EFL COLUMN: VALIANT ROTHERHAM AND THEIR EMOTIONAL LEADER STILL STANDING AFTER AN EXHAUSTING WEEK
Complaining about the fixture list has become a staple part of the modern manager’s post-match press-conference, even more so in the era of Covid-football where the majority of teams in the EFL have rarely had a free midweek since the opening stages of the campaign.
Championship relegation-strugglers Rotherham United have had it as hard as anyone, and this week they had to play four games in the space of eight days in order to get through a backlog of fixtures before the season ends in three weeks’ time.
The Millers have seen seven games postponed this season due to three separate Covid-19 outbreaks among their players and staff – the most recent of which saw them record 25 positive cases in mid-March – as well as poor weather conditions throughout the winter.
This week they were forced to play four games in the space of eight days, including a gap of just 48 hours between midweek fixtures against QPR and Coventry, going some way to explaining why they were only able to collect four points from a possible 12 as they desperately try to avoid a return to League One.
Sunday’s last-minute defeat to fellow relegation rivals Birmingham City was perhaps the most heart-breaking result of them all, as it meant they failed to capitalise on Derby’s defeat against Blackburn, and it is currently the Rams who sit directly above them in the league table and on the right side of the dotted line.
The Millers are four points behind Wayne Rooney’s side as things stand, and although they still have two games in hand on them, failure to beat fellow relegation candidates Huddersfield, Coventry and Birmingham does suggest they may be running out of time to turn things around.
Regardless of how the season finishes, it is unlikely any side in the EFL will have received the type of intelligent emotional support that Rotherham manager Paul Warne can provide.
Warne made over 250 appearances for the Millers as a player as part of a career that rarely saw him operate above League One level in his role as a combative midfielder, yet it is his spell as a manager that will likely see him fondly remembered in South Yorkshire for decades to come.
He stepped in as caretaker after Kenny Jackett resigned in November 2016, and even though Rotherham were relegated from the Championship at the end of that season, Warne was made permanent manager thanks to the impression he had made in just a matter of months.
He had previously been a fitness coach at the New York Stadium and it was well documented that he had no ambitions to become a manager, but when Rotherham chairman Tony Stewart asked him to take over from Jackett he felt he had no option but to accept.
“The club needed someone to take over temporarily, and I did it because I wanted to help the club during what was a really difficult time,” Warne told the EFL website earlier this year.
“The Chairman thought I had the attributes to be a successful manager, and fair play to him, because he had more confidence in me than I had in myself.”
Even though he won just three games during his spell as caretaker, it was noticeable that he had been able to life the mood around the club despite the circumstances they found themselves in, and even if Warne himself admits he did not particularly enjoy his early months in management, there was little doubt within the club that he was the right man for the job on a permanent basis.
“We’d been relegated and I didn’t feel like I had improved the team in the last five months. In fact, I felt that I’d had no positive effect on the team at all. All I could see was the negative effect the job had on me and my personal life and all I wanted was my old life back,” he recalled with great honesty.
It is this level of honesty that makes Warne such a unique and admirable member of the management fraternity. He rarely gets caught up in complaints about refereeing decisions or engages in spats with opposition managers, instead he is willing to be open and vulnerable in regard to the reality of managing in the EFL.
He often admits to feeling out of his depth or uncertain about decisions he has made, and rather than it being the weakness many would perceive it to be, it has helped him to foster a tangible team spirit among his group of players.
Combined with his ability as a coach, this emotional aspect of his character has helped Warne to already guide Rotherham to two promotions from League One, and few managers could be better capable of using the circumstances Rotherham currently find themselves in to inspire belief that they are not dead and buried quite yet.
“As soon as you lose your belief, you might as well not turn up,” he said following the Birmingham defeat, suggesting he will not be throwing the towel in even if outsiders begin to write Rotherham off.
Even if he cannot help them overcome all of the hardship they have endured this season and guide them to safety, there can be little doubt that they have the ideal man already in place to make them successful once more when normality hopefully resumes next season.