City move to Owls rescued my career – Whelan
The tenacious midfielder moved across the Irish Sea as a 15-year-old to sign youth forms for Manchester City after a series of trials.
Twelve years on, Whelan is preparing to face City in today’s FA Cup final at Wembley in arguably the biggest game in Stoke’s history.
The 27-year-old played in City’s youth team with the likes of Shaun Wright-Phillips and Stephen Ireland, who both forged senior careers with the club.
Whelan, though, made only one first-team appearance, in a UEFA Cup qualifier against Welsh side Total Network Solutions, before joining Sheffield Wednesday on a free transfer in 2004.
The midfielder said: “Kevin Keegan was manager at the time. I’d been out on loan and there was interest from a couple of clubs about possibly taking me.
“To be fair, Kevin Keegan was honest. He came to me and said, ‘Listen, I don’t think you’re going to play in the first team, you should sit down and speak to people’.
“Luckily for me, Sheffield Wednesday was one of the clubs. It was probably the best thing to happen to me.”
At Wednesday, Whelan was not just a first-team regular but a standout performer, establishing himself as a central cog with an eye for goal.
In January 2008, Stoke forked out £500,000 for the midfielder and six months later he found himself in the Premier League.
Whelan has had to bide his time, frequently starting games on the bench, but he has taken his chance after winning back his place in February.
The Dubliner insists there are no hard feelings with City, saying: “Not at all. I’d like to thank everyone who was there because they made me the player I am now.
“I possibly could have stayed and played in the reserves for another year but who’s to say those chances would have come round again.
“I don’t want to look back and say I’d change anything. I’m glad where I am now and I thank everyone who’s helped me along the way.”
The club that Whelan left in 2004 has been transformed in the intervening seven years, with Roberto Mancini now presiding over one of the most expensive squads ever assembled.
City have already qualified for the Champions League for the first time and Whelan expects that to be just the start – although he feels their underdog status is something Stoke can use to their advantage today.
“Especially over the last few years it’s been a massive change at City and I’m sure in a couple of years they’ll definitely be one of the title contenders,” he said.
“It’s something we enjoy, going into games where we’re the underdogs.
“You’re going up against world-class players and trying to do the best you can against them, and that maybe gives us a little bit of an incentive,” added the Irishman.
The Potters certainly have good memories of Wembley after thrashing Bolton 5-0 in the semi-finals to reach their first FA Cup showpiece.