WHEN Chris Waddle takes you to one side and dispenses some words of wisdom you should sit up and take notice.
One of the greatest and most entertaining players of his generation, with 62 caps for England and having once been shortlisted for European Footballer of the Year during his time at Marseille, there is little he hasn’t seen or done.
But when Waddle would try to impart some of his knowledge on to the young players of Sheffield Wednesday during the latter days of his career, he admits it wasn’t always gratefully received.
Not so with Ritchie Humphreys.
And that is why Waddle quickly became something of a mentor for “the big-set lad with a nice touch, but not a great deal of pace”.
“I liked him a lot,” he recalls of their time together at Hillsborough, Humphreys then a teenager and Waddle in his mid-30s.
“A fair amount of rubbish gets thrown at you when you’re a kid coming through, but he just took it all in his stride and learned from it.
“I looked at him and thought ‘you’re all right – your attitude will carry you a helluva long way’ – he was a great kid to work with.
“He just took it all in – the praise and the criticism – and would work even harder the next day.”
Waddle’s guidance and nurturing of Wednesday’s emerging talent would ironically lead to his exit from the club, manager David Pleat choosing to dispense with the old guard in favour of youngsters such as Humphreys.
Five games into the 1996/97 season and Pleat’s policy was looking like a masterstroke, Humphreys had scored four, including a goal-of-the-month chip against Leicester City, Wednesday had won five and were top of the Premier League – Waddle, meanwhile, was clearing his locker.
“I was released after five games,” he remembers.
“The manager didn’t like the older players who had an opinion, the likes of myself and John Sheridan.
“All of a sudden Ritchie was centre stage. He came out of the blocks that season and everyone was saying ‘who is this kid?’.
“It all happened very quickly for him. He was in the England Under-21s and was scoring great goals in the Premier League.
“But it didn’t faze him as much as it would have done others. He just took everything in his stride.”
Read the full feature in Monday’s “Ritchie’s Super 10” pullout ...