Richie Wellens quick to set agenda at Doncaster Rovers but don’t mistake this for nostalgia

Richie Wellens was not too keen to wallow in the past on his last lap of media interviews before heading off to watch Sheffield United’s Under-23s but he did not need to.

Having made nearly 200 appearances in two spells in the Doncaster Rovers midfield, Wellens did not have to speak about the club’s history, he just embodies it.

Wellens did not just play for Doncaster a lot – either side of a spell with Leicester City – he was a key part of the best team to grace the Keepmoat.

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“That counts for nothing now,” he insists. It is the right attitude for him but in the short-term at least probably untrue and at a club which lured him with promises of patience, an extended honeymoon could come in handy as he rebuilds.

The new Doncaster Rovers manager Richie Wellens at the Keepmoat Stadium. Picture: Gary Longbottom

Chief executive Gavin Baldwin did not just talk about wanting to “refind” the club, he appointed a manager who knows the route like the back of his hand.

Talking about wanting to be here for the next five years was as much about the 41-year-old’s personal development after a managerial career which has already taken in a League Two title and two north west clubs who give impatience a bad name but for the club Grant McCann and Darren Moore left in recent years, it was reassuring.

The principles Wellens championed were just what he learnt in Manchester United’s academy, but chime with how Doncaster want to play.

Talking about the age profile of the Rovers team he played in pointed to the problem of last season’s squad, overstaffed with loanees with bodies and brains not attuned to the League One treadmill. They starred before Christmas and flagged after it.

Graham Younger, the new Head of Talent at Doncaster Rovers. Picture: Gary Longbottom

There will be loan signings next season but only as “the cherry on the cake”.

Wellens’s emphasis of the word “Leeds” as he listed shirts he does not want to see in Doncaster town centre was probably as much the Mancunian in him as anything, but another crowd pleaser.

This was not a man trying to say the right things, just the right man.

His former captain and club legend James Coppinger has been kept on too in a role partly about mentoring young players, partly as a sounding board for the manager and directors, partly as a link to the supporters who idolise him.

Richie Wellens in his Doncaster Rovers playing days. Picture: Gerard Binks

But these are not nostalgia appointments. On more than one occasion Wellens pops his head through the door to bounce possible signings off Noel Hunt, his new assistant, or Coppinger.

“Working with Richie as a player, following him as a manager, listening to the way he interviews and the way he comes across I know how passionate he is about football,” says Coppinger. “When you have somebody associated with your football club like that, you tend to get the best out of people.”

Knowing what you are is important as a club. Perhaps one of the reason League One is becoming clogged up with fallen giants is because some have not come to terms with their diminished status whilst alleged minnows play to their strengths.

By appointing Wellens, keeping Coppinger, even retaining Andy Butler as women’s manager after a failed spell as Moore’s caretaker replacement, Doncaster have kept an all-important sense of identity.

“When we started working together he’d always reference back to his time at Donny, to Sean O’Driscoll and how they played, the way they played, the ideas they had and how it was run,” reveals Hunt, also Wellens’s assistant at Swindon Town from 2018 to 2020. “That was his vision for a football club.

“He’s not shy of pointing at the pictures and stuff. I think it will only give Rich the drive and determination to be a success.”

Wellens gives the impression he will spend little time thinking about Rovers’ past – he has no interest in discussing what went wrong last season – it will just whirr away in the background.

If loving or even just understanding a club was all it took, finding good managers would not be anywhere near as difficult as it is. But when someone as driven as Wellens has that on his side too, it makes the task that little bit easier.

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