Canaries fan ‘Warniola’ has proved he can handle being the main man at Rotherham
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Ahead of Saturday's Carrow Road clash with battling Rotherham, David Freezer takes a look at the fine job Norfolk-born Paul Warne is doing in his first gig as a manager with the South Yorkshire side.
He reluctantly took over as manager at Rotherham, yet the Norfolk boy known as 'Warniola' to Millers fans is heading to Carrow Road with a flourishing reputation this weekend.
It's more than just a passing resemblance to superstar boss Pep Guardiola which has earned Paul Warne his nickname though, it's the remarkable job the 45-year-old former fitness coach is managing.
Born in Norwich and raised a Canaries fan living in north Norfolk, Warne played for Wroxham and helped Diss to their famous 1994 FA Vase triumph at Wembley.
He returned to the national stadium earlier this year to guide Rotherham straight back to the Championship with victory over Shrewsbury in the League One play-off final – continuing his remarkable rise as a manager.
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The former forward moved into the professional game at the age of 23 and went on to make over 500 appearances in the English game, including two spells with Rotherham.
Despite all those games, Warne only played at Carrow Road twice, both for the Millers in the second tier, as well as featuring as an unused substitute once.
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He also spent time at clubs including Wigan, Oldham, Yeovil and Mansfield, making the majority of his appearances in the third tier before retiring in 2012.
All of which makes his return to Carrow Road as a Championship manager rather special, particularly with his Rotherham team proving particularly stubborn since their promotion.
Holding QPR to a 2-2 draw on Tuesday extended the Millers' unbeaten run to seven matches and they have only tasted defeat in one of their last 10 games, losing 3-1 at Birmingham in early October.
Frustratingly for Warne however eight of those 10 have been draws, beating Swansea 2-1 at the New York Stadium in their only win and being denied another home victory in midweek thanks to a 90th minute goal for QPR.
However, for a club on a shoestring budget, sitting three points clear of the relegation zone and in 19th place as the season approaches its halfway point is a more than pleasing position.
Having played 292 games for Rotherham the likeable Warne is something of a club legend, playing a key part in four consecutive campaigns in the second tier between 2001 and 2005.
Management didn't look to be on the agenda though after completing a sports science and business degree then earning a PGCE at Huddersfield University in 2011, allowing him to teach A-level students during evening classes at a Rotherham college.
He joined the club's coaching staff under Steve Evans in 2012 and survived a tumultuous time following the Scot's exit in September 2015.
Four managers – Neil Redfearn, Neil Warnock, Alan Stubbs and Kenny Jackett – came and went before Warne was handed the reins on an interim basis in December 2016.
After his first game, a 2-1 defeat at Burton, the Millers were 15 games without a win, bottom of the Championship and 13 points adrift of safety – leaving him to steer clear of any intentions to stay in charge.
'A fear of mine is that I love working for this club and I love my job,' Warne said after taking over. 'If I do the manager's job for nine months and then a new manager comes in, in the summer, I honestly do not believe he would want me sitting behind him talking to a bunch of subs. I know what football is like.
'I know how paranoid managers are, and that is me being as honest as I can be. If the chairman asks me to do it to the end of the season, I wouldn't say 'no' to him because he has asked me to do it. But then, regrettably, I would worry that my career would be elsewhere. I will do whatever the club want me to do.'
Two years later, he's still in charge.
A couple of wins in the next seven earned Warne the gig until the end of the season and he promptly celebrated with a 2-1 win over the Canaries in January 2017, one of the lowest points of Alex Neil's reign.
Just one further win – over Ipswich – followed though and relegation was confirmed after just five wins left Rotherham rock bottom.
The Millers management kept faith and appointed Warne permanently. In May they were celebrating Wembley glory after finishing fourth, beating Shrewsbury in the play-off final thanks to skipper Richard Wood's dramatic extra-time winner.
A new three-year deal followed in June as the former fitness coach and qualified teacher proved he could cut the mustard – and set his sights on Championship survival.