The story of Richie Wellens’ sacking by Doncaster Rovers

Sacking a manager after 199 days in charge is not in the nature of the modern Doncaster Rovers.

Thursday, 2nd December 2021, 6:26 pm
Updated Thursday, 2nd December 2021, 6:53 pm
Richie Wellens

And dismissing Richie Wellens after that painfully short tenure was undoubtedly not a decision that was taken lightly by Terry Bramall and David Blunt, with the advice of chief executive Gavin Baldwin.

Ultimately, the decision was driven by a multitude of factors and doubts that gathered and grew over several months rather than it being a knee-jerk reaction or a loss of nerve.

There has been an element of concern from the club’s hierarchy since after the first couple of months of the season.

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Initially, in regards to the poor form this season, Wellens was given the benefit of the doubt due to the horrendous injury situation and the prospect of key players returning imminently.

But the struggle to string together results, particularly once Rovers entered a period of more winnable fixtures, saw concerns grow.

As Wellens himself put it his ‘hands were tied and legs chopped off at the knees’ when it came to the personnel he was able to select from. Privately, he felt as though he was fighting a losing battle without additions that would not be forthcoming during the summer window and would have to wait until January.

While sympathetic towards the manager due the absences, it was felt the drab football on display was not close to matching what Wellens had produced elsewhere.

And with doubts comes an inevitable reexamination of why the appointment was made in the first place - questions over whether they had got the manager they thought they were getting.

The expected spiky character failed to materialise during his tenure. Challenges they thought they would encounter - and would have welcomed - did not come and he was found to be surprisingly agreeable.

But his conduct on the sidelines during matches brought concerns, and he was asked to compose himself in future fiery situations that had earned him yellow and red cards. This was even before what occurred during the clash with Bolton Wanderers last month.

There were questions over his willingness to work across departments, liaising effectively with the likes of recruitment, sports science and medical teams.

There was also a feeling that certain signings were not living up the billing Wellens had given them in his sales pitch - which consequently raised doubts over his suitability to lead recruitment in a January window where success would be vital.

Plans have been afoot in recent weeks for greater sway to be handed to the club’s recruitment team when it comes to the final decisions on signings, with the manager a part of a collective rather than leading the way.

Concern truly grew with the feeble performance at Charlton Athletic - a 4-0 drubbing to add to a growing collection of results where Rovers were blitzed out of sight.

The less-than-convincing follow-up at bottom side Crewe Alexandra four days later did nothing to calm fears that perhaps Wellens was not the right man.

It was here that serious consideration over his future began, as well as tentative examination of potential avenues Rovers could explore should they decide to dispense with their manager.

The FA Cup tie with Scunthorpe United - the EFL’s bottom side - took on particular significance. A win was vital for his future, and a good performance was needed to bolster faith.

Again, Rovers, and therefore Wellens, failed to convince in a drab 1-0 triumph against poor opposition - though the severity of the injury crisis at the time was a major mitigating factor.

But again, he was given the benefit of the doubt and the chance to make his case with results on the pitch in the run up to January, with a definitive decision on his future likely to come by mid-December.

It is understood that the squad enjoyed working under Wellens and are genuinely upset that he is no longer manager.

His training sessions were said to be enjoyable and productive, with players confident the style he was looking to implement would eventually bear fruit.

But concerns have grown recently among more senior members of the group that, in not wanting to divert too far away from the style he was pursuing, he was harming Rovers’ immediate goal of moving out of relegation trouble. A feeling of being asked to do the same things again and again and expected to produce different results.

The concern was that Wellens was fixated on January recruitment being transformative, rather than looking to stop the rot in the here and now in order to give Rovers a platform for an improved second half of the campaign.

If that fixation was true, it was understandable given the injury picture never improved during his tenure and the experienced players he was desperate for were never in his grasp.

But the doubts would not diminish among certain elements of club management.

It was decided following the dour defeat to Burton Albion last week that Wellens would be given the two subsequent cup matches to convince he was the right man to coach the side and influence January recruitment.

But even had he done enough to remain in place, there was likely to be significant changes to the footballing structure of the club - which remains a possibility in the coming months.

The writing was already on the wall. In truth, there was little that he could do about it with the same small squad of largely inexperienced players to select from.

Wednesday night’s loss at Crewe Alexandra proved to be the tipping point with the meek manner of the defeat of particular significance.

There is clearly plenty of work to be done to get the current group of players on the right track as well as adding bodies in January that will help significantly improve them.

Given what he was able to do in the transfer market in the summer, and more pressingly the options at his disposal over the last few months, Wellens will no doubt feel he was always in an uphill battle that was unlikely to end well without a major change of circumstances.

But, when informed of his sacking, he was told that the hierarchy could not see improvement coming with him at the helm.

The Rovers board ultimately felt he was not the right man to operate within the difficult parameters.

And for the second time in less than seven months, they are looking for a new manager.

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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.