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What does the future hold for Paul Warne and Rotherham?

Paul Warne is one of the longest-serving managers in the EFL
Paul Warne is one of the longest-serving managers in the EFL

The story of Paul Warne and Rotherham is unique.

Not since Kenny Jackett resigned just five games into his stint as Millers boss to be replaced by the physio have the club stayed in the same division.

On the one hand, that opens things up to question marks over Warne’s tactical nous as a Championship manager as well as, more pertinently, the club’s ability to compete at that level.

Equally, the South Yorkshire club have won promotion from League One in each of its previous three seasons at this level – two of which coming under Warne – and are on track to continue their strong third-tier record.

In fact, Rotherham are currently top of League One on goal difference and look the strongest side in the division.

So, how does Warne do it?

League One Winner Odds

Wigan
WIN PROB: 43%
1
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6/5
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1/1
£20 FREE BET
1/1
Rotherham United
WIN PROB: 35%
1
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7/4
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6/4
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6/4
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Sunderland
WIN PROB: 13%
1
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7/1
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6/1
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6/1
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6/1
Wycombe Wanderers
WIN PROB: 9%
1
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Milton Keynes Dons
WIN PROB: 2%
1
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Plymouth Argyle
WIN PROB: 1%
1
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Oxford United
WIN PROB: 1%
1
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Sheffield Wednesday
WIN PROB: 1%
1
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Portsmouth
WIN PROB: 0%
1
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Ipswich
WIN PROB: 0%
1
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Burton Albion
WIN PROB: 0%
1
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Accrington Stanley
WIN PROB: 0%
1
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Charlton Athletic
WIN PROB: 0%
1
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Bolton Wanderers
WIN PROB: 0%
1
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Lincoln City
WIN PROB: 0%
1
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Fleetwood Town
WIN PROB: 0%
1
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Shrewsbury
WIN PROB: 0%
1
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AFC Wimbledon
WIN PROB: 0%
1
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Cheltenham
WIN PROB: 0%
1
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Cambridge United
WIN PROB: 0%
1
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Morecambe
WIN PROB: 0%
1
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Gillingham
WIN PROB: 0%
1
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Crewe Alexandra
WIN PROB: 0%
1
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Doncaster Rovers
WIN PROB: 0%
1
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Each Way Terms
Show More
Odds correct as of 2022-01-19 12:44 Odds subject to change.

Motivation

A lot of managers were brought up in a culture of toxic masculinity, in which it would have been frowned upon to open up and show emotion or vulnerability.

Warne is something of a trailblazer in that respect, and his emotional intelligence allows him to build connections with his players in a way that very few bosses would be capable of.

The fact Warne is so likeable means he can build bridges not just with players and staff, but also the town and local community.

There have been times when Warne would do a team talk by getting each of his players to write on the white board who they are playing for – whether that’s a parent, their child/children, a close friend or anyone else.

When the players go onto the field, they have that emotive trigger in their minds and also start to fight for the loved one of their teammates.

Via those methods, Warne is able to give his team a psychological edge.

Strong competition

Rotherham were in a difficult situation last season, because at a crucial point, the club were hit by a COVID outbreak and thus had to have a period without any matches, before finishing the season with a heavy backlog, contributing to a run of one win in 12.

This season, though, the squad looks stronger: Viktor Johansson and Josh Vickers, for example, are two excellent goalkeepers who would start regularly for most teams in this division.

Up top, meanwhile, Warne has the luxury of being able to choose two from four good strikers.

Forward options

Michael Smith is an outstanding target man in League One, bringing an aerial presence, strong hold-up play and selfless movement – and he’s not a bad goalscorer, either, with 13 already for the season.

It would not be a huge surprise to see a lower to middling Championship side like Cardiff, Bristol City or Preston North End come in for Smith in January, especially with the 30-year-old out of contract in the summer.

There may come a point, therefore, at which Warne will need to replace ‘Smudga’ and one option would be to sign Harry Smith, a 6’5” target man with nine goals for the season, from Leyton Orient.

Equally, the other option would be to offer a run of games to Josh Kayode, who is quick, strong and excellent in the air.

Kayode was excellent for Carlisle in 2019-20 and 2020-21, not just because of his persistence when hassling defenders, but also because he won aerial duels which worked for their style – something the Cumbrians have not since been able to replace.

The former Chesterfield loanee has made an impact from the bench in some games this season with his running power and there is every chance that he could vindicate a decision to give him a run of starts.

The formation

After Rotherham won promotion in 2019-20, Warne promised that he had learnt from his previous stints in the Championship and would set the team up to attack more.

For whatever reason, and perhaps the quality of opposition was a significant factor, that did not happen straight away. Rather, the wide forwards in Warne’s 4-3-3 turned into wide midfielders, thus leaving Smith isolated up top.

Warne should be credited, though, for countering this issue by switching to 3-5-2, which solved numerous problems in one and coincided with a run of four wins in six.

League One Table
League Pos Team P W D L GF GA GD PTS ODDS PROB %
1. Wycombe 27 15 7 5 44 30 +14 52
League One - To be Promoted
Wycombe Wanderers
£30 FREE BET
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Close
33.3%
WIN PROB: 33.3%
2. Wigan 23 16 3 4 44 22 +22 51
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0%
WIN PROB: 0%
3. Sunderland 27 15 6 6 52 33 +19 51
League One - To be Promoted
Sunderland
£30 FREE BET
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Close
47.6%
WIN PROB: 47.6%
4. Rotherham 25 15 5 5 45 18 +27 50
League One - To be Promoted
Rotherham United
£40 FREE BET
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Close
73.3%
WIN PROB: 73.3%
5. MK Dons 26 13 7 6 46 31 +15 46
League One - To be Promoted
Milton Keynes Dons
£30 FREE BET
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Close
14.3%
WIN PROB: 14.3%
6. Plymouth 25 12 7 6 40 29 +11 43
League One - To be Promoted
Plymouth Argyle
£30 FREE BET
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Close
13.3%
WIN PROB: 13.3%
7. Oxford 26 12 7 7 40 29 +11 43
League One - To be Promoted
Oxford United
REVEAL OFFER
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Close
14.3%
WIN PROB: 14.3%
8. Sheff Wed 25 10 10 5 34 29 +5 40
League One - To be Promoted
Sheffield Wednesday
REVEAL OFFER
£30 FREE BET
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Close
14.3%
WIN PROB: 14.3%
9. Portsmouth 25 10 8 7 29 24 +5 38
League One - To be Promoted
Portsmouth
REVEAL OFFER
£30 FREE BET
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Close
7.7%
WIN PROB: 7.7%
10. Accrington 26 10 6 10 32 41 -9 36
League One - To be Promoted
Accrington Stanley
£30 FREE BET
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Close
0.4%
WIN PROB: 0.4%
11. Ipswich 26 9 8 9 43 36 +7 35
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0%
WIN PROB: 0%
12. Burton 25 10 5 10 32 31 +1 35
League One - To be Promoted
Burton Albion
£30 FREE BET
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Close
1.2%
WIN PROB: 1.2%
13. Cambridge U 26 8 9 9 36 39 -3 33
League One - To be Promoted
Cambridge United
£30 FREE BET
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Close
0.2%
WIN PROB: 0.2%
14. Cheltenham 26 7 10 9 32 45 -13 31
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0%
WIN PROB: 0%
15. Charlton 26 8 6 12 32 32 0 30
League One - To be Promoted
Charlton Athletic
£30 FREE BET
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Close
1%
WIN PROB: 1%
16. Shrewsbury 26 8 6 12 26 29 -3 30
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0%
WIN PROB: 0%
17. Bolton 25 8 5 12 32 37 -5 29
-
0%
WIN PROB: 0%
18. Lincoln 25 7 7 11 29 33 -4 28
League One - To be Promoted
Lincoln City
REVEAL OFFER
£30 FREE BET
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Close
0.5%
WIN PROB: 0.5%
19. Fleetwood 25 7 7 11 38 43 -5 28
League One - To be Promoted
Fleetwood Town
£30 FREE BET
£30 FREE BET
REVEAL OFFER
Close
0.2%
WIN PROB: 0.2%
20. Wimbledon 24 6 9 9 30 36 -6 27
League One - To be Promoted
AFC Wimbledon
REVEAL OFFER
£30 FREE BET
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£20 FREE BET
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Close
0.2%
WIN PROB: 0.2%
21. Morecambe 26 6 6 14 35 51 -16 24
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0%
WIN PROB: 0%
22. Crewe 26 5 7 14 24 44 -20 22
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0%
WIN PROB: 0%
23. Gillingham 25 3 9 13 19 41 -22 18
-
0%
WIN PROB: 0%
24. Doncaster 26 4 4 18 18 49 -31 16
-
0%
WIN PROB: 0%
Show More
Odds correct as of 2022-01-21 16:28 Odds subject to change.

Woody protected

Whenever Richard Wood is written off, he always seems to come back with the answers.

The veteran does not have the mobility to play in a back-four at this level, as we saw in 2018-19, because of the risk of him getting dragged into wide areas, where he will be beaten emphatically for pace.

When playing in the middle of a back-three, though, the wide centre-backs can take on the task of defending the channels, which simplifies Wood’s game: it’s then just a case of heading balls out of the box and organising those around him, both of which he can do with his eyes closed.

It helps, too, that the 36-year-old is typically surrounded by at least one, sometimes two, quick, strong defenders who relish a one-on-one footrace; Rarmani Edmonds-Green, on loan from Huddersfield, and Wes Harding.

If Harding, otherwise known as Mr Versatile, needs to fill in somewhere else, then Warne can turn to an aerial dominator in Michael Ihiekwe.

Different qualities from wing-backs

On the right flank, Rotherham have Chiedozie Ogbene, who is a quick, direct wing-back who loves to attack the flank; the former Brentford man can really stretch the game for the Millers.

Because of the danger Ogbene poses, there is often more space on the left flank, which means Shane Ferguson can use his technical expertise to swing in an inch-perfect delivery.

Previously, Warne has been criticized for showing too much faith in left-back Joe Mattock, but the recent signings of Ferguson and Tolaji Bola – formerly of Arsenal’s academy – show he can be ruthless when needed.

Balanced midfield

In the Championship last season, Rotherham arguably over-relied on Smith and under-used a decent midfield combination of Daniel Barlaser, Ben Wiles and Jamie Lindsay, especially the first two.

Barlaser is an excellent deep-lying playmaker, Wiles is a fine ball-carrier who is gaining upper-body strength, while Lindsay will scrap for everything.

Further quality has been added to that midfield this summer, with energetic presser Ollie Rathbone proving a superb capture from Rochdale.

While the Millers remain a direct outfit, therefore, they have also shown the ability to mix up their game and feed the likes of Barlaser and Wiles at times.

League One Odds

The future for Warne

Some would say it may be churlish to question Warne.

After all, the 48-year-old has won two promotions and could well be about to win a third, with man management methods that are almost unique in the professional game.

Plus, Rotherham’s financial resources at Championship level dwarf most of their competitors, and the two occasions on which Warne has had a full season in charge, they have gone down with a fight.

There is a camp, though, that say Warne’s man management qualities account for too great a proportion of his overall skillset.

There is a camp that suggest he focuses too much on fitness, and not enough on patterns of play, that he is overawed by the strengths of the opposition and does not always play to the strengths of his own team.

Whether or not those judgments are fair, it may be difficult to envisage established Championship clubs going for Warne, who is driven by care and loyalty more than personal ambition.

In fact, the Norwich-born boss did not want to be a manager initially and took the job reluctantly, which means that he will not easily be swayed by an opportunity elsewhere unless it came at his hometown club: and it’s hard to imagine the Canaries, with the setup they have in place, approaching Warne.

For that reason, it seems plausible that Warne will follow in the footsteps of Paul Tisdale at Exeter or John Coleman at Accrington Stanley and be one of the few managers in the modern game that stays in one job for more than a decade.

If Warne were to get offered a Championship job in the next few years, though, it would not be a huge surprise to see some interest from Preston North End.

The Lilywhites would be one of the low-budgeted clubs looking for a marginal gain, and might be attracted by Warne’s motivational strengths.

Nonetheless, Warne and Rotherham have a strong and healthy marriage, but the big question remains: can they make it work in the Championship?

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