‘I don’t think Semi is that impressed by somebody’s car’ – Paul Warne on Semi Ajayi’s international recognition with Nigeria

Around 15 years ago Paul Warne saw first hand the danger of a Rotherham player getting international recognition.

Warne was part of Ronnie Moore’s team that was punching above their weight in the second tier and spearheaded by striker Alan Lee.

Lee had been the kingpin in the Millers side for a number of years and his form in the 2002-03 season earned him a call-up to Mick McCarthy’s Republic of Ireland squad.

The Irishman went away and got up close and personal with top Premier League players and became exposed to the amount of obscene money they were earning.

Robbie Keane’s goal bonus would probably have easily eclipsed Lee’s weekly wage at the Millers and unsurprisingly Lee admitted to getting his head turned.

He came back and knew there was a better, more cash-rich life for him away from the Millers and instigated a move away – one that no one could begrudge him.

He ended up being sold to Cardiff, for close to £1million, and the seeds of Rotherham’s crash back down the divisions were sewn.

Now, as manager, Warne has a potentially similar situation to contend with, but is not expecting it to end the same way.

In Semi Ajayi, the Millers have a standout performer in their Championship squad and his form in both defence and midfield has earned him a call-up to the Nigeria squad this season.

The 24-year-old is rubbing shoulders with the likes of Wilfred Ndidi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Odion Igalo and may be exposed to the same money-led conversations that Lee found himself in all that time ago.

Warne, though, is completely relaxed about the situation and only sees Ajayi’s international recognition as a positive.

“Him getting the call up has given him a massive self-confidence boost, he is playing with better players, no disrespect to mine, but there are some great players,” Warne conceded.

“It’s not like he is playing for Guernsey, he is playing for a proper national team. I think it has added to him, not taken away.

“I know everyone is driven by money, but I don’t think Semi is that impressed by somebody’s car so I don’t think that will affect him.

“But I do think he wants to get as high as he can and if he didn’t he wouldn’t be the player I wanted here, everyone who we have here are all on a journey where hopefully they all go on to better clubs and if they do it means me and the coaches have done a great service.”

Warne said last summer that Ajayi could be worth £10million if he continued to progress and his form this season, both in midfield and defence, cannot have gone unnoticed by other clubs in the Championship.

The boss remains philosophical about the cycle of life for a player at the Millers and would be happy for Ajayi – or any of his squad – to get a move if it suited everyone.

“If Semi has an amazing season and someone comes in and offers money for him, if he has had an amazing season it means the team has done well,” Warne said.

“If we lose players through their excellence then that has to be a better way of looking at it than if they don’t do very well and no one ever leaves.

“You can’t run a football club like that. If Semi goes on and gets a move, then as long as the fee is what the club wants and he wants to do it then I will be over the moon for him.

“I would have the unenviable task of replacing him which wouldn’t be easy but that is the same at every club.”

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