After captaining Leicester City’s Development Squad in Premier League 2 Division 1 during the first half of 2020/21, scoring seven times in 17 games, the playmaker earned a loan move to Cheltenham on 1 February, 2021 and assisted the Robins in gaining promotion out of Sky Bet League 2 as champions.
Netting four goals across his 17 league appearances, Wright made a key contribution to their title success and, speaking to LCFC.com this week, revealed why he felt it was a good opportunity to gain senior experience in the Football League.
“I was ready, physically, mentally,” the 22-year-old explained. “Luckily enough I was able to go to Cheltenham. I thought the time was right and I just wanted to go and have a crack at it really.
“I’ve always said I’m a goalscoring midfielder so to be getting the numbers at the time (in PL2), I was coming out of games thinking that I needed to make the next step.
Lifting the League 2 trophy with Cheltenham manager Michael Duff.
“The experience of it was unbelievable. In a promotion-winning team in League 2, we were at the top at that level, so we were going into games full of confidence. As it got closer and closer, you could start to feel the pressure.
“I was embracing it. I was loving being the top dog in the league in terms of the team. I liked that confidence going into games. At the time we were first in the league, so everyone wanted to come and upset us. Teams were coming with all sorts of different game plans.
“You can start putting the pressure on yourselves, which we probably were doing, but we kept our cool. We were promoted with four or five games to go and then we ended up winning the league on the last day of the season. It was really tight between three or four teams.”
Involved in scenarios which Development Squad football could not provide, Wright thrived at Whaddon Road, getting his first taste of the demands that come with competing in high-stakes games, both physically and mentally.
The full season made a big difference. For me, I got around 35 games under my belt and it’s relentless on you. You feel it.Callum Wright LCFC.com
He continued: “It was good because it’s an experience that you need to get. In Under-23s football, you don’t get those types of experiences. For me to experience that so quickly in men’s football and have a real prize on it, in terms of league titles being on the line and going up to the next division, I couldn’t have asked for any more really.
“I scored on my debut and pretty much impacted straight away and ended up staying in the team until the end of the season. Personally, I felt like I made an impact and I think Cheltenham were wanting to get me back the next season in the league above.
“I was desperate to go back to Cheltenham and it was always in my mind that that was where I wanted to go. It was the next step up, it was sensible to go and try the league above after playing a big part in winning League 2.”
Indeed, Wright re-joined Michael Duff’s side for their League 1 campaign, making 34 appearances in the third tier, despite an injury which ruled him out for an extended period. Overcoming that setback was another challenge which the ex-England youth international took in his stride.
Getting to grips with League 1 football during a match-up with Cambridge United in December.
“I was out for about three months with my knee in the season,” Wright said. “And it took it out of me a little bit because I got off to a flyer and that put me on a bit of a standstill. When you’re coming back from those injuries, you don’t always get an opportunity straight away.
“But I couldn’t thank Cheltenham more for just putting me back in and letting me get fit on the job. It can take a while and they were patient with me for a few games and then I picked up where I left off from there, if not better.”
Wright's numbers back that statement up. Nine goals and five assists helped consolidate a respectable 15th-place finish for the newly-promoted side, as he ably coped with the step up to a new division, gaining another season of competitive football.
The former Blackburn Rovers youngster added: “The full season made a big difference. For me, I got around 35 games under my belt and it’s relentless on you. You feel it. You’re tired in the season and obviously you get looked after by the sports science team and the coaches, but I couldn’t compare anything to last season in terms of my body and natural development.
It’s just been challenge upon challenge and I think I’ve dealt with them really well so I’m excited to see what comes this pre-season.Callum Wright LCFC.com
“The last two seasons have been unbelievable. The manager trusted me, Michael Duff, and I worked really well with him. He managed me really well, I had a really good relationship with him and all the lads. I just fitted in there, they all took to me pretty much straight away. I loved my time there. The environment was really good.
“The opposition players were a lot more physical in terms of running quicker, they were more athletic, stronger. But personally, I don’t feel it was much of a difference. I probably took more to League 1 than to League 2. The ball was on the floor a lot more and having it in the air is not what you’re used to coming from a Premier League club. I found the step up to League 1 easier than going into League 2.”
Pre-season will begin later this month and Wright is eager to get back to it after a productive couple of seasons.
“I can’t wait to take on the next challenge,” he commented. “I’m just embracing the challenges right now. For the last two seasons it’s just been challenge upon challenge and I think I’ve dealt with them really well so I’m excited to see what comes this pre-season and season.”
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