Rotherham United v Swansea City: Paul Warne plots survival route in bid to bring Championship stability for Millers

IT was 19th Century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who first coined the phrase ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’

Paul Warne and a fair number of his Rotherham United players will understand its meaning better than most in football circles.

For the uninitiated, their nadir arrived in South Wales in May 2021.

An 88th-minute goal from Cardiff City midfielder Marlon Pack brutally relegated the Millers, who were on the cusp of achieving a magnificent – and game-changing – safety mission.

THE UPS ..... Rotherham United manager Paul Warne (centre) celebrating promotion at Gillingham. Picture: Steven Paston/PA

After coping with two bouts of Covid, hard refereeing calls and a crippling late-season schedule of 12 games in 36 days – and all the other natural disadvantages that they have to contend with in what is now a Premier League Two in all bit name – Rotherham were handed a cruel final fatal blow.

More of a boot in the face than a kick in the teeth, in truth. The elements weren’t even kind as it bucketed down with rain.

The next chapter, of course, has seen Rotherham return from whence they came to the Championship. They start their new second-tier adventure against more Welsh opposition today.

Another attritional nine-month battle for survival and somehow upsetting the odds lies in wait in all likelihood.

THE DOWNS ... Cardiff City's players celebrate their equalising goal against Rotherham United in May last year - a strike which ultimately sent the Millers down at the end of the 2020-21 Championship campaign. Picture: Getty Images

There will be tough moments and results. But things will never feel quite as bad as that spring afternoon in the Principality when the Millers suffered the cruellest relegation you could possibly wish to imagine.

When Millers players do feel down in the months ahead, there should at least be perspective for a core from that day. They will never be lower than that and it will provide motivation as well.

When questioned about that by The Yorkshire Post, Warne said: “You are right. I understand what you are saying. They are part of that.

“It was Wes (Harding) or Chieo (Chiedozie Ogbene) who said to me the other day that it was literally the lowest point of their lives when they conceded that late goal.

INCOMING: Midfielder Scott High has joined Rotherham United on a season-long loan from Huddersfield Town Picture: John Early/Getty Images

“They are also all ambitious men. Everyone is, whatever you do in life, you want to get to the very top. These lads are no different.

“Some of them understandably believe that they can get international recognition. You have more chance of that if you are at a team who are picking up proper results every week.

“They all want to be seen in the best light and make their families proud. You do that with good performances and results.”

The Millers may have left the Championship at regular junctures in the past five years, but the degree of difficulty in terms of their own mission of survival stays very much the same.

Just four other Championship clubs alongside Rotherham – Preston, Millwall, Luton and Bristol City – have never played in the Premier League before.

They must compete with historically big clubs, clubs armed with parachute money and clubs who have consolidated at this level and grown incrementally.

The Millers’ resources are comfortably outstripped by their second-tier rivals. For further perspective, Blackpool, a club of a comparable level to themselves, triggered a release clause for Oxford United midfielder Cameron Brannagan this week. It is reportedly in the region of £1.2m.

For Warne, it’s about turning water into wine once more. The story of one rival club gives him a modicum of hope, at least.

He continued. “I have problems this year in trying to get players to come to the club because I appreciate we aren’t the trendiest Championship club, I understand that.

“History will suggest we go down. Players don’t want to sign a three-year deal if they think two years will be in League One if that makes sense. But if we have a successful season this year and stay up, it allows next summer’s recruitment to be easier.

“Then you potentially take proper steps, a bit like Luton. When Luton first stayed up, I reckon their second summer was easier to recruit and then this summer, as you can see, they have signed Cauley Woodrow and Carlton Morris from Barnsley as well as others.

“But I bet it wasn’t a hard door to push. As they are thinking they can be up there after staying in the Championship for a few years, whereas we are not at that stage and it is even harder to get to that stage.

“Survival is obviously key. I don’t keep harping on about it to the lads, but I do tell them they are favourites to go down, so they have a fight in their belly.

“I am well aware of the difficulties, but it is just like anything. It’s a challenge in life isn’t it. It will be over in a blink of an eye. As we always have in previous seasons, we might as well just attack it.”

As well as players needing to have the ‘fight in the belly’ as Warne puts it, it starts with him.

Warne knows what he is in for in the months ahead through bitter experience. There are likely to be more ups than downs.

Will he possess the stamina for a likely season-long battle against the drop from now until the Spring? His answer is typically candid. Typically Warne.

“I don’t know, that is the honest truth,” he observed.

“The go-to manager answer is “oh, 100 per cent”. But I don’t know. I don’t know tomorrow how I am going to wake up and feel, but who does?

“Whilst I have got the respect of the dressing room and the majority of the fanbase I will always give it everything.

“No one wants to walk in front of a crowd that doesn’t support him or stand in front of a dressing room that doesn’t believe in him.

“As I sit here now, I feel right up for the fight, but I am hoping it is not a fight, I am hoping it’s the final day of the Tour de France where you can just pedal freely.”