Patient Wood overcomes adversity for dream move
ranks. It was a welcoming environment, and he remains friends with many colleagues from those times.
“I was always sheltered coming up through West Brom, meeting the first team players and getting to know them throughout the whole time,” said Wood. “Then I got put out on loan [to Barnsley], having to learn about things in a new dressing room, new people. I was 18 years old and it is a lot to deal with as a youngster.”
Wood struggled at the time but wouldn’t change the experience.
“I learnt so much — little insights into how managers think, or how people play, or what first team lifestyle is like. You learn, you go through it. It’s one of those [times] where you either step up and do it, or you will fade away and it won’t work for you.”
Numerous young New Zealanders have struggled to overcome adversity in England and their careers never recovered. Wood was the opposite. His experience in South Yorkshire was tough, but his character and self-belief were illustrated at his next loan club, Brighton. He slotted a penalty on debut, his first successful spot kick in England, only two days after arriving on the South Coast. He had scored just one league goal in the previous 11 months, was still getting to know his teammates and the match was in the balance at 1-1 in the 73rd minute.
“When the penalty happened, I was confident enough to take it,” recalled Wood. “The guy that normally took them said ‘yeah, no problem’, which was really nice of him. Thankfully it worked out.”
Wood soared with the Seagulls, netting nine goals from 22 starts, but wasn’t retained as Brighton won League One.
“I would have loved to have stayed — great team, great people, great city — but they wanted to go in another direction. You have to accept that, it’s football.”
There have been many highlights since. At Birmingham, he scored a 99th-minute winner in a Europa League match against Brugge (“that was a huge goal, people still remind me of it”) and also nabbed a ‘perfect’ hat-trick, his first in English football.
He scored a goal in his second game at Bristol City, and a memorable strike against Everton on his Premier League debut for Leicester. And then there was Leeds, who didn’t lose a game for almost 18 months whenever Wood scored, and he netted almost half Leeds’ league goals last season.
‘He’s always had an eye for a goal, that instinct you can’t teach,” recalled Wilkinson. “I remember when I first saw him as a young lad — he was a goal thief. He could get a goal out of nowhere. He was a big lad physically but what stood out the most was his willingness to listen and improve, and his ability to be in the right place, to read situations. You were thinking ‘Okay — he’s got a bit of something’.”
Wilkinson picked the 15-year-old for Hamilton Wanderers (“I think he got the golden boot”), then helped arrange the West Brom move.
“You always thought he would go on,” said Wilkinson. “He’s made the most out of what he has got.”
Ryan Nelsen, with 191 top flight appearances at Blackburn, Spurs and Queens Park Rangers, remains the Premier League benchmark among Kiwis. He first encountered Wood in 2009, when the 17-yearold often tested himself directly against the New Zealand skipper in All Whites camps.
“Striker is one of the hardest positions on the field,” Nelsen told Radio Sport. “But Chris has been working so hard over the last two years. There are 20 Premier League teams, and every single striker in the world wants to play on those 20 teams. And every one of those teams has the budgets to hold two, three or four international class strikers. So wherever he goes, there will be severe competition. But his style, and the way Burnley play, I think it is a really nice fit.”