GOOD, BAD & UGLY

Richie Wel­lens re­flects on his highs and lows – and his best wind-up

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

RE­JEC­TION at Man United has put the ki­bosh on many a promis­ing ca­reer – just ask the likes of Colin McKee and John O’Kane. Yet 15 years af­ter turn­ing his back on Old Traf­ford, boy­hood Red Richie Wel­lens is still go­ing strong.

Now 35, the Don­caster mid­fielder has won two pro­mo­tions,a brace of Foot­ball League Tro­phies and racked up three ap­pear­ances in the League One team of the year.

The se­cret to his suc­cess? A hefty kick from Sean Gre­gan, a glower from Phil Parkin­son and a decade of tena­cious mid­field per­for­mances for the likes of Black­pool, Le­ices­ter Old­ham and Donny...

FIRST CLUB

Manch­ester United. I was there from the age of nine and I left when I was 20. Brian Kidd scouted me when I was play­ing for my lo­cal club in Mos­ton. I went from play­ing on the parks to train­ing with Brian and Nobby Stiles. As a United fan, it was bril­liant.

My age group was David Healy, Wes Brown,a few oth­ers.They’re the only two who’ve really made ca­reers of it. Above us were John Cur­tis and Danny Hig­gin­botham.

Un­for­tu­nately, the mid­field at the time was Ryan Giggs, David Beck­ham, Roy Keane, Paul Sc­holes and Nicky Butt. All five of them world­class play­ers at their ab­so­lute peak.

It was al­ways go­ing to be tough and I even­tu­ally left to get some games. My big­gest re­gret is that I could have learned a lot more about be­ing a pro­fes­sional and what it took to be a Man United player. Beck­ham, Sc­holes, Giggs – they were all really great lads who’d been in my sit­u­a­tion and I should have tapped into that.

BEST MAN­AGER

I’ve had so many. Tech­ni­cally and tac­ti­cally, it has to be Sean O’Driscoll at Donny. He made you think about the game in all sorts of new ways. For man-man­age­ment, Sven- Go­ran Eriks­son by a mile.He just knew how to treat his play­ers like adults.

But for a mix of both, I’d say Nigel Pear­son at Le­ices­ter. When Nigel sent you out, you were never in any doubt about what your job was, as a team and an in­di­vid­ual.

While he comes across as a bit dull on cam­era, he’s definitely not. He’s very dry and witty with a good sense of hu­mour. The mea­sured per­sona you see on TV is not what the play­ers get in the dress­ing room.

BEST TEAM-MATE

This one is tough. I was in the Eng­land age groups with the likes of Led­ley King, Jonathan Woodgate, Michael Owen, Joe Cole – all of them un­be­liev­able play­ers.

But head and shoul­ders above them all was Steven Ger­rard. So while I’d like to say some­one I knew for years, he left such an im­pres­sion that I’ve got to say Ger­rard.When he passed you the ball, it felt good. Per­fect weight, al­ways into the right area, al­ways ex­actly where you wanted it.

A lot of play­ers, they’re so ner­vous that when they pass you the ball, that ner­vous­ness is writ­ten on the pass.With Ger­rard, it was the op­po­site – to­tal con­fi­dence and con­trol. You could make any run and know 100 per cent he’d find you.

FIRST PRO­MO­TION

I left United in 2000,joined Black­pool and won pro­mo­tion from the Third Di­vi­sion in my very first sea­son.

Drop­ping to that level was a mas­sive eye-opener but I knew it was sink or swim. I knew that I had to get United out of my head as soon as pos­si­ble or I wouldn’t get any­where.

Even so, it was a hell of a cul­ture shock. I made my de­but away at Stoke, get­ting bom­barded by high balls. Some things never change.

We played Read­ing away and Phil Parkin­son was stand­ing in the tun­nel, wear­ing a gumshield and look­ing like he wanted to kill me.

And I’ll al­ways re­mem­ber my first West Lan­cashire derby against Pre­ston. I was a 20-year-old skinny kid up against Sean Gre­gan, as hard a player as you get at that level. First tackle I went into, I didn’t know what had hit me. I tough­ened up pretty quick.

FUN­NI­EST PLAYER

I’ve worked with a lot of great lads.In the early days, Mike Newell was a bril­liant laugh.Then there’s Ben Mar­shall, who’s at Black­pool now, Paul Gal­lagher who is at Pre­ston. Both funny lads I used to share a car with.

Fi­nally, I’d say Kyle Ben­nett, who’s just moved to Portsmouth from Donny. Men­tion his name to any­one in foot­ball and they’ll prob­a­bly laugh just think­ing about him. A

great char­ac­ter.

FUN­NI­EST IN­CI­DENT

At Black­pool, we had a young goal­keeper called Phil Barnes. I’m pretty good at ac­cents. I can do Ge­ordie, Scot­tish,Welsh – any­thing. One day, I rang him up and said ‘Lis­ten, I’m from Match mag­a­zine and we’re do­ing a spread on the Foot­ball League’s top five up-and­com­ing keep­ers. Is it OK if we come down tomorrow and do a pho­to­shoot?’ I said we’d pay him a grand. He said,‘I’ll have to clear it with Steve McMa­hon (our man­ager at the time) first’ but of course I’d al­ready tipped Steve off so he was in on it.

Steve said,‘Yeah,go for it’,so Phil’s come in the next day – which was our day off – only to find the train­ing ground locked up and no­body wait­ing for him. By the time he came in the next day, he knew he’d been stitched up and we ab­so­lutely had his life.

He didn’t take it very well but we soon found out why. As soon as I’d men­tioned the £1,000, he’d gone straight out and bought him­self a new lap­top. He was only a 20-yearold kid on not much money so he had to take it back!

BIG­GEST ACHIEVE­MENT

I’ve played at the Mil­len­nium Sta­dium three times.Won two cups and a pro­mo­tion in front of a full house at Wem­b­ley. But I’d say I’m most proud of my longevity.

I’ve been a pro­fes­sional for 18-19 years now. I signed my first con­tract when I was 16 at Man United and my cur­rent con­tract ex­pires when I’m 36-and-a-half.There’s not many play­ers spend two decades in the game and – in­juries aside – I’ve prob­a­bly played 40-plus games ev­ery year. And I haven’t lost a yard of pace…

LOW­EST MO­MENT

Com­ing back from my cru­ci­ate in­jury at Le­ices­ter. When you’re in­jured, it’s black and white. You know the timescale, you know what you have to do. It’s easy to get your head round.

The big­gest low was when I got fit enough to train. I came back around Novem­ber time. By then, ev­ery­one else had been train­ing for four months, they’d played 20-odd games. They were all at peak fit­ness and I was start­ing from scratch.

To go into a group like that, know­ing that my body wasn’t what it was, that I’d suf­fered from a lot of mus­cle wastage – it was so dif­fi­cult. I was strug­gling ev­ery sin­gle day, try­ing to get back and still be­ing miles be­hind.

I went on loan to Ip­swich and I was com­ing out for train­ing some

days and lit­er­ally couldn’t even kick the ball prop­erly. I had no power. I started go­ing out half an hour early just to get go­ing.

I was ac­tu­ally out for only three months but it was prob­a­bly 12 be­fore I was back to any­thing like my best.

TOUGH­EST PLACE TO GO

In a good way, I’d say Swansea. Un­der Roberto Martinez, Paulo Sousa and Bren­dan Rodgers, they were a really good foot­balling team.

You never had much of the ball and had to con­cen­trate like mad just to stay in the game.And,like Cardiff, it was al­ways a great at­mos­phere. They made it tough for any away team.

TOUGH­EST OP­PO­NENT

I re­mem­ber play­ing at Chelsea in the Cup and we played two in mid­field against their three.The free man was Juan Mata and he was so dif­fi­cult to pick up.

But in terms of some­one I faced reg­u­larly, I’d say Adam Lal­lana dur­ing his time at Southamp­ton. There was a game at the King Power which we won 3-2 but they ab­so­lutely bat­tered us.

Lal­lana was un­playable that day – drift­ing into ar­eas you didn’t want to go, play­ing the ball off both feet, great bal­ance, bril­liant drib­bling. I re­mem­ber think­ing that he’d go on to be a top, top player and he has.

FAVOURITE PLACE TO GO

El­land Road. I’ve played there about a dozen times and it’s al­ways a great at­mos­phere – a proper club with a proper crowd.That’s what you want as a player: grounds where it’s go­ing to be in­tense and they’re go­ing to give you stick. Empty stands and no buzz make a game very hard to get up for. With El­land Road, you need no mo­ti­va­tion.

AM­BI­TION

I’m still play­ing and I want to do that for as long as I can. I’d love to win an­other pro­mo­tion with Donny and maybe play at Wem­b­ley again.

I’m also do­ing my coach­ing badges. I’ve been in foot­ball since the day I left school so my ul­ti­mate am­bi­tion is to stay in the game be­yond re­tire­ment.

Tough­est op­po­nent: Adam Lal­lana Tough­est place to go: Swansea

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

IN CON­TROL: Don­caster’s Richie Wel­lens holds off Black­burn’s David Dunn Best man­ager: Nigel Pear­son at Le­ices­ter Favourite place to go: El­land Road First pro­mo­tion: Black­pool play-off win­ners 2000-01 Launch price

£30 a pair

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