The 72 Interview #1: Ronnie Moore
Rotherham United manager Ronnie Moore is never short of an opinion. The Millers boss spoke to Mike Holden for The Seventy Two and is forthright about the season ahead in League Two and the challenges facing his club…
Now that the dust has settled, how do you look back on last season?
I thought it was a fantastic season. It didn’t end the way we wanted but to finish up at Wembley was fantastic. The result on the day wasn’t what we wanted and it’s put us back another 12 months, but when you look at the players we had and our circumstances — training at Doncaster, playing in Sheffield, offices in Rotherham — it was a great achievement.
Obviously, you still have that little feeling in the back of your mind about what could have been but we’ve let about eight players go since then and brought seven new faces in, so we’ve made a lot of changes and we’re looking forward to a new challenge.
As a club legend intrinsically linked with happier times at Millmoor, how much of a culture shock was it to rock up at Don Valley?
It was certainly an eye-opener, a million miles away from what I was used to at Millmoor. You can’t have home advantage with only 3,500 people in a stadium that holds 25,000. It was like playing 46 games away from home really. It’s not the supporters fault, you just can’t get any atmosphere in there. Everybody hated coming to Millmoor and that used to be a massive advantage for us.
Mind you, we’re lucky to still be in existence. We’ve gone through some horrendous times but now we’ve got a chairman who wants to move the club on and it will be nice when we get this new ground up and running. We’ve had planning permission now, works starts in August and maybe with a bit of luck we can move in there at some stage next season.
No ground in the division delivered fewer goals than Don Valley last term. Was that purely down to the playing surface?
Yeah, the surface was awful. The ground staged a U2 concert on the eve of the season, which brought in a lot of money to the people at Don Valley, so you can’t blame them for that. But it certainly messed the pitch up. One half was green grass and the other was full of mud half the time, so it was very difficult to play on there and that was certainly no advantage to us.
Maybe this year it might improve because there’s been no concert this summer and there will be no rugby on it like last year, so maybe that might give us some of our advantage back.
It’s been suggested your managerial style is very different to Mark Robins. Was it difficult to get some of your own ideas across to the players when you came in last September?
Yes and no. I’d agree that I’m a different manager in terms of how I control the players. However, a lot of people describe me as playing long-ball, which is a bit unfair, but that’s probably come from the olden days.
We tried to play the right way last season and I don’t think I changed the style of play to the extent where people could honestly say ‘they were a better footballing side under Mark Robins’. I don’t think that would be right. He’s a young manager with his own way of playing and I’ve got my way of playing. I see no reason why we can’t both have success playing our different styles.
Do you think you will be better this time around with the benefit of a full pre-season?
I think so, and not only that, there’s a lot of my players here this year. We’ve brought seven new players into the club and we’ve shortened the staff. Last year, we had 25 or 26 players here, now we’ve got 21 this season, so it’s a better nucleus and there’s no clones of each other. Last season, we had too many players in too many positions who were the same.
If the left-back went out or the right-back went out, the player coming in was exactly the same calibre of player. I don’t want to say we’ve got a better starting eleven this season because you don’t know if you’ve got a better side until the season kicks off, but I certainly think we’ve signed players who will make the core of the first-team stronger.
Are the new signings a direct consequence of missing out last season? Did you think things needed freshening up?
Well, a lot of people probably said last season this was Mark Robins’ team and, to be fair, it mainly was, although we did bring some of our own players in who did really well for us. Obviously we’ve decided to change things and I’ve now gone for the type of player that I like. Only time will tell whether I’m right or wrong. You can’t tell until you see what the results are this season. We needed things shaking up, we needed hungrier players and maybe one or two more younger players, and we’ve done that.
We’ve brought players in with League One experience. For example, Mark Bradley from Walsall, he’s only 22 and he’s played 95 games in League One and he’s just got a full cap for Wales towards the end of last season. John Mullins has come in from Stockport, 140-odd games in League One and Championship. They are the type of players we’re trying to bring to the club, so when we do go up — and hopefully that will be this season — we won’t have to make too many changes in the squad we’ve got.
The basement suddenly became rather congested towards the back-end of last season with around eight or nine teams all vying for four play-off berths with about two weeks to go. Why do you think this was the case?
I don’t want to give players excuses, but I honestly believe it was the weather. We were flying and going really well in the top three and then we had six weeks without a game! Had we avoided that, I genuinely believe we would have finished in the top three but instead we had to have another pre-season during the season. It’s difficult because once you’re in the swing of things and playing the way you want to play, the last thing you want is a break.
When you’ve got that momentum, everything is great. But teams who were struggling probably welcomed that break as a chance to regroup, so maybe it levelled everything up a bit. To go six weeks without a game like that, it’s unheard of really. I don’t think it’s ever happened before. So I probably blame that more than anything for us missing out on automatic promotion.
A decade or so has passed since you were last promoted from this division with Rotherham. How has the division changed in the time you’ve spent further up?
I think there was a lot more quality around a few years ago. The standard of players available to clubs at this level nowadays is not good. Budgets are generally much smaller and every club in your division is basically looking at the same players. The PFA list will come out with 570-odd professional footballers and 50-odd scholars on it, but when you actually go through it, there’s not much to choose from.
When you narrow it down to the ones who you want and those you can afford, and then single out the ones who will come down to play in this division, there’s not too many names left and everyone in the division is chasing the same players. For example, we’ve had four head-to-head battles with Shrewsbury during the close season. They’ve ended up taking three of the players that we were after, which is probably because they’ve got a nice new ground and training ground while we’re still at Don Valley. But yes, I think the quality of player at this level is a lot less now than it was a few seasons ago.
Why do you think that’s the case? Is it down to Premier League clubs hoarding all the best young talent?
Without a doubt. I’m astounded that Premier League clubs still have academies. The whole idea of an academy is to bring your kids through into the first team. I can’t remember the last time a Scouse kid has come through at Liverpool. The Premier League has certainly had an effect on the quality of kids coming through because where do they all go?
Liverpool won the FA Youth Cup two seasons on the trot about three years ago, now where have all those players gone? Sixty-odd pros they had last year at Anfield, it’s just ridiculous. So I don’t know why the top teams bother with academies because they’re certainly not doing the job they’re supposed to and it’s going to effect the state of the game for years to come, there’s no doubt about that.
There’s a general school of thought that League Two is literally anybody’s this season. Would you buy into that?
Yeah, there’s no doubt about it. You only have to look at the teams coming down from League One and those coming up from the Conference. Wycombe, Southend and Gillingham have come down and they’re always very strong at this level, they just tend to struggle when they go up. Stockport are probably a little bit different with the financial situation they find themselves in, so they might just need a season or so to find their feet and get things right.
As for the teams coming up, Stevenage and Oxford have both got a few bob and will have two of the highest budgets at this level I believe. Shrewsbury underachieved last year, but they should be there or thereabouts. Bury are always strong under Alan Knill and Bradford could make a good go of it this time around with Peter Taylor in charge. I think it’s going to be a really tough division and whoever gets in that top three will have earned it.
If we could offer you one team who you‘d be guaranteed to finish above come the end of the season, who would you choose?
Ooh, I like that one… (pauses) probably Gillingham now that Andy (Hessenthaler) is back there. They’re always strong at home and his teams are always competitive. If we finish above them, then I’d be delighted and I think we’d probably be in the top three.