Following his £1M move to Leicester City in July 2009, Wellens made nearly 150 appearances for the Club and he was voted as Player of the Season in 2010/11.
A bad injury sustained playing against West Ham United effectively ended his Foxes career, although he continued to play league football until 2015/16.
He is currently manager of Sky Bet League 2 side Swindon Town.
After being spotted by Manchester United scout at the age nine, Manchester-born Richie began by describing his reaction to being offered, as a youngster, a one-year apprenticeship and then a four-year professional contract by Sir Alex Ferguson.
He explained: “This was an unbelievable experience. I was there when United had perhaps the best team that ever played for the club. [David] Beckham, [Ryan] Giggs, [Roy] Keane and [Paul] Scholes were all there. It would have been a lot easier to make a breakthrough into the first team if I had played at a lesser club. At United, I’d seen players playing in the reserves up until the age of 23 or 24. They would then try move on. Some struggled to adapt from reserve team football. I didn’t want that to happen to me so when I was nearly 20, I decided to make a career for myself elsewhere.”
In March 2000, Richie signed for Steve McMahon’s Blackpool in the old Third Division, now known as League 2. He was in the sides which won the play-off final at the Millennium Stadium, now the Principality Stadium, in 2001 and the Associate Members' Cup, now the Leasing.com Trophy, in 2002 and 2004. He was also selected for the PFA Second Division, now League 1, Team of the Year.
In July 2005, Richie moved to League 1 side Oldham Athletic for two years so he could be nearer to his Manchester home and his newborn son. Two years later, in July 2007, he signed for Doncaster Rovers.
He said: “Doncaster came in with an offer which was more than I’d ever earned before. I had rejected a couple of clubs which had offered more money but with Doncaster being just over the other side of the Pennines, I could commute there every day. Their manager, Sean O’Driscoll, was great for me. He got the team playing great football and got the best out of me.”
Wellens' spell at Blackpool was a successful one.
At the end of his first season there, Doncaster were promoted to the Championship. They took the place of Leicester City, who dropped to League 1 for the first and only time in their history.
Richie believes that Leicester should never have been a League 1 club, but his performances in the Championship for Rovers that season paved the way for his big money move to City, who were promoted back to the Championship after just one season.
He added: “I’d had a Championship season at Doncaster which went well. There weren’t many players I played against that could get the better of me so I felt comfortable in that league. Now that they were back in the Championship, Leicester wanted to strengthen and were after me. O’Driscoll didn’t want to lose me which I could understand but Leicester is a big club and I wanted to go.”
Richie’s first appearance for Leicester was against Paulo Sousa’s Swansea City in August 2009. Chris Weale, Paul Gallagher, and scoring substitutes Martyn Waghorn and Dany N’Guessan made their Foxes debuts on the same day. It was a good first season back in the Championship, culminating in a place in the play-offs.
Wellens continued: “[Manager] Nigel [Pearson] trusted me. We played a pretty basic and quite narrow 4-4-2. I was asked to sit back a little bit more with Andy King bombing on. It wasn’t the ideal way I wanted to play but I think the manager saw me more as the glue in the team, putting things together, trying to make us tick. We were difficult to beat that year.
“We finished fifth. We finished strongly, winning our last five games. We were beaten by Cardiff City in the play-off semi-finals. It was the home leg which cost us. Peter Whittingham scored with a free-kick. To win in Cardiff (levelling the aggregate score) and then to lose on penalties was very disappointing. Coming up from League 1 to get to the play-offs was a decent achievement, but we were very disappointed that we didn’t get into the Premier League.
“When you lose a play-off, you go away and have time to reflect. Then you think: ‘Right, if we can get Matty Fryatt properly fit again (he had fractured his jaw against Doncaster) and if we can strengthen with one or two new players, we can go again’.”
Coming up from League 1 to get to the play-offs was a decent achievement, but we were very disappointed that we didn’t get into the Premier League.Richie Wellens
However, that close season, Pearson was replaced as manager by Sousa: “In terms of his coaching, Sousa was outstanding. He was brilliant. Every time he spoke I was always taking in information and learning a lot from him. I think he needed more time to connect with the players. He was trying to change the way that we played but the players we had weren’t really comfortable playing out from the back. Chris Weale was a good goalkeeper in terms of shot stopping but using his feet wasn’t really one of his strengths. A couple of our defenders also weren’t strong on using their feet.”
In October 2010, Sousa was dismissed after only nine league games at a time when Leicester were at the foot of the table following two heavy away defeats in four days against Portsmouth and Norwich City.
Wellens remembered: “At the time, there were rumours about different managers coming here. Rafael Benítez was linked to the Club. There were loads of names being bandied about. When Sven-Göran Eriksson's name was mentioned we didn’t think this was believable and then one day he walked through the door!”
Richie only missed one game during Eriksson’s 12-month spell as manager. He was voted as the Club’s Player of the Season for 2010/11. That year, the Club was sold to a consortium headed by King Power, which subsequently went on to become sole owners. This led to the subsequent dramatic transformation of Leicester City's fortunes.
Thinking back, Richie said: “I really enjoyed playing under Sven. When he came in we were struggling badly at the bottom of the league. Then we went on a great run to put us in play-off contention, but we just failed. The poor start to the season had cost us too much.”
During the summer, 10 new players were signed (including Kasper Schmeichel, Paul Konchesky, David Nugent, Sean St. Ledger and Matt Mills) and a prestigious pre-season friendly against José Mourinho’s Real Madrid was staged at the newly-named King Power Stadium.
Wellens was a popular member of the Foxes squad.
Richie recalled: “That summer, we signed a lot of players. They took time to bed in. The pre-season friendly in front of a full house was a great experience. They were world-class players. Our families and kids all came on the pitch. It was great. The Club has moved to the level now where it could actually get Real Madrid in the Champions League!
“There was a lot of pressure on everyone in the Club to get promoted that season. We had a good start away at Coventry but then we had a couple of home defeats which cost us badly. In terms of man-management, Sven was fantastic. Everyone in the squad liked him, even the players who weren’t playing which is very rare in football. I just think he lacked a little bit of knowledge of the Championship. We tried to play the same way in every game. In the Championship you need to mix it up a little bit.”
Eriksson left the Club after a home defeat by Millwall in October 2011 and, a month later, Pearson returned: “It took Nigel a bit of time to get his own players in. It was back to basics. The Club had great staff. There was Mike Stowell, Steve Walsh, Craig Shakespeare, Dave Rennie, and all the sports science staff. They were very close. They trusted each other.”
Once again, Richie was a virtual ever-present that season.
Then disaster struck in a game against West Ham United: “In the second-to-last game that season, I did my cruciate at home to West Ham, who were going for promotion. I was trying to hold Kevin Nolan off and my knee just buckled underneath me. I knew straight away that I had done something bad and the scans revealed I had done my cruciate.
“Six weeks into the next season (2012/13) I began to train again, and although the operation had gone well and although my knee was stable and the cruciate was fine, I just knew that there was no power in the muscles around my knee, in my calf and my quad. For the first couple of days in training I felt great. I had all the adrenalin flowing. I was buzzing.
When I look back, I just wish I had joined a club like Leicester at a younger age because the sports science there really opened my eyes. Dave Rennie is a great physio. Leicester taught me to do the right things, to look after myself and to be a good professional.Richie Wellens
“But then after the third and fourth day, the realisation came that this was going to be a long road back. After a short loan spell at Ipswich, my first game was a drawn game in the cup at Huddersfield (on 26 January, 2013). I was always a physical player, liking physical contact. In that game though, I was really wary of anyone coming close to me because I just didn’t feel comfortable because of the knee.
“For the replay, I contemplated telling the manager that I didn’t think I was ready. I ended up playing, but I was very wary of physical contact. I didn’t enjoy the game.
“Soon after the Huddersfield games, we were training in the dome (at the training ground) with its astroturf. I felt something in my knee pop again. I had done my meniscus. I was out for about another three months. I felt as though I was starting all over again. The first team were doing really well but were having a bit of a sticky run. So, in March, I played in two games. The last one was away at Derby. It was on TV. I actually thought I played alright. I was subbed at half-time and that was my last appearance for Leicester City.
“When I look back, I just wish I had joined a club like Leicester at a younger age because the sports science there really opened my eyes. Dave Rennie is a great physio. Leicester taught me to do the right things, to look after myself and to be a good professional.”
Richie left Leicester in July 2013 and subsequently played for Doncaster again, with a brief loan spell at Oldham Athletic, before ending his league career at Shrewsbury Town in 2016.
After managing at Oldham, Wellens is currently manager of Swindon Town, who are in second place in League 2.
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