The boy who inspired Neil Redfearn’s coaching ethos is now the man helping the Rotherham United manager guide the Millers revolution.
Redfearn decided youth development would be the cornerstone of his future coaching career when, as a senior player with Barnsley, he watched Eaden and a clutch of other kids come through the Oakwell ranks to join him in the first team.
Nineteen years after the pair played together in the Premier League, they are back in tandem, with 43-year-old Eaden yesterday confirmed as Rotherham’s new assistant boss following the departure of Eric Black to Aston Villa.
Their first task is to find a way of beating bottom club Bolton Wanderers in a crucial clash at the Macron Stadium tomorrow as they bid to keep the Millers out of the Championship’s bottom three.
“Nicky was one of the young ones coming through at Barnsley when I signed from Oldham Athletic. I think he’d just turned pro,” Redfearn, 51, recalled.
“When Danny Wilson became manager, he started to put the kids in, and I think my experience of seeing those young players coming through shaped my thinking about how you can develop and plan and build a team.
“Nicky was part of that process, and he understands that as well. Also, he has extensive experience at this level. It’s good for us to have him in.”
Eaden, who had been coaching Leicester City’s under-21s and has an assistant manager’s spell at Peterborough United on his CV, coached at the Millers for a short period in 2011.
Redfearn was brought in four months ago to lead Rotherham into a new era of developing players, nurturing young talent and relying less on transfers.
He and Eaden, along with prospects like Adie Moses, Andy Liddell, Chris Morgan, went on to play in the Premier League with the Reds, showing a so-called unfashionable club can make it to the top flight with the right people in charge.
“The progress of young players like Nicky was definitely the beginning of my philosophy of bringing kids through and turning them into first-team players,” Redfearn said.
“They were introduced maybe the season before we got promoted and they went on to play Premier League football. It can be done with good planning.
“Eventually we want this club challenging at the top end of this division and getting into the next one. We know it’s going to take time but we know it can be done. If you’ve got the right people at the club who know the route, then you’ve got a better chance of doing it.”
“Barnsley had that blend of experienced heads and young talent that we’re now seeking.”
Before looking that far ahead, Rotherham have a pressing engagement against a Wanderers side who have been at the foot of the table for most of the season but are refusing to buckle in the face of off-field financial problems.
“They’ve found a bit of form lately,” Redfearn said. “If you look at Bolton’s squad, the bare minimum they should be is midtable.
“Jay Spearing has played Champions League football with Liverpool. Dorian Dervite would get in most Championship teams. They’ve got some good players, but then we have got some good players.
“We need to get the performance level back to where it was before last week’s defeat against Charlton. I went home after the game and, like everybody else, I was flat. The supporters were flat, the players were flat, I was down, the chairman was fed-up. Everyone’s fed-up.
“You don’t want to get beat 4-1. I have had a chat with Tony (chairman Stewart). If you look at the bigger picture, we’re getting better. If we keep getting better and going in the right direction, eventually we’ll get where we need to be.”
The Millers will be without skipper Lee Frecklington, whose hamstring injury could sideline him for another fortnight, while centre-half Aimen Belaid is back in light training but a major doubt as he recovers from a groin problem.
Meanwhile, Rotherham have terminated the contract of midfielder Simon Lenighan after his conviction for headbutting a woman during a night out as he celebrated being cleared of a rape charge.
The incident happened last February in Harrogate, months before the Millers, unaware of the pending court case, offered the 21-year-old ex-Leeds United youngster a deal.
On the day he attended his December hearing in Harrogate to plead guilty, Lenighan phoned the Millers and claimed he couldn’t train because he was ill.
“Following an internal investigation into the matters recently in the press and following the reported conduct of the player, Rotherham United can announce that it has terminated the contract of Simon Lenighan,” a club statement said.