RICHIE WELLENS knows he should be the happiest manager in England right now.
Following League Two’s decision to call the season early, the Swindon chief is guaranteed promotion on a points- projection system — with the Robins expected to go up as champions.
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And 20 years since the former midfielder quit Manchester United after never quite making it, his son, Charlie, 17, has just signed his first professional contract at Old Trafford.
His young lad, Alfie, 12, has also been given a two-year extension at United’s academy to, hopefully, follow his big brother.
On the face of it, Wellens is living the dream.
But the 40-year-old admitted: “I have this hollow feeling inside. Obviously, I’m bursting with pride for my two lads.
“And getting into League One will mean my first promotion as a manager and, points predictions or not, I know we deserve to go up.
“Yet these are strange, difficult times and I have very mixed emotions.
“On the one side there is Charlie — who is a midfielder like I was — making giant steps towards what I never achieved at United and maybe making himself a big star.
“I made only one appearance for the first team as a sub in a League Cup game against Aston Villa back in 1999 — and that was a 3-0 defeat.
“So I left for Blackpool the following year because I couldn’t break through — and in those days who could blame me.
“I was up against the likes of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Phil Neville.
“The problem was that while I know I had the ability, I also realise now I didn’t have the right mentality.
“I should have been tapping into what the likes of the other young players around me like Scholesy and Ryan were doing.
“But I didn’t have the same focus as them, not quite the same work ethic and I allowed myself to get frustrated when I should have been trying my best to follow their example.
“Now I am determined to make sure I can help Charlie learn from my mistakes and try to help guide him towards becoming the success I never was at United.
“And the same goes with Alfie.
“Both of them have bright futures and it would be wonderful if, one day, they find themselves regulars, playing for the club we all support in the Premier League.
“So things are very exciting for them looking ahead. But for all the pride me and their mum and the rest of the family feel, on the other side the immediate future at Swindon is troubling me.
“The club should be buzzing right now. Instead there are meetings planned at which we might have to let go some staff.
“Had the season been played out and there was no coronavirus, we would have taken about £1million from our last five home games.
“Not only has that gone but we can’t sell season tickets for next season and that might end up costing us another £1m.
“I should be rewarding players with pay rises and new contracts, looking to build on what we achieved before the lockdown with new signings.
“Instead everything is in limbo and even planning for pre–season is on hold until we get absolute guidelines from the football authorities and the Government.
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“We can hardly start throwing money at establishing ourselves in League One if we will be playing in empty stadiums next season.”
Wellens took over at the County Ground in November 2018, five months after being sacked from his first managerial job at Oldham.
His first game in charge was a 4–0 home hammering by Carlisle that left the Robins 18th in the table.
Yet this season, until a 2–0 defeat by Forest Green Rovers before football shut down in March, they spent almost four straight months at the top of League Two.
I worry for players who might end up on the scrap heap, or on reduced wages.
He added: “I have plenty of reasons to be cheerful, plenty to feel proud and thankful about compared to so many right now.
“I’ve always wondered what might have been for me had I shown the right attitude at United but now the family has two chances to maybe make that right.
“But that doesn’t stop me feeling badly for those who might lose their jobs, although we are working hard to find ways to stop that happening.
“I worry for players who might end up on the scrap heap, or on reduced wages.
“We should all have been looking forward to partying on a beach somewhere.
“We deserve to be going up and I think we would have as champions given the chance.
“But I don’t feel champion — just concern for workers and players and their families.
“When I became a manager the dream was to be successful and now I have my first promotion — but I never imagined it would feel like this.”
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