Shop-floor appointment paying dividends at Rotherham United

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SOMETIMES the answers are right there in front of you.

During his long life in business, Rotherham United chairman Tony Stewart – also the owner of ASD Lighting PLC, which is based in the town – has witnessed examples of workers switching successfully from the shop floor to roles of leadership in the offices above, and the boardroom, too.

Rotherham United manager Paul Warne.

Rotherham United manager Paul Warne.

That experience was applied in his decision to hand Millers stalwart Paul Warne a full-time crack at management almost a year ago on April 5, 2017 – and the eighth appointment of Stewart’s reign is looking to be one of his shrewdest decisions to date.

In just under 12 months Warne and his coaching staff have instigated a remarkable transformation in team togetherness, identity, purpose and resolve, with building blocks being put in place for the future at Rotherham.

It could yet end in an instant return to the Championship later this Spring for the rejuvenated Millers. They are well placed in fourth in League One with a nine-point buffer over seventh-placed Peterborough United with nine games to go.

Whether it does lead to promotion or not one thing is for sure: Rotherham can look ahead to the future with genuine positivity.

It is easy to forget just how far they have travelled in the space of just shy of a year from those dark days of 2016-17 when the Millers’ demoralised and disunited squad was ripe for an overhaul.

The ones who stayed also required inspiration, too, which they have plainly received from Warne, assistant Richie Barker and the club’s backroom staff.

On vindication for his decision to plump for former fitness coach Warne, initially on a caretaker basis following the shock resignation of Kenny Jackett after an ill-fated 39-day spell in charge in late 2016, Stewart told The Yorkshire Post: “I thought I could either go back to this merry-go-round of managers or to start from afresh.

“I have learned a lot at ASD where lots of people who have been successful have come from the shop floor. They know the culture and what we want.

“I just thought I would take a leaf out of that book and get Paul in. He had got the lads fit for the games and every manager I had spoke highly of him so I gave him the job last season.

“I think that had he been a manager we had got in (from outside) with the results that he had got we would have probably sacked him (at the end of 2016-17).

“But we knew the circumstances behind getting Paul in. Part of the policy was that in the November (2016), we also got in a head of recruitment from Brighton (Jamie Johnson) and that developed into Paul bringing in people to his team.

“Between the board, recruitment department and his team, we sat down and the policy was to look at rising stars and young guys rather than fallen stars.

“Paul is hard-working and it has gripped him, as it gripped us all. He is there now in the engine room and, with his staff, he is doing what needed to be done.

“We have seen, in a short time, young players coming in and becoming good players and are proud of what we are achieving.”

Still in his first full season of management, Warne would be the first to admit that he is by no means the finished article.

He is indebted to an admirable investment of patience as well as faith having being shown by the club’s hierarchy earlier in the season during a rough patch.

That came when the Millers endured a worrying late autumn slump, which saw them drop off the play-off pace to fall to 13th in early December following a seven-match winless sequence.

That was the prelude to a stunning 14-match unbeaten sequence that has wholly transformed the club’s season.

It has led to plenty of bouquets for Warne, with Stewart relaxed about his manager’s contractual status, too.

Stewart said: “It is a roll-on contract. With the culture we have got with Paul, he’s been here for 10 years and played for Rotherham. If he came here and said he wanted three or four years, I have not got a problem with that.

“But we are quite content and there are no threats or anything like that. We have been patient and what we are seeing is that the patience is paying off.

“I do think he has also become a more rounded character. He has learned a lot in management so far and I think he would be the first to tell you that he still has a lot to learn. But what he has achieved in a short space of time is incredible.

“Even when he has made mistakes, his intelligence would say, ‘I won’t do that again’. That goes back to the belief that, though we did not know how long it would take, he would achieve a level of performance. As we all know he has surpassed that.

“The culture is in place here and there is a friendly atmosphere with no bad apples.

“We are a team that feels we can go further and I believe we have got a manager who can go far.

“And who knows where he can take us to? These are exciting times.”