the hot-seat, don’t judge him on this season, judge him on the next one.
“We’re developing the training ground, we’re doing all sorts of stuff,” he said. “We’re massively into recruitment now, which we haven’t been before. Hopefully, that will bear better fruits in the next few years.
“In that respect, I’m optimistic about working at the club, whether that be as manager, fitness coach, scout or commercial man. We’ve enjoyed the Championship experience. But we will regroup and strengthen a bit more from bottom to top and come back in a better position.”
Whatever the club decides, bear this in mind.
Stubbs couldn’t do the job. Jackett chose not to.
Warne, the real Rotherham, didn’t have to swap life in the comfort zone for what he has endured since.
But he did.