More than just PR: The substance behind Richie Wellens' appointment as Doncaster Rovers boss

If Doncaster Rovers were looking to make a crowd-pleasing appointment they could arguably have done no better than handing the managerial reins to Richie Wellens.

Monday, 17th May 2021, 12:05 pm

A highly respected and well-liked former player, Wellens walked back into the Keepmoat on Monday morning more than five years after he departed for a second time.

The choice of the 41-year-old as manager will no doubt lead to greater acclaim from supporters than any other realistic candidate would have received, simply because of who he is.

But there is much more to this appointment than a PR exercise.

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Richie Wellens is announced as the new manager of Doncaster Rovers. Picture: Andrew Roe/AHPIX

These words may be fairly familiar to regular readers of the Free Press. Full disclosure - I wrote the same about Darren Moore’s appointment two years ago.

But the level of thought, debate and consideration that has gone into giving Wellens the job means the above statement holds much greater weight than it did the last time it was written.

There are undoubted parallels with the appointment of Moore - but not many.

When Grant McCann departed for Hull City, fingers were firmly crossed among the Rovers’ hierarchy that an application from Moore would drop through the letterbox.

Richie Wellens

And though he went through the same rigorous recruitment process that all recent Rovers managers have, Moore’s appointment was as close to a foregone conclusion as the situation would have allowed.

That he ticked all the boxes all the way through the intense vetting operation was an added bonus that only bolstered a strong claim to the role through his standing in the game, where he had operated and where he could potentially go again.

Though his name was on many people’s lips when Moore himself departed, Wellens did not enjoy the same smooth ride to the Rovers hotseat.

He showed interest very early after Moore jumped ship to Sheffield Wednesday, throwing his hat into the ring well before Rovers officially opened up recruitment. And he received a warm response.

Richie Wellens in action for Rovers during his last spell as a player

But he faced incredibly strong competition throughout. As they entered the second interview stage, each of the final three candidates could easily have been handed the role, such was their performance in their process.

The fact he did indeed emerge from that final stage as the top candidate should provide plenty of confidence that he was in fact the strongest in the fight across the board.

Wellens’ relationship with the Rovers hierarchy has not always been a smooth one.

His final few months at the club in his last stint as a player were rocky at times behind the scenes, while he was never hesitant in making his feelings known in strong terms when handed the opportunity to speak publicly.

Richie Wellens

The frostiness of relations five years ago, along with the stubbornness of certain individuals within the corridors of power at the club, meant it was particularly surprising to hear that Wellens was a strong contender at the start of the recruitment process.

And that he remained within a small group of leading candidates as applicants were gradually whittled down.

The pros of Wellens as manager were quietening the concerns.

Rovers chief executive Gavin Baldwin made in excess of 400 phone calls as he carried out research into those serious applicants.

Many, with much weightier CVs than Wellens, were discounted before the interview stage because of feedback given, with opinions sought from those right up to the very top of the game in this country.

Feedback on Wellens was strong. He has quickly built a good reputation as a manager that plays good, winning football, while comments on him as an opinionated figure were nothing new.

As interviews began, he remained in a crowded field. That he emerged from that says plenty about the impression he made, as well as exactly what Rovers were looking for.

One of the early frontrunners for the role - arguably THE favoured applicant at one point - fell at the first interview stage after expressing his determination to stick steadfastly to his footballing philosophy regardless of the results it produced.

The Rovers board admired the stance but had no time for it themselves at this stage.

Rovers will soon begin their eighth attempt at getting back into the Championship - and the club’s hierarchy do not want that hunt to go on for much longer.

This summer is the start of a new era but there is an acknowledgement that the start needs to be a strong one, particularly after the hugely disappointing decline on the pitch over the last three months.

Wellens will need time to implement his style and approach onto a squad that will look very different to the one that ended the most recent season. He will make no bones about that himself when he speaks this week.

But alongside a strong desire to entertain and play football in the right way, there is a fierce determination to win and be successful.

After three managerial jobs in four years, Wellens is keen to build a legacy and knows full well that there are few clubs that provide as solid foundations as Rovers do.

He sees a real opportunity to do what Sean O’Driscoll did with Rovers more than a decade ago. And to do it in a similar style as a man from which he has taken plenty of inspiration.

Wellens’ drive and vision were the icing on top of the cake that already contained rich ingredients. And they further masked any hint of unwanted spice he may bring in conversations held in the boardroom or in front of cameras.

There is a real confidence and assurance that Rovers have got the right man - not for the PR hit of right now, but for the long term too.

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In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Liam Hoden, editor.