By Matt Badcock
Watching Wolves’ Championship-winning manager Nuno Espirito Santo and spending a week with Brendan Rodgers have helped prepare Sam Ricketts for his first crack at management with Wrexham.
The 36-year-old has had a busy first fortnight in charge of the Welsh National League club as he looks to start piecing together a team capable of promotion to the Football League.
It’s a vocation he’s been evolving to for a number of years having started the studying process while he was still playing.
A knee injury forced the former Swansea, Hull City, Bolton and Wolves defender into retirement partway through the 2016-17 season, and since then it’s been full throttle working towards the second instalment of his football career.
“I went up to see Brendan Rodgers, probably just over a year ago, to talk about his career,” Ricketts says. “I spent a week there in the build-up to the Rangers game. He was really good, really open and honest with me, it was brilliant. I asked his advice and he said I should go into an Academy system for a year to learn and make your mistakes and then go into first team football.
“So, really, that’s what I’ve done. I was at Wolves and this opportunity came along and I wanted to grab it with both hands.
“You take all the bits you like from previous coaches and managers and piece it all together. I try to speak to, watch and learn off as many people as I can. It’s up to me to try and implement it all.
“Even for my last couple of years as a player. My managers have allowed me to coach and be part of the backroom team – not officially as in my job title, but as a player and a club captain they were happy for me to be close and see how they work and take training. So I’ve been evolving into it for four or five years.”
Having a window into Santo’s successful first year in England that has seen Wolves promoted back into the Premier League has also been invaluable.
“Nuno didn’t know the Championship but he came in to do it his way,” Ricketts says. “It was really interesting to see how he set his team up, which was a bit different to what we’ve seen in this country generally and what his principles were to make the system work. You just take snippets out of everyone.
“Nuno would let me watch his training sessions, he was very open and his staff were very good talking different theories and he’d say: ‘Have your own ideas.’”
Ricketts has just that and is busy shaping his Wrexham squad ahead of the new campaign. The Red Dragons are the longest-serving club in Non-League’s top tier and about to embark on their 11th season in the division.
Chris Dunn, Marcus Kelly, Scott Boden, Jonathan Franks, Jack Mackreth, Olly Marx and David Raven have all been released, while midfielder Sam Wedgbury has moved on to be closer to his family home.
Striker Chris Holroyd, long-serving midfielder Mark Carrington, Paul Rutherford and Christian Dibble have signed up.
Ricketts has watched a number of games from last season that saw the Red Dragons drop out of the play-off race following manager Dean Keates’ March departure to League One side Walsall.
“I understand where this team is,” Ricketts says. “I’m not going to dwell on last season with them – some bits were really good, some bits could be better. Now it’s about me coming and putting my stamp on the team, add some more layers and make us a little bit better than what we were last year.
“Defensively they were really sound and solid. Maybe part of that was because they didn’t create enough goals, ultimately. Football is a very simple game and we didn’t score enough goals, which is why the club finished tenth rather than further up the table.”
Ricketts knows what this level is all about. He played for Telford United in the Conference before embarking on a career that took him through all the divisions to the Premier League.
He’s won promotion from every professional division in English football and played for Wales 52 times.
He’s been heartened by the reaction from Wrexham fans to his appointment and knows just what the rewards are for the manager who gets it right at the Racecourse.
“It’s similar to when I was at Hull and we got promoted to the Premier League,” Ricketts says. “It was a massive thing, just like Wrexham would be the same feeling getting them back into the Football League. It would be a big achievement and boost for the local area.
“I played at Wrexham for Wales a number of times; I played there for Swansea against Wrexham in the Welsh Premier Cup, a pre-season friendly with Wolves, so I know it well. I’m really enjoying being here.”
*This article originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper which is available every Sunday and Monday
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