‘I’m between rock and a hard place. I don’t want to get a 10-0 drubbing’
Paul Warne is feeling every emotion as his Rotherham side prepare to face mighty City in Cup, says Jason Burt
‘M y strength is my biggest weakness – and I know that sounds like a job interview – ‘can you tell me your biggest weakness?’ and you talk about a strength,” says Paul Warne, the Rotherham United manager. “But the fact is, I am a bit of a puppy, I do like to please everyone.
“I went to Meadowhall [shopping centre] the other week to try and get a double-breasted suit jacket, which is suddenly out of trend, and I think should be in trend, but the shop didn’t have one. But there was a Rotherham fan working there and he said, ‘I can’t get tickets for the Cup game.’ So, I bought him some and I took them in yesterday, even though I felt like c---, but I didn’t have his number or anything and thought ‘if I don’t take them in, he won’t get them’. In fairness, he paid me – but I can’t say no to people.”
Warne has a heavy cold. He also has “the Cup game” – a third-round FA Cup tie at Manchester City today – to prepare for and if he does speak to Pep Guardiola afterwards, he will not ask him about “the football side” but, instead, the “human side” of being a manager. “I still, probably because I am too close to them, I struggle to sleep the night before I drop players,” Warne admits. “It hits me hard. They all want to play, they are all trying their best. And the lads know I am emotional, they know I am honest. I have had team meetings where I have cried, talking about things in life.”
But puppies do not survive in the dog-eat-dog world of football management. Warne is, undoubtedly, an emotional character, but the 45-year-old knows how to harness that, use it, be a people manager, a leader, as all modern coaches have to be. He is shrewd. Thoughtful. Full-on. After all, he is in the Championship on a League One budget, having won promotion through the play-offs, and fighting hard to stay there.
Warne says he is “uber-sensitive” to mood swings from players – but there is an edge to that. “If I am in a room and talking to 22 lads and I think someone is disengaged, then I will speak to him straightaway after the meeting,” Warne says. “Because if he doesn’t believe in you then he will start recruiting other people who don’t believe in you, so we need to address it immediately.”
Rotherham have to do things differently, which is why Warne puts such great store in the “emotional intelligence” of his players, of finding out about them, their families, spending hours in their company, buying them books for Christmas, constantly texting – and playing the dice game, Perudo.
“Our team bus has had a bit of a turnaround,” Warne says. “It used to be all laptops, iPhones and iPads. Now there are about eight of them down the back playing Perudo, brilliant game. Does a good mate want to sit and watch a film on his laptop while his friend is sitting beside him? No, I wouldn’t, and we’ve got a dressing room full of social animals and we’ve put a lot into recruiting good people.”
Warne has a word for it. “We need all the intangibles to be spot-on,” he says. “People watch us play and think this and that, but they don’t see the intangibles – and I think we are the best at them.”
Team bonding, discipline, manners, they all matter. “There are certain things I can’t accept – it’s weird, I am a bit parental with them,” Warne says. “If someone leaves their plate on the side and hasn’t washed it up, that’s a fine, that’s unacceptable. In the same way, if you step on the club badge, that’s disrespectful.”
The badge? “So, I’ve got a club badge in the centre of the dressing room and we have one now we take to away games,” Warne says. “I just have a massive thing on respect. I can handle people being poor in training or a game, and we always try and address why that is. I am not a ranter but I have high expectations of everyone, my staff and my players, and I have them on a pedestal, really. If they fall off the pedestal, I’m heartbroken.
“This sounds very childish, by the way, so I don’t know if you want to put this in your article, but it’s the truth … The other week, I was going to organise some go-karting for them because the last time in the international break, the captain said to me, ‘Look, we should do something.’
“So, I made some phone calls, organised the go-karting and the captain said, ‘The lads aren’t keen, they don’t want to do it’.
“So, I was offended by that – I’ve gone out of my way to do something and they didn’t want to do it – so, I didn’t want to speak to them. The next day during training, I went and stood on top of the hill, I couldn’t speak to them. At the end of training, I had to say, ‘I’m offended.’ I know it’s ridiculous, but they know I would do anything for them. If one of them got in trouble, they can phone me at 3am and I would drive to help them because I have a sincere care for them. But it’s exhausting.”
There is sound method to this approach. “I’m trying to sign a striker from a Premier League club at the moment,” Warne says. “Would he like to come into a dressing room where there are no phones, everyone chats, everyone gets on, everyone looks one another in the eye, there are no cliques? If I get a player from a ‘better
‘I am not a ranter. I have my staff and players on a pedestal, really. If they fall off the pedestal, I am heartbroken’
club’ then why would he not like that? I know I am quirky, I know that, but if you buy in to what I want to do for you then this is the perfect club for you, and my coaches are brilliant and will spend hours with you.”
Extra days off are awarded for points; Warne always gives his players Sundays free so they can be with their families.
A former Rotherham striker, Warne was promoted from fitness coach in March 2017 after Kenny Jackett quit. A qualified teacher, with a sports science and business degree, he came into the professional game late, at 23, and never thought he would be a manager. “To be fair, when I am standing there on a match day, I am cacking myself for the first 10 minutes until the game settles down because you just don’t know what you are going to get,” he says. “When you walk down that tunnel, you are thinking, ‘This could be my best day, but it could be my worst day.’ The butterflies are ridiculous. I have to go for a run in the morning of a match day to try and clear my head, and the worst bit is when the lads warm up. I am usually in my office on my own and have to do press-ups because I am so wired.”
And what of facing City and Guardiola, whom he has more than a passing physical resemblance to and, without going over the top, also shares certain character traits.
“I know everyone is looking forward to it,” Warne says. “Me? I am caught between a rock and a hard place. It will be amazing when I stand there, but I’m caught between ‘look, let’s just have a right go and give the crowd something to be proud of to be a Rotherham fan’, and another part of my brain thinking ‘I don’t want to be humiliated’. Most managers probably won’t admit to that, but that’s how dark it is because I don’t want to be getting a 10-0 drubbing.
“However, the best team doesn’t always win. We are bottom four in the Championship so are not the best team, but Wigan weren’t the best team and they beat them [City], last season in the FA Cup.”
Double take: Paul Warne, Rotherham’s manager (main image), bears more than a passing resemblance to Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola (far left), whom he faces at the Etihad