‘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

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Fa Cup -

‘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

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