After contending with two bouts of Covid among their playing ranks in 2020-21, a brutal late-season run of fixtures, being on the receiving end of some highly questionable refereeing decisions and lamenting that ‘the world is against them’ on more than one occasion, it does not get any easier for Warne’s Rotherham United side today.
They must beat a team managed by Mick McCarthy and then pray that Derby County slip up in order to save their Championship skins in the Principality.
As Warne candidly acknowledges, facing Cardiff away is not a final-day fixture he would have ideally chosen, regardless of the Bluebirds’ position of seemingly having ‘nothing to play for’ on paper.
Ahead of this game, if anyone had been foolish enough to suggest that Cardiff’s players might be ‘on the beach’ today, then their Yorkshire-born manager – had he been in close proximity – would have delivered a withering look and probably an acerbic retort to go with it.
McCarthy has never been one to dish out on-pitch favours and his Millers counterpart Warne would expect nothing less and have it no other way from an individual whom he has a colossal amount of respect for.
Warne told The Yorkshire Post: “Everyone knows I am close to (Luton manager) Nathan Jones, who did me no favours at all (on Tuesday) and neither did I expect it.
“We did not phone or contact each other for weeks beforehand.
“Mick is really straight and the sort of bloke I’d like to be, but am not brave enough to be. He is one up from me on the honesty scale. That’s what you get from experience and if I was lucky – or unlucky – enough to manage 1,000 games.
“He’s got a brilliant coach whom he trusts implicitly and whenever I’ve gone against him on the side of the pitch and won, Mick has always congratulated me with a proper handshake at the end, which normally hurts.
“He is a real footballing bloke who I like and someone I have actually recommended to the chairman before to become the manager here.
“I have a lot of time for him as a person. I had someone who now works with him who he treated brilliantly when he went through a really bad time.
“People possibly don’t know Mick as a gentleman and he definitely is that and I have the utmost respect for him.”
Beating a side managed by McCarthy adds to the degree of difficulty facing United today.
Given everything his side have faced this season, the sense of gratification should Rotherham secure their Championship status would simply be immense.
It would top everything Warne has achieved in his career to date.
As for his biggest emotion should that wonderfully transpire? That would be relief.
The Millers chief would finally be able to turn his phone off for a few days on Monday and maybe even forget about football for a few weeks. But not for too long.
Warne added: “It is a completely different mindset being a player to a manager. A player just has to do his best and as a manager, I feel like I have the whole club, fanbase, players, players’ families and family and friends who I have accumulated over the years all on my back. The feeling of joy would be tenfold.
“As a player, I have had games like play-offs where you think you have got to win. But even then, I remember when I first signed for Rotherham and we played Leyton Orient in the play-offs and lost on penalties. Naively, I just thought: ‘we’ll go up next year.’ As you get older and wiser, you realise the highlights and the sunshine become less and less.
“Even when we went to the play-off final and I was managing against one of my best mates (Paul Hurst), it was a bit awkward. I thought: ‘If we win, brilliant, but if we don’t, we have come so far and not many teams get relegated and get to the play-off final the next year.’ It was something to be really proud of.
“With this one, with everything we’ve been through, the joy will be shared out a lot more evenly. Everyone would embrace a bit of sunshine.”
As someone who admits to being ‘quirky ‘in terms of the methods he employs to motivate his players, Warne will no doubt have come up with something at the team hotel last night.
Before the club’s pivotal survival game at West Bromwich in April, 2019, it involved a sing-a-long and some group bonding to George Michael’s classic hit song ‘Faith’.
Throughout his time at Rotherham, Warne has placed great stock on the togetherness and bonds within his squad.
In terms of finding inspiration from other figures in team sports to help provide clarity in his messages to his players, this most well-read and well-rounded of individuals cites many figures and institutions from legendary former Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi and the New Zealand Maoris to current Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll.
Warne continued: “I love the Seattle Seahawks manager and I listen to him a lot on podcasts and the psychologists he works close to.
“He is obsessed with honesty and getting the messages the same, whether you win or lose.
“The lads know the non-negotiables which never change and cannot get away with something else because they are a superstar and the younger player ‘always has to make the tea’ (mindset).
“I cannot bear things like that, the old-school mentality of ‘going to wash the gaffer’s car’ and all that tripe.
“I want players to appreciate the fact we are all in it together and that comes from the culture.
“For us, it is just trying to reinforce the culture we have and keep the method as the same – saying these are the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition and just go out and be a ‘warrior’.”
Should the Millers survive this afternoon, their players will walk off the pitch as Titans.
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