When he was fired from Stoke City after just 29 matches, Gary Rowett’s career in management didn’t seem to have any natural direction.
On the surface of things he had emphatically failed to get one of the strongest squads seen in the Championship for years, on paper anyway, playing effective football, leaving the Potters battling relegation despite starting the season as overwhelming promotion favourites.
It was the steepest of declines for a manager who had been viewed as one the hottest properties in the second tier over the few seasons that came before.
Now, thanks to Millwall, he is back in the dugout.
Following Neil Harris’ decision to leave his post at The Den, the Lions sought out the services of Rowett in October. He had been out of the game for over nine months when the call was made, aside from appearances as a pundit, but he clearly felt that his time had come and that Millwall were the right team for him.
So it has proven thus far. 24 matches in and he has turned the club from relegation candidates into outsiders for a spot in the play-offs.
In those 24 matches he has lost just six times. When that is compared to the eight he lost with a Stoke City squad which included the likes of Tom Ince, James McClean, Joe Allen and Benik Afobe, it is clear we are looking at a man who has rediscovered his mojo.
But whatever happens in the remainder of this campaign doesn’t really matter. The Lions are ten points clear of the drop zone and eight behind sixth-place Preston. This sort of security would have been deemed a huge success at the start of the campaign.
The real test for Rowett comes next season. For all the quality he has shown throughout his managerial career, he is somebody who is yet to build anything at one club.
Rowett’s time with Millwall, therefore, will not be defined by where the club finishes this season. It is unlikely, but even if they do finish in the play-offs, his time will still be defined by the next campaign and the ones that follow.
Everything points to him being a big success at The Den. His attitude appears to match up perfectly with the club and his fans; that almost ‘pride before performance’ approach. Give it everything and results will fall into place.
But he must retain his focus. We have thought this before with Birmingham City and even Derby. But in the second seasons of both of those, something happened which caused either him to lose focus or those stationed higher up to change their minds, and it all came undone.
Stoke City has likely acted as a wake-up call. There was a real sense when he left The Rams that this was a man who clearly has personal delusions of granduer, or as many demonstrated upon his return, just snakey.
His brutal treatment at The Bet365 Stadium should, and does appear to, have changed his approach. He now looks like a one club man, ready to take Millwall from strength to strength.
But fans and those looking in from the outside are always going to doubt it until it happens. We will believe it when we see it, in other words.
Rowett will want to manage at the very top of the game and why wouldn’t he? But he will never do that unless he can show he can hold down a role over a decent period of time and build with one club.
Now 45-years-old, Millwall feels like a make or break period for his career in the dugout. Everything is going to plan so far but next season will be when we can really judge.