Rotherham United: Warnock worth the wait for Millers
Neil Warnock kept him waiting.
Chairman Tony Stewart, as snappily dressed as ever in sharp, brown brogues and a grey, flecked suit, had been in the boardroom at AESSEAL New York Stadium for a while exchanging pleasantries with reporters and club staff in that warm, affable way of his.
“Where the hell is he?” he wondered out loud, helping himself to another coffee to kill the time until eventually Rotherham United’s new manager strode through the door for his official unveiling in a club polo shirt, tracksuit bottoms and trainers.
The Millers owner didn’t seem to mind such tardiness and, as they sat down among the cameras and dictaphones, you could see the bond between two men who had met for the first time only a day earlier.
Two men who hope the next 16 games between now and the end of the season bring Championship survival for the club for whom the new boss played back in the days of coal and black-and-white TVs before going on to win seven promotions as a manager.
Warnock had been unable to resist after Rotherham sacked Neil Redfearn on Monday and then made their move for him on Wednesday.
“Until then, I had no intention,” said the 67-year-old who had been happily ensconced in a retirement that was never going to last at the family home in Cornwall, having last worked earlier in the season at QPR.
“But the more I got asked about it, the more I thought: ‘It’s not a bad job’. I was a player here for two years and had a great two years. I have a lot of contacts here and I have never really been a manager who has picked a club for whatever reason. I have just gone on what I feel.
“The Championship is my level. I love the cut and thrust of it. When the job came up and I was looking from the outside, I thought, without blowing my own trumpet: ‘Who could do a better job than you if the missus would let you?’.
“I’ve missed football. The training-ground banter, making players better than what they probably think they can be, getting players who’ve been bombed out, putting an arm round them and getting them involved again. I realised how much of management I enjoy. 14 retirements and now a 15th comeback!”
‘The missus’, Sharon, has been ill but encouraged her hubby to get back to work when he deliberately got under her feet for two days, waiting for the Millers’ first contact via a phone call from head of recruitment Gee Evans.
“A lot of it was down to my wife,” he admitted. “She’s not been well, but I think I might have got on her nerves Monday and Tuesday. When I told her I was favourite for the Rotherham job, she said: ‘Why don’t you go for it?’. That was the encouragement I needed.
“We are in trouble and we know there are only 16 games left, but I’ve always enjoyed challenges like this. It’s back to being the underdogs again. The squad has some decent players and I am hoping we can take it forward.”
One reason Stewart didn’t mind waiting was that he hadn’t been made to when it really mattered.
The pair came face to face at a secret location between Rotherham and Cornwall and no time was wasted between dessert and decision.
“I met the chairman on Thursday night and straight after our meal I was ready to drive up here,” Warnock revealed. “We were a couple of hours away. I also felt it was good the chairman was prepared to come down halfway to see me. A lot of chairman would have made me come up here. Little things like that meant a lot to me.
“Once two Yorkshiremen get together, it’s quite simple. He told me straight what he wanted, I told him straight the situation. We shook hands within five minutes. That’s how deals should be done.”
Amid all the promotions - no manager in the English game has ever won more - it’s easy to forget two more major Warnock achievements which, given Rotherham’s predicament, will resonate strongly with Millers fans who have almost universally applauded his appointment.
Back in 1993, he masterminded Torquay’s Football League escape act when he joined the ailing club late in the season to inspire a run of only five defeats in their last 15 matches, and in 2010 he stepped in and kept QPR in the Championship against all the odds.
Six of the Millers’ next eight games are against teams in the top eight and Warnock’s relish for the challenge was plain. “Birmingham, Burnley, Derby, Middlesbrough ...” The names rolled off his tongue almost pleasurably as he anticipated the tests they will bring.
Then the man who once led Sheffield United to the Premier League mentioned March 5 opponents Sheffield Wednesday and suddenly his face looked like he’d just swallowed the dregs of the coffee left earlier by Rotherham’s owner.
Hamming it up wonderfully for his audience, but his point was made.
“I know I’m a decent manager. I know players like playing for me,” he said. “I know managers and other clubs don’t like me at all. That’s part of the territory, isn’t it?
“I’m looking forward to going to places like Wednesday and Ipswich where I get a really good reception! I’ve missed a little bit of that, if I’m honest.”
There were three men at the top table, Stewart and Warnock joined by Warnock’s partner in crime, Kevin Blackwell, dressed similarly to the man he has worked alongside for years, only with dirtier trainers.
Blackwell had a nice line about them coming to New York together - “We’re like a BOGOF, buy one get one free” - and then spoke passionately about how enthused his boss was, how it was like being with the Neil of 20 years ago.
“Calm down,” Warnock admonished him to big laughs, revelling being back in the environment he can’t leave alone.
He met his new players this morning and liked what he saw. “They’re a genuine bunch. They wanted to know what I want them to do,” he said.
“They were happy being told what I wanted them to do. I just want them to be honest, We can get out of this. I wouldn’t want to be in a dressing room against one of my teams.
“It is a special family club Rotherham. You know when you come here you’re going to get looked after. It is one of those places here. They are going out of fashion. It would be nice to put something back into the area by getting the job done here.”
He has signed until the end of the season, so it all begins against Gary Rowett’s Blues tomorrow and ends at Hull City in May. Even if the Millers stay up, Warnock isn’t looking beyond the match at the KC Stadium.
“I don’t need the hassle of a full season and then the summer,” he said. “I don’t know if I could do it for 12 months.”
But don’t rule out comeback No 16.
He left the room as he’d entered it, with a clutch of jokes and well-timed, harmless insults.
“The chairman has peformed a miracle here with the new stadium and how they have climbed through the leagues,” he said.
“I know his suits aren’t so good, though.”
Rotherham’s hopes now rest with him, and there is no-one to whom Millers supporters, in their hour of need, would rather entrust their fate.
The word on the Millers-issue red shirt Warnock wore to please club sponsors said it all.