Leading the Wolves under-23 side to a possible Premier League 2 promotion campaign this season has been the task of former Old Gold defender Rob Edwards.
The 36-year-old, who also temporarily took charge of the first-team in 2016, returned to the club for a third spell – his first as a player for four years before coming back to Wolves to manage the under-18s before being promoted to the first team – during the summer of 2018.
As head coach of the development squad, Rob is entrusted with bringing through the promising talent Wolves have through the final stage of the Academy and into the Nuno Espirito Santo’s first-team.
On pressure of bringing promising players through at Wolves
Our job is to try and give the players the best opportunity, or facilitate them, and then it is up to themselves in the end. Our club has a first-team squad of 16/17 outfield players, which the manager has spoken about as well, and their injury record is incredible. What the club does on the medical side, all the sports science and all the medical staff are unbelievable. That’s what we can learn, right the way through the club, in terms of keeping everyone fit. But with the small squad size there is an opportunity for the young players of the under-23s to get a chance with the first-team. They go down and train with the first-team regularly, the first-team staff and the manager know the players really well, they know who they want, and if someone does drop out for any reason – we’ve seen it a lot in the cup games particular this year – the next player goes in from our under-23 group. We’ve had five debuts in the cup games this year, there’s been lads on the bench in the Premier League, but that’s credit to the manager and his staff, because they don’t have to do that; they could go with their squad all the time if they wanted to, but they think it’s important for the club to have the young players involved. This club’s always been able to produce players, and to do it with the team sitting where they are in the Premier League right now, we know it’s the ultimate challenge. The first-team are only going to go one way now, and we’ve got to be really good at what we do to catch them up.
On the expectations of Wolves’ young players
A lot of our group are 19/20-years-old and they’ve had a taste of it, whether they’ve been on loan or come from another club and brought a little bit of first-team experience with them or have been with our first-team, then they want more of it. That’s great, because you want them to be hungry, but they’re under-23 players at the moment and when they’re needed they’re up there with the first-team and it’s up to them to try and break in. It’s just knowing their place, but there’s a plan for each individual and they know it might be loans, but that pathway has got to be right and will be different for every player. We’re constantly trying to manage the players expectations. The one player goes with the under-23s as well because they want to be playing but they understand the first-team are doing so well and it’s going to be tough to break in there. However, players are impatient, and they want it now, but my job is to manage that.
On challenges of managing the under-23s
We’ll have an idea of a training group every single day, but what’s brilliant is the first-team squad are so linked; especially the players, a lot will go down and train with the first-team all the time – every day in some cases. We can pull on the under-18s to get that link all the way through the professional phase – under-18s into under-23s and through to the first-team. But that’s how we want it to be, the manager wants that tight-knit squad. He talks about us being together and being one pack, and if you have a squad that’s too big, you’ll have people who are left out on the side-lines and not happy, but this way, everyone feels included and that’s the same with our group. Some lads have gone out to Spain, Benny Ashley-Seal’s gone out to Portugal, but we’ve had quite a consistent group to work with surrounding the games for most of the season, which has stood us in good stead.
On differences between generations of young players
With Instagram and Facebook nowadays, the young players have an image to portray, which can be a good side to social media because it makes the players look after themselves. They all want to look good and portray that good image. The players know so much more now than they did even when I was a young player, the education they get in the sport, and the rewards are bigger and greater than when I was playing. The game is that much quicker, and they just have to be at the top of the game if they want any chance of progressing, especially at Wolves and where this club is going. What we see from the boys now is that they do look after themselves a lot more; obviously they’ll have a laugh and go out at the right times, but I don’t think they drink, really, a lot of them go out and not drink, they eat well, and there’s not really an excuse to not being in shape anymore with the nutritionists they have to help them.
On his own journey into professional football
I was around 19 when I got into a first-team squad at Aston Villa, but I wasn’t that impatient because I wasn’t sure it was going to happen at that club. But I kind of grew into my body and was able to run and was stronger – just over a summer. It was amazing how I went away, came back six weeks later and I was quicker, stronger, and it sort of clicked and all came together. By the Christmas I had got into the first-team and was playing. For me, it happened quite quickly, so I wasn’t impatient, I just wasn’t sure it was going to happen there because I had one more year left at Villa and was probably thinking I’d be going somewhere else, and then all of a sudden it happened. Everyone’s journey’s different and you don’t know necessarily how you’re going to get there; you hope you do, because not all of them do either, because that’s the harsh world of football.
This article first appeared in the Wolves versus Cardiff City matchday programme, which is available around Molineux on matchdays for just £3.50, and also featured content with Ivan Cavaleiro, Chris Iwelumo and Keith Andrews. Back issues are available in the Molineux Megastore and online now.