GOOD, BAD & UGLY
Rob Edwards on injuries, promotion and laughs with Ollie and Crouch
FOR every indestructible cyborg like Teddy Sheringham or Ryan Giggs, there’s a tinman like Rob Edwards. Seriously injured at the age of 20, he spent the next ten years being patched up,oiled and wheeled out to play,despite the never-ending aches and pains.
He even managed to win two promotions, play in the Premier League for Blackpool and win international caps for Wales.
Eventually, though, the former Villa,Wolves and Barnsley defender creaked to a halt.
“I was full-time from the age of 14,” says Edwards, who retired in 2013 at the age of 30.“Unfortunately, my body just wasn’t made to play into my 30s and 40s.”
Now coaching under Kenny Jackett at Molineux, the 32-year-old tells us which Portuguese winger (not that one) taught him a lesson at Loftus Road, which ‘mad’ manager was his greatest inspiration and why he knew it was finally time to call it a day.
Aston Villa. I was playing for my local team in Telford when they spotted me. I was about ten or 11.
Coming through the ranks I was with people like Gareth Barry, Liam Ridgewell, the Moore brothers – Stefan and Luke – and Boaz Myhill, who is at West Brom now. Gary Cahill was a few years below. It was a great place to be.
I eventually broke through just after my 20th birthday and made my debut against Middlesbrough. I played about nine or ten games that year, but I got a bad ankle injury against Everton and that turned out to be the last time I ever played for them.
Mick McCarthy was great. Very straightforward, very honest – a lot of what I am today comes from him. Graham Taylor and Glenn Hoddle also taught me so much.
But, for what he achieved, it has to be Ian Holloway at Blackpool. Ollie was mad, and he’ll admit that himself. He’d talk about his family, talk about his chickens. He had a crazy metaphor for every situation. His brain works differently to anyone I’ve ever known.
But at that club, at that time, it all made perfect sense. Don’t get me wrong, he had some good footballers. He’s tried to instil the same thing at Palace and Millwall and it hasn’t worked out.We were a group of lads largely unwanted by other clubs and we fitted into his philosophy really well.
Ultimately, though, he took a team that finished 16th in the Championship, spent almost no money and, on the smallest budget ever, got them promoted to the Premier League. And he did it with pure coaching, creating a style and a spirit that players bought into.
I could drop a few names here – I played with Ryan Giggs and Gareth Bale for Wales. Joleon Lescott at Wolves is the best centre-half I’ve ever lined up with.
But, to me, Gareth Barry at Villa takes it every time. He was player of the year in my one season and he was immense.
He’s spent his career getting stick for some reason, but people who really understand football know how good he is. His passing, his movement, the way he reads a game, Gaz is a brilliant, brilliant footballer who’s played at the highest level every week since he was 17. Not many players in the world can boast that kind of consistency.
With Blackpool to the Premier League in 2010. I was on the bench for the play-off final against Cardiff (which the Seasiders won 3-2) and I was ploughing the touchline at the end. Promotion meant so much to us and I was so nervous I couldn’t sit down. Sweat was dripping off me.
Funnily enough, I went out on loan to Norwich the following season and was part of the side that went up under Paul Lambert, so I ended up getting two in a row.
I’ve got a couple. Peter Crouch at Villa when I was young was hilarious. Just looking at him made me laugh, but he also had a really dry sense of humour and some great one-liners. The other is Jim McNulty, who was at Barnsley with me. Very sharp, very witty – I used to be in a car school with Jim and he made me laugh pretty much every single day. Funniest player: Peter Crouch
I thought for ages about this and I can’t put any of them into print. So I’m not going to name one specific thing. But, for a funny period in time, there’s no beating the dressing room at Blackpool. One of us was always playing a joke or caning someone for something daft they’d said or done. We had some sharp lads and people like Ben Burgess could be brilliantly cutting. He’s another one I could’ve mentioned above. You didn’t dare try to mock him because he could take you down with one line.
We’d have to take the mick out of ourselves because we’d be there washing our own kit and cleaning our own boots, thinking ‘this is ridiculous’. We could have moaned but it actually brought us closer.
Being capped byWales.As the years have gone on, that’s the thing that became most important to me.
I qualified through my parents, and all my family are from North Wales. I made my debut when I was 20,pre-injuries and when everything was going well.
At the time you just think ‘well, that was great’. Now, I realise it was pretty special.
To be honest, I’m also pleased someone of my ability managed to have a career.
In terms of talent, I’m not the worst in the world. But I’m hardly Messi or Ronaldo.I had to squeeze every drop out of myself to play 200-odd games at the level I did.
The injuries.To have a bad one at 20 – when things were going well at Villa – was a massive blow and I never felt the same again.
Even though I played a lot of games and got back to the Premier League,I look back on that time as the beginning of the end.
Towards the end, the last couple of years, I was in pain every day. I couldn’t do the things I was used to doing and that was really frustrating. I’d come of the pitch and be quite upset, thinking ‘what’s going on, why can’t I do this or that anymore?Why is this guy going past me?’
Your body is basically breaking down and it’s that horrible, slow realisation of ‘I haven’t got long left here’. You shouldn’t be getting out of a car at 29-30 and going ‘oooh’.
It made me realise I had to get the badges done pretty quick. Toughest Opponent: Luis Boa Morte
TOUGHEST PLACE TO GO
Loftus Road when Fulham played there. It’s really tight, really intimidating.
Even though there weren’t actually a lot of fans inside, they made it feel like there was. They always made a big noise.When I grew up, I actually enjoyed it. But when I was young, I had a nightmare. Which leads me on to…
Luis Boa Morte, for Fulham at Loftus Road. I preferred playing centreback, but when I first got in at Villa, they put me at right-back.
Boa Morte gave me an absolute lesson that day. On his day, he was very, very good – and he certainly had his day against me.
He was very quick with loads of ability and I think he must have turned up that day and thought ‘Great, a young kid, I fancy this’.
I remember talking to Chris Coleman when I met up with Wales a little while later and he came up and said ‘Not bad that Boa Morte, eh?’
Not long later,Chris was managing Fulham and Boa Morte was his captain – I think my performance probably kick-started his career!
It didn’t help me much though – I got the hook at half-time.
FAVOURITE PLACE TO GO
Villa Park.I also loved the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Making my debut in front of 70,000 is something I’ll never forget. Molineux is special, too, but there’s nothing like Villa Park for a night game when the place is full.
One day – and I mean one day – I’d like to be a head coach or manager. There are a lot of young guys out there doing it and it does make you think ‘yeah, maybe it is possible’.
I’m in no rush. I’m 32, still learning my trade.And I’m learning from a top, top manager in Kenny Jackett.
HIGH RISE: Rob Edwards (centre) scores Blackpool’s first goal in a win over Derby in 2008-09
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