Legend Ritchie backs Wellens

Date published: 05 February 2018

Athletic striking legend Andy Ritchie has backed current manager Richie Wellens to build on his overall impressive start in the Park hot seat and become a hero.

Former Blackpool, Leicester and Doncaster midfielder Wellens (37) took over from John Sheridan at the end of September and Athletic promptly went on a seven-match unbeaten run.

Results have been less consistent since, but Ritchie, himself a former Athletic boss, has not been overly surprised.

The 57-year-old said: “Richie’s had a few dodgy results lately, but that was always going to happen.

“I think it’ll settled back down now and overall he’s doing a good job.

“He is cutting his teeth and it’s always difficult.

“I know that when you change from a player to a coach, that transition can be difficult.

“You’ve got to change, and that’s the difficult thing.

“He’s just got to do what he thinks is right and stick to his principles.

“He knows the biggest thing is getting the players on board. He’s very enthusiastic, he’s a good lad, and I’m backing him to become a success.”

Ritchie began his managerial career while still playing back in 1998, while Wellens quit his on-field activity ahead of taking up his current post at Athletic.

Ritchie believes it wouldn’t have done Wellens much harm to have carried on for a while longer.

“I’ve told Richie that he could still be playing in the side,” added Ritchie, an ex-Athletic, Barnsley and Huddersfield manager who now works for MUTV and local radio stations.

“I felt that what was needed was someone in the midfield to take control, someone who can pass the ball and get in a tackle too.

“But football has changed massively since my playing days. You just can’t touch anyone thesedays.

“They’re bringing VAR in and things like that, it’s just totally changed.

“Management has changed too. I think the players have changed, and some of that’s good and some not so good.

“The athleticism is different, everything is monitored and there’s GPS on the back of their shirts – I’m glad they didn’t have that when I was playing.

“I’m just happy what I’m doing at the moment. I wouldn’t rush back into management, that’s for sure.”

Wellens, like many managers at third and fourth tier level, has worked the loan market extensively in trying to mould together an Athletic side that will comfortably escape the drop zone.

Ritchie hopes that turns out to be a positive move.

He added: “It’s a strong squad Richie’s got there now, but when you bring in new players it can be difficult to get them to gel.

“When players come in on loan you wonder what their mindset is.

“I took loan players in the past and I figured they were thinking that their parent club doesn’t want them.

“Sometimes that’s totally wrong. I see it as a chance for them to get out, show their parent club what they can do, and then maybe go back there and get in their side.

“Richie has to get it in these players’ minds that it is a positive.”

Tuesday's 1-0 win against MK Dons - a third game without defeat - lifted Athletic out of the Sky Bet League One drop zone.