Richie Wellens driven by Alex Ferguson's influence as Swindon soar

Ben Fisher on 11 September 2019

The corridor outside the manager’s office and the surrounding arteries of the County Ground are adorned with snapshots of Swindon Town legends of bygone eras – Glenn Hoddle, Paul Bodin and Shaun Taylor – but Richie Wellens is determined to give present-day supporters something to shout about. “That was my message to the players,” Wellens says, matter-of-factly.

“I’m not sick of it because I think old players should be remembered but they should be in the boardroom, in the upstairs rooms – not in the tunnel. The tunnel should be about the here-and-now players but there have not been any here-and-now players that have had any success. Why should they reward mediocrity by putting posters up? We need to start achieving.”

It is a case of so far, so good this season, with his free-scoring team fourth in League Two following two wins in a row, and no EFL side have more league goals than their 14. Wellens, who took charge in November, is ambitious, exposed to Sir Alex Ferguson’s standards as a teenager after being spotted by Brian Kidd aged 10 near his Moston home in north Manchester.

“Certain people have an aura about them when they walk in the room, where the feeling in the room changes, and [Ferguson] was definitely one of them,” says Wellens, whose sole Manchester United appearance came at Villa Park in 1999, five months after the club had won the Treble. He left the following year and went on to make more than 600 appearances before moving into management at Oldham, initially as first-team coach, then caretaker manager before taking the job permanently in October 2017. Before doing so, he picked up the phone to consult a trusted voice.

“I did ring Sir Alex up when I first got the job,” says Wellens, who cites Sean O’Driscoll and Nigel Pearson, former mentors at Doncaster and Leicester respectively, as other major influences. “At that stage I didn’t really want the role because I was seeing what was going on but I’d won my first four games and I thought: ‘I’m probably going to have to take this.’ I could see a takeover was about to happen; it was like: ‘Hmmm, it’s probably not in my best interests to take this.’ But sometimes you have to learn on the job, sink or swim.”

The 39-year-old continues: “I couldn’t switch off and I needed a few little bits of advice. The two hours you’re at the training ground with the players are the best two hours of the day. It’s the rest of it – the three hours before training, the five or six hours after, managing upwards, managing agents, managing players who are not starting. He helped me with loads of stuff that I’ve taken forward. He was just the master of everything regarding management. If I was even one-tenth as successful as him, I’d snap your hand off.”

Swindon v Morecambe
Swindon’s Eoin Doyle is congratulated on scoring against Morecambe last month. Photograph: Steve McCarthy/ProSports/Shutterstock

His time as manager at Oldham – where he had two spells as a player – was punctuated by politics, financial problems and player-registration embargoes. “It’s difficult when you wake up on a Saturday morning and you do not know who’s available and who can’t play,” Wellens says. “It was all a big eye-opener. I had afternoon meetings with the chairman, discussions on who to play and not to play and certain players who had been signed and certain agreements with their parent club where they had to play.

“I had a certain say on some players but there were others that would turn up and I’d never heard of them or seen them play. The number of trialists continued to come and in and players I deemed not good enough were then signed. Sometimes as a young manager I had to bite my tongue a little bit and try and survive and get through it. I also thought it was a great learning curve because I thought: ‘No matter what job I get next I’ll never have to go through these scenarios again, so I’ll be a lot stronger for it.’ I needed a thick skin during my playing career but when you come into this side of it, it’s even tougher.”

Wellens acknowledges the rough and tumble nature of League Two – “It can be 100mph at times, Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday” – but he is unwavering in the way he wants his team, who host Macclesfield on Saturday, to play. “If you’re a long-ball team or just go to defend, you might win one game because you’ve put bodies on the line, the opposition have missed chances or the goalkeeper has made some great saves, but you cannot work long term like that. Look at the best teams in the country.”

At Swindon Wellens, together with his assistant Noel Hunt, first-team coach Tommy Wright and the director of football Paul Jewell, is laying building blocks that he feels will put his team in the mix. “The club has been on a downward spiral for six or seven years so there has to be a time where it slows down, which we think we have done, and it turns into an upward direction. I would love to win promotion, don’t get me wrong, but my main aim would be to get a football team heading in the right direction every single time they go on the pitch.”

Talking points

• After Sunday, when Huddersfield host Sheffield Wednesday, Danny Cowley and his brother Nicky will have managed in eight of the top nine tiers in the country – all except the Premier League. Helping Huddersfield back there is the ambition but the former PE teacher, who started coaching in the Essex Senior League with Concord Rangers, acknowledges time is of the essence. “In business I think they talk about 30-, 60- and 90-day [plans],” he said. “In football you don’t always get as long, so maybe we’re talking 15, 30 and 45. If we thought this job was easy, we wouldn’t have taken it.”

Four months from Wayne Rooney’s arrival, there is no masking a difficult start to life for Phillip Cocu at Derby. If they fail to beat Cardiff on Friday there is a chance Derby, who have not won in the league since the opening day, could finish the weekend in the bottom three. Still, Norwich were 17th at this stage last season.

• It took Wycombe until October to win a league game at home last season but, having already racked up four victories at Adams Park this campaign, Gareth Ainsworth’s side travel to Gillingham on Saturday top of League One. The manager could hand full debuts to Rolando Aarons and Nnamdi Ofoborh, eye-catching loan signings from Newcastle and Bournemouth respectively.

Dino Maamria’s departure from Stevenage leaves two BAME coaches in the Football League: Keith Curle at Northampton and Darren Moore at Doncaster.

• News of Kalvin Phillips’s new five-year contract is music to the ears of Leeds United, who rebuffed bids of more than £20m from Burnley and Aston Villa in the summer for the 23-year-old midfielder.

Latest football headlines

Latest Football News