FA Cup third round: Manchester City on Rotherham United boss Paul Warne’s radar

Paul Warne (right) with Richard Wood
Paul Warne (right) with defender Richard Wood after Rotherham’s League One play-off final win over Shrewsbury at Wembley in May
FA Cup third round on the BBC
Date: 4-7 January
Coverage: Live on BBC One, the BBC Sport website and app, BBC Radio 5 live, live text commentary on the BBC Sport website

It is March 2017 and Rotherham United need a miracle to avoid relegation from the Championship after a 5-1 hammering at Queens Park Rangers.

Paul Warne, promoted from fitness coach to interim boss four months earlier when Kenny Jackett quit after just five games in charge, is set for another sleepless night.

“I was chewing my mouth with worry, spitting blood, the job was taking its toll,” the former Millers forward told BBC Sport.

“I wasn’t making an impact. I wasn’t eating, I lost a stone in weight and I was living on caffeine.

“As a player, I always thought I was a bit of a fraud because my path into football was different to many others. I went to university, I played non-league and I didn’t turn professional until I was 23.

“When I was appointed manager it felt like I had stolen someone’s opportunity because management wasn’t something I intended to do.”

Fast forward nearly two years and the ‘fraud’ is preparing to take on Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola in the FA Cup third round on Sunday (14:00 GMT) after turning around Rotherham’s fortunes with his relationship-based leadership.

In the past few months, Warne has got his squad to deliver talks in front of one another about loved ones, organised video messages from family members played before important games, sent text messages to staff apologising for defeats, and hosted a barbecue for players and their families.

“I speak to the players all the time about their families and I want them to have a relationship in the dressing room which means they genuinely care for one another,” added the 45-year-old qualified teacher.

“If you know going into the trenches the other 10 players have got your back and care for you and your family, then it’s a good thing.”

Paul Warne (left) and Pep Guardiola
Which is which? Paul Warne and Pep Guardiola will come face to face in the FA Cup on Sunday

‘I wasted six months of my life’

Rotherham were a team in crisis – bottom of the Championship, 11 points from safety – when Warne was appointed caretaker boss in November 2016.

A fans’ favourite with the Millers as a player, Norwich-born Warne made over 260 league appearances in 10 seasons spanning two spells at the south Yorkshire club.

The first-time manager was unable to save the Millers from going down, Rotherham’s fate sealed with seven matches of the season still remaining.

“I know there are more stressful jobs than being a manager but I wasn’t trained for it,” said Warne, the youngest of three brothers.

“Everyone thinks they can do a better Brexit deal than Theresa May but no one knows exactly what is happening, no one has any idea what she is going through. Managing is a little bit like that.

“I didn’t live in the moment, I wasted six months of my life at the beginning.”

Despite relegation, the former Wigan, Oldham and Yeovil player was handed a chance to take Rotherham back up after his interim role became permanent.

Last season’s promotion back to the second-tier, via the play-offs, has at least helped Warne settle into the job.

Rotherham, who are operating in the second tier on a League One budget and favourites to go straight back down, are currently three points above the relegation zone.

They have beaten Ipswich, Millwall, Swansea, Preston and Frank Lampard’s high-flying Derby County, and Warne said: “I don’t feel like such a fraud now.”

Paul Warne and his wife Rachel
Rotherham United boss Paul Warne with wife Rachel

‘I want my team to have emotional intelligence’

Before the start of this campaign, Warne got his players and coaching staff to open up about their private lives – each were asked to deliver a talk in front of the squad about someone special in their lives.

It was an exercise aimed at bringing the new signings and existing players closer together.

“One of my coaches had lost his dad and he was crying as he was talking about him,” said Warne. “One of the players talked about his son – no-one knew he had a son.

“Another player talked about trying really hard at school but his dad didn’t want him to be a footballer but he did it anyway with his mum’s love.

“Eventually he helped his mum and dad out when they went through bad times.

“I asked him for his dad’s number and I phoned his dad up. I was pretty emotional just telling him what a great human being he had as a son.”

Warne also opened up to his players.

“I stood up and told them about my family, my kids and what they mean to me. My father, Russell, is not very well at the moment. Bless him, he’s on his way out and life is short and football careers are even shorter.

“If players want to come in and want to waste a day or be moody – don’t come in because I can’t tolerate it. I just want my players to have emotional intelligence and an emotional attachment to one another.”

Family is everything to Warne.

He lives 15 miles away from Rotherham’s New York Stadium in the small town of Tickhill, with wife Rachel, 12-year-old daughter Riley and son Mack, 15, who played in his testimonial game in 2013.

A sign in Warne’s office at the club’s Roundwood Sports Complex training base reads: “Talent may get you in the door, but character will keep you in the room.”

Dressing room cliques are not tolerated by Warne, who has recently finished reading Carlo Ancelotti’s book Quiet Leadership.

“I’ve been involved in teams where there were divides. I hated all that,” he added.

“We haven’t got the best players in the league, we’ve got a League One team still. But the lads I have got all try to buy into what we try to be as people.

“I need them to have a real appreciation of one another. It’s easy to see someone train badly and then criticise them.

“You don’t know what’s happening in their life. You don’t know if his partner is ill or if his wife has had a miscarriage.”

Paul Warne
Paul Warne (second right, top row) started playing in non-league and, on the eve of his 21st birthday, helped Norfolk side Diss Town win the FA Vase at Wembley in 1994

‘Our club badge follows wherever we go’

A large mat depicting Rotherham’s club badge will be rolled out in the opposition dressing room at Etihad Stadium.

Since Warne was appointed manager, the Millers have taken to decorating the changing room in their own colours at away games.

“The aim is to make it feel more like ours,” said Warne. “If any of the lads step on the mat they get fined – everyone has to respect the badge.”

Warne has given motivational speeches to workers at Rotherham Council as well as students in the town, while he has an invitation to go to Doncaster prison to speak about his philosophies.

Last month he invited Rotherham fan Matt Nicholls, drummer with rock band Bring Me The Horizon, to training.

“Football is really secretive but I try to keep it as open as I can,” added Warne. “If someone stops me in Tesco and asks ‘why isn’t so and so playing?’ there’s a good chance I will tell them.”

Matt Nicholls and Paul Warne
Rotherham fan Matt Nicholls, drummer with rock band Bring Me The Horizon, with Paul Warne

Meeting Pep and the best breath in football

Sunday will not be the first time that Warne has met City boss Guardiola. The pair were sat on the same table at an awards ceremony in Manchester as recently as November.

“We didn’t really have a long conversation, it was more like I nicked him for a photo,” explained the Rotherham boss.

The last time City and Rotherham met, Warne helped the Millers secure a 1-1 draw in the second tier at Rotherham’s old ground Millmoor in 2002 in front of 11,000 fans.

Pep Guardiola (left) and Paul Warne
Warne (right) met Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola in November

This Sunday around 6,000 Rotherham fans will travel to City in the hope of seeing their side produce a major upset by winning a first FA Cup tie since 2013.

“There was an element of dread when City came out of the hat but life is short and we might as well go there and enjoy ourselves,” added Warne, who will continue his unusual match-day superstition at Etihad Stadium.

When all his players have left the dressing room just before kick-off, Warne stays behind to clean his teeth.

“I don’t know what I am doing that for. I do it at half-time as well. My breath is probably the best in the EFL.”

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