Richie Wellens legs have gone. There, I’ve said it. We were all thinking it. He is now well into his 30’s and he is no longer the mobile midfielder who dominated games alongside Brian Stock and Paul Green in those halcyon days gone by and, worse still, he no longer effects game as he once did.
Richie Wellens is the best central midfielder at the club. There, I’ve have said it and we were all thinking it too, though its no longer socially acceptable to say it. His quality on the ball, passing and ball retention is better than any of his peers at Doncaster Rovers. His legs have gone but he could still win us games if we were tactically more able to accommodate him.
Statistical analysis shows us that on average possession of the ball changes around 400 times a game an around 30% of regained possession in the opponents third of the pitch lead to a shot on goal. It is simple to acquire statistics such as this, however the true meaning of statistical analysis in football is to find the truth behind the numbers and the relevance to one’s own cause.
In this example then the numbers can be assimilated to indicate that when Doncaster Rovers lose possession of the football, James Coppinger, Harry Forrester and Richie Wellens should press their opponents as high up the pitch as possible. They are the talented ones, they are the ones who you want in possession of the ball in the opposition half so it stands to reason that this is where we should look to regain the football.
It is simple to point to the way Barca have become the gold standard in pressing high up and turning over possession, this ethos has become the norm among most of the modern day elite. Richie Wellens should be employed to do his work in advanced positions, not go box to box and not sit in front of the back four. He cannot create chances, thread neat passes through to the front men and be effective from a starting position in his own third, he no longer has the mobility. The issue is that because we do not have an effective holding midfielder alongside Wellens, nor an effective tactical approach. As a result he is persistently forced back in order to try to get a grip on a game. This means we have no mobility going forward, and the back four are suppressed into areas deeper than even our leaden footed centre halves would prefer. I have lost count of the number of times I have pleaded with the two banks of 4 to “get out” or to move 15 yards forward, and it all stems from the central midfield area, or what should be the engine room. There is no point in Wellens acquiring possession on the edge of his own area, he can’t have an offensive impact from there.
Richie Wellens is what his is now – in the last third he is an effective mover of the ball and can hurt teams. We have been asking him to be the central mdfielder of 8 years ago at which point he becomes another ‘also ran’ fading into the inadequacy around him. The team should play higher up the pitch, press higher up and we should employ a more effective and more mobile holding midfielder to get through more of Wellens running (Keegan is ok to a point and has been missed, but he is limited and against better more mobile teams he is found wanting).
Wellens has been tactically let down by Paul Dickov, as have the rest of the team who are regularly becoming less than the sum of their individual parts. It’s easy to see why Wellens so regularly cuts such a frustrated figure in an increasingly rudderless Rovers midfield and why the opportunity for something else would be such a draw for a player who can still offer more than he is currently allowed.
Wellens has attracted a great deal of criticism from some quarters for considering voting with his feet. I for one could not blame him for refusing to accept a seemingly increasing culture within the club of mediocrity.