Unknown to the eyes and ears of the Football League; Rotherham United fans would have been forgiven for feeling slightly underwhelmed by the club’s signing of Farrend Rawson back in March. But luckily for them, they in fact got their hands on a highly-rated defender who has been tipped to escalate to the very top of English football.
Now in his second successive loan spell at the New York Stadium; the 19-year-old Derby County youth academy graduate is determined to pack a punch at their Championship rivals this term after experiencing his first taste of professional football with the Millers towards the end of last season.
The Nottingham-born defender made four crucial appearances for Steve Evans’ side towards the latter stages of the 2014-15 campaign to help Rotherham stave off relegation in the penultimate round of fixtures in the Championship.
Having re-joined the Millers on loan until the New Year from parent club Derby; Rawson and Rotherham once again find themselves dragged into another relegation dogfight after only 19 games, currently sitting one point adrift of safety in 23rd spot.
But the towering centre-half is relishing his first-team responsibilities at the South Yorkshire outfit this campaign; grasping what he describes as a “unique opportunity” to learn his trade among experienced defenders and under the influence of a manager who is renowned for nurturing young talent.
Having made his professional debut on loan at Rotherham; plus most recently netting his first senior career goal with the Millers, Rawson is certainly starting to make a name for himself among the New York Stadium faithful as he seeks to repay the club’s support by digging them out of the bottom three before the New Year.
Heading into the final month of his initial loan deal; Shoot spoke EXCLUSIVELY to Rawson about his highlights at Rotherham, his reasons for re-joining the Millers, his excitement of working alongside manager Neil Redfearn, his aspirations at parent club Derby, and his ultimate Premier League ambition.
You re-joined Rotherham on loan for a second successive spell in the summer. How are you enjoying your time at the club so far this season?
“It is really good. Getting games for me is massive really, definitely for my age. I am really enjoying it, they are a great set of lads. The new manager [Neil Redfearn] has come in and he is a great guy – nice and calm – and he likes to work with young players. So it is a great experience for me and I am just enjoying every moment.”
What was it about the Millers that encouraged you to come back to the club?
“It was the opportunity to play games, at the highest level possible. For me, you don’t hear a lot about Championship loan moves to another Championship side, so I definitely couldn’t turn it down! It is a great club, with a great set of lads and great fans. This is a great opportunity for me to learn my trade and have a great couple of months here.”
Last season’s spell with Rotherham was your very first taste of senior football. How would you sum up that groundbreaking experience?
“I would just say it was mind-blowing! It literally went so quick. I remember on the Thursday; playing Southampton in the Under-21s cup and we got absolutely battered. Going home; I was thinking I have a quiet weekend ahead, then I got the phone call from the Under-21 manager, Lee Glover, to tell me that Rotherham wanted me on loan and there was an opportunity that I could be making my debut on the Saturday. I just thought, “Wow!” So I rang my dad, flew straight up to Rotherham and before I knew it I was walking out against Huddersfield [Town]. It was amazing! Then the four games just literally went bang, bang, bang straight after one another. It was over before I knew it. I can’t explain it, it was a great feeling. Once you get it, you just want more.”
What is the contrast like between Premier League Under-21 football and the professional game. Is it another huge step-up?
“Yes it is. You hear it a lot with Under-21 managers; but you don’t really understand, you have to grow up. There are boys and then there are men. When you are in front of a lot of people, you have got to perform and do your trade right because that is where it counts. I can understand why people can crumble sometimes because it is a lot of pressure and it is quite hard. I have been lucky that the people that play in the side are very experienced players; the likes of Kirk Broadfoot and Danny Collins, and I am learning stuff from them. They can sometimes help carry you through some games when you might find it difficult on your own. But I would say those two are the main factors; growing up and concentration. You have got the talent there; everyone has got the talent to be there, but you have just got to be able to show it.”
Tell us what you can recall from your dashed debut? Because you joined Rotherham on a youth loan back in March, only to make your first-team bow just several hours later in a 2-0 win over Huddersfield…
“The game literally went so quick! It flew past. The only time I remember of the game was the first 20 minutes. The first 20 minutes were the hardest 20 minutes of my life! I was heading everything, everything was on us and everyone was running me into the corners. I was thinking, “What have I got myself into?” But I think we just scored before half-time and that literally gave us a lot of courage and enthusiasm for the second half to go out there and have a go because they were on us to be fair, it was 50/50. At the end of the day; it was a little bit of a derby as well, but I didn’t really know at the time. I was just going into the game thinking, “Let’s have a go!” Not thinking of it as a derby. But the goal in the first half got us going and in the second half, I just felt myself relax and I was just doing everything right. It was a great experience and one I will never forget it! I have got the shirt in my house, so it is nice.”
You are due to remain on loan with the Millers until the New Year. What is your personal aim this campaign?
“I would have said 10 to 15 games; but like I said, I set personal targets that I normally like to keep to myself and I am not a player to judge myself on other people or on targets. I just try to do the best I can until the end of the season so I can look back and have no regrets. That is normally my aim; just to look back at the end of the season and think in my head that I have played every game possible and that I have done well as I possibly could have. That is the target for me.”
Rotherham are currently one point adrift of safety in the bottom three. Are you confident you can help the club stave off relegation until the New Year?
“It is difficult for us because we haven’t got the assets like Derby County or teams like Hull [City], who have just come down. We haven’t got the assets they have, so that makes it difficult. But we have got a real good squad of players. I have been lucky enough to train with Derby’s first-team and been able to see Rotherham’s team; we have got a good group of lads, that on their day, can compete with anyone. I think the Championship is one of the hardest leagues out there because there is no easy game, every game is a battle. Every game teams bring different things to the plate and it is really hard. We are very good at grinding things out. I think if we stick together, we could do well. It is all about getting that run of games. If you can get that run of games; then before you know it, the league is so tight. You could be in mid-table or pushing [for the] top ten, it is just about trying to get that run of games.”
Do you know of any plans to extend your loan spell at Rotherham beyond the January transfer window?
“Nothing has been said yet, but I don’t think there is a massive rush. I am quite relaxed. I know Rotherham and Derby are quite relaxed with me. So at the end of the day; we will get to the end of my loan, sit down with Derby and maybe Rotherham and we will see what is the best option. If the option is there and they ask me personally, then I have got no problem [extending] it. They have looked after me really well and I have had some great times.
“It is all ifs and buts. Personally, I think Derby’s team is one of the best in the Championship. In depth as well, they have a lot of really good players and I can’t complain. When you have Premier League players in your place, you can’t complain. But it doesn’t worry me because I see that as a challenge and I see that as an experience to learn from. Hopefully I will be with that lot in however many years. So we will see when January comes and I’ll evaluate it from there and see what happens.”
Back in September, you scored your first professional goal in the 1-1 draw at Charlton Athletic. How good was it to get your name on the scoresheet?
“In pre-season I picked up an injury and I have been struggling with it a little bit. I was supposed to go to Rotherham on loan earlier; so when I finally got here, I wasn’t quite right. Steve Evans and Paul Raynor were the manager and assistant [manager] at the time and they were holding me back a little bit. I was getting a little bit frustrated, I am not going to lie. But who wouldn’t want to play football? It is your job. They were always telling me, “You are not quite ready yet”. Then the Charlton Athletic game came along. We had two games on the bounce, so we were staying over in London. We had Charlton on the Tuesday and Brighton on the Friday. I remember being in the hotel and he [Evans] came up to me and said, “You will get your chance now. You are starting. I know you have been frustrated”. I think it is quite hard for a youngster to go out on loan because you have got to do something in your first game to keep you in there. Even if you are a striker, you have probably got to score or get man of the match. For a defender, probably man of the match or a clean sheet. I was lucky enough to lose my man and had the easiest tap-in in the world. But I will take it! It was a great feeling and like I said; it was really quick, it was over. Everyone was like, “How was it? How was that moment?” But within five seconds it is over and you have got to concentrate. I think we had like 30 minutes to grind out and they were attacking us and throwing on more attackers, so it was the last thing in my head to celebrate and think that we have got a point here. But it was a great experience.”
Neil Redfearn took over at Rotherham a month after Evans’ departure. What sort of impression has he given you since arriving at the New York Stadium?
“Steve Evans and Neil Redfearn are completely different managers. Neil Redfearn is chilled. He is more of a tactician I would say. I don’t think Steve Evans will take offence to that! He is a former Under-21 manager, so I can relate to him a little bit as he likes the youngsters. He takes care of the youngsters, wants to develop them and bring them on. He has played me, encouraged me and spoke highly of me, so I think he is a really good manager as well. I am sure he will do well in his managing career, definitely.”
Redfearn was renowned at Leeds for developing the club’s youth players. Have you seen these expertise exercised at Rotherham yet?
“Yes, definitely. I think he has come in and changed a lot of things. Like I said; he is a little bit more focused on the youth and he is bringing some younger loanees in, trying to help the youngsters out and you can’t fault him for that. I have the utmost respect for him and he is looking after me.”
When you re-signed for Rotherham back in July; Steve Evans tipped you as a future Premier League star. That must have been flattering?
“It is nice; but at the end of the day, it is someone’s opinion. That is the way I look at it. I have still got a long way to go. I am only 19, I am only just starting. But any aspiring footballers, they will say that their aim is to go to the top. I can say that I will try my best and I will work as hard as I can and have no regrets. We will see what happens. But it is really nice to hear that from someone like Steve Evans and hopefully I can prove him right. We will have to wait and see!”
Now you’re yet to make your first-team debut for Derby; but is reaching the Premier League with the Rams the ultimate goal for you?
“I have been at Derby since the Under-13s; so if I could break into the first-team and get an appearance, that would be amazing. I am working hard towards that and hopefully I am showing the new manager that there isn’t a risk of throwing me in. But at the end of the day, that is his decision and I respect that. I would definitely like to go to the Premier League. But to take Derby to the Premier League would be even better because like I said, I have been there since the Under-13s. I have been through a lot of the age groups and I know a lot of people around the club and I know for a fact that this is what they are pushing for. If I could be a part of the team that does that, that would be amazing.”