Richie Wellens feature: Doncaster Rovers boss on budget, squad strength, pre-season and League One

It has always been clear that if you ask Richie Wellens a question you will get an honest answer.

Saturday, 7th August 2021, 9:35 am
Richie Wellens talks with James Coppinger. Picture by Steve Flynn/AHPIX.com

As an influential midfielder, he pulled no punches with his assessment of a situation, with his at times blunt comments causing a few headaches for others.

And he is no different as a manager. His first couple of months in charge of Doncaster Rovers have brought refreshing openness and honesty about first team matters.

So when asked a question about whether he will relish Rovers being underdogs in an ultra-competitive League One this season, he was only ever going to be fully frank.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Richie Wellens. Picture by Steve Flynn/AHPIX.com

“I like having all the money and being favourite every week,” he told the Free Press with a grin.

“But more than anything it’s about the squad.

“Looking at the squad I’m more than happy with what we’ve got but I’d just like three or four more players to complement that.

“The way the season is going to go, the squad is going to be really important.

Jordy Hiwula's injury was a big blow to Wellens' plans

“So I’d like a big squad with loads of money and if you get an injury you can go out and get what you want.

“But I’m happy where we’re at.”

Though there has been plenty of references to the tightness of the Rovers budget in recent weeks, and particularly as he heads towards the start of the season this weekend, Wellens is not being critical of his lot.

The 41-year-old will openly admit that he walked into the Keepmoat with his eyes open in early May and appreciates the clarity of the situation - something he has not enjoyed in certain previous jobs.

There is little doubt that his squad does not contain the sort of depth he would ideally want and may still have vulnerabilities even if there is a spurt of late business that he is hoping for before kick-off against AFC Wimbledon on Saturday.

Injuries have played a key part in that, with Jordy Hiwula and Fejiri Okenabirhie both ruled out for several months while Jon Taylor has yet to return after surgery earlier in the summer.

But Wellens does not feel his squad is too far away from where he would have liked it to be at this stage.

“If you bring the players we’ve not had over the last few weeks, John Bostock, Ben Close, Fejiri Okenabirhie, Jordy Hiwula and Jon Taylor into the squad, it gives a whole new outlook to it,” he said.

“If you bring them in, the three loans and one extra permanent player, then I would be happy with that.”

Given the disruption of the summer, it was always unlikely that Rovers would be striding into the new campaign at full strength.

An early bout of Covid-19 saw multiple senior players self-isolating for ten days before other brushes with the virus downed more.

It saw the cancellation of the scheduled friendly with Spennymoor Town and ensured the trip to Bradford City was largely meaningless rather than the key warm-up game it should have been.

And Wellens admits his squad is behind schedule for the campaign’s start this weekend.

“We’re probably a couple of weeks behind if I’m being honest,” he said.

“Not having the Spennymoor friendly set us back a bit and even just nature of the games, having the Newcastle and Sheffield United friendlies, you can work on what you want but when you’re up against Premier League footballers, they can change your plans.

“From 45 minutes to 70 minutes against Harrogate last weekend, that’s what I want from my time.

“The angles we worked with, the possession we had but we cannot make the silly mistakes we did or we will get punished.”

Rovers are heading into arguably the most competitive League One season in decades.

The likes of Ipswich Town and Wigan Athletic have made eye-catching signings on reported big wages, arguably putting them ahead of those sides relegated from the Championship like Rotherham United and Wycombe Wanderers whose stability and tweaking will make them strong contenders.

That is before you get to the usual suspects of Charlton Athletic, Sunderland and Portsmouth whose own aspirations have hardly dipped.

A Rovers side in transition and without the most ideal of pre-seasons could sink or swim this season but their manager is not fazed at all by the challenge ahead.

“I think it’s probably going to be the toughest league that it’s been for a hell of a long time,” he said.

“There’s been a lot of numbers quoted with wages, and I always take things like that with a pinch of salt, but players you expect to get moves to the Championship have gone to Wigan and Ipswich.

“Sheffield Wednesday have signed Lewis Wing who spent the whole of last season in the Championship.

“You have Wycombe and Rotherham, and if you said to me now that we’re going to finish above them, I’d take that all day long. They’ve both got an established squad of players that have been through the League One promotion campaign and seen it and done it.

“They’ll be strong and there’s Portsmouth, Charlton, Bolton - some big clubs.

“But it should be exciting the fact that we’re probably going to be the underdogs in a lot of games next year.

“If we get the right spirit and we get what we want on the pitch going right, then we’ll cause a lot of teams a lot of problems.”

And from Richie Wellens, that is the honest truth.