Wayne Richardson has worked with more than 5,500 footballers, including Manchester United’s Odion Ighalo
It was a session the same as any other for fitness coach Wayne Richardson when the footballer he was working with asked “can I have a chat?”
Richardson has now worked with over 5,500 players, with Odion Ighalo becoming one of his latest clients in February.
But that session at the Platt Lane complex, Manchester City’s former training base in Moss Side, in 2006 still stands out.
A 22-year-old local lad had just been released by a Football League club and was hoping to get back into the professional game.
Richardson was helping him stay fit while he waited for trials with other clubs, yet that day they mostly talked – for two-and-a-half hours.
“He told me that his girlfriend was pregnant,” said Richardson. “Then he said ‘the problem is, she’s told me it’s not mine’.”
Richardson gave the best advice he could but knew “this player needed help”. He said he’d get that for him and, in the meantime, he was free to talk any time.
But at 3am the next morning he received a text message. That player had taken his own life.
‘I knew from that day on I had a job to do’
“That’s when it turned for me,” said Richardson. “I knew from that day on I had a job to do.”
Richardson was working with Manchester City Council and Greater Manchester Police, mentoring young people who had been involved in crime, using sport to help improve their lives.
At the same time he was a part-time fitness instructor at the Platt Lane gym. He created a network, earning the trust of many aspiring athletes who approached him for individual fitness work.
Professional and non-league footballers also asked for help with their off-season programmes, but he became increasingly concerned about the mental welfare of academy players and free agents, culminating in that tragic text message.
“I was mentoring and you feel you’ve got a duty,” said Richardson. “You don’t want to go away thinking you could have done more.
“So I had a dream, a vision – to help players who had been kicked to the kerb.
“Their dreams have just been shattered.
“They’re young people and it affects them in different ways. And there could be other issues too, at home or at school.
“So forget about finding another club just yet. At first it’s about their state of mind and how can I help?”
Wayne Richardson worked with Mario Balotelli before the striker moved to AC Milan in 2013