April 4, 2018

Ray Wilkins Obituary  (Sky Sports)

Ray WilkinsAfter Ray Wilkins' passing at the age of 61, we recall the former Chelsea, Manchester United and England midfielder's career in football.

"He would pick you up when you were down and, if there was a problem for any players or staff, he would be the first one to call them to make sure everything was OK and to ask if there was any way he could help. All that came alongside his knowledge and coaching ability on the football field."

Ray Wilkins commanded affection across football, and John Terry's comments in 2010 reflected why he was such a popular person in the game.

As a player and coach Wilkins competed at the very highest level, his respected punditry carried weight but his personality won him admiration in all areas.

Described as a "perfect midfield player" by his former England team-mate Terry Butcher, Wilkins had a reputation for reliably retaining possession but that was just one element of the all-round ability which led to 84 caps for his country, 10 as captain.

Associated with Chelsea for much of his career as a player and coach, Wilkins stepped up from the youth ranks to make his debut as a 17-year-old in 1973. Within two years he was captain, leading Chelsea to promotion to the First Division in 1976/77, and playing for England.

In all, there were 179 league appearances for his boyhood club, two player of the year prizes, and an iconic status among the Blues' supporters.

He would later return as an assistant manager to Luiz Felipe Scolari and Carlo Ancelotti, with whom he helped Chelsea win the Premier League and FA Cup in 2009/10, but his playing career took him to Manchester United in 1979, in a deal worth £800,000.

Wilkins gave England supporters something to cheer with a fine lobbed goal against Belgium in an ultimately disappointing 1980 European Championships, while England's second group stage exit at the following World Cup extended his wait for silverware, with United missing out on honours domestically.

That drought finally ended in 1983 with an FA Cup win. Wilkins lit up the final against Brighton with a superb curling effort from the edge of the box which underlined his skill and attacking ability. It put United 2-1 up at Wembley but a Brighton equaliser meant Wilkins had to go through a replay before eventually getting his hands on the trophy.

After adding the Charity Shield at the start of the following season with victory over a legendary Liverpool team, Wilkins joined AC Milan, where he reached the Coppa Italia final, before moving on to Paris St-Germain, highlighting his reputation across Europe.

During his time with Milan, Wilkins had become the first England player to be sent off at a World Cup finals after being dismissed for throwing a ball at a referee in the 1986 tournament. It was the only red card of his career.

Wilkins returned to Britain in 1987 when he was signed by Graeme Souness for Rangers. "Apart from what he gave me on the pitch, which was excellent after his experience at PSG and some time at Milan, he was equally important in the dressing room," Souness told Sky Sports recently, praising Wilkins' ability to unite the squad and deal with issues among team-mates.

It was a successful couple of years in Glasgow, with a title and League Cup success coming in the 1988/89 season, while Wilkins' stunning strike in a 5-1 win over Celtic is regarded as one of the best ever scored in the history of the rivalry.

Wilkins returned to London in 1989, playing over 150 times for QPR before making his first steps into the coaching world, first as player-coach at Crystal Palace and then as player-manager with QPR.

After ending his playing career with short stints at Wycombe, Hibernian, Millwall and Leyton Orient, Wilkins took charge at Fulham in 1997, working under Kevin Keegan and steering the club to the Second Division play-offs, although he was sacked before those decisive games after a poor end to the season.

Wilkins then kicked off a new phase of his career as a trusted assistant manager, first to Gianluca Vialli at Chelsea and Watford, and then to another Chelsea icon, Dennis Wise, at Millwall. There, Wise and Wilkins led the second-tier club to their first FA Cup final and European football.

A return to the Chelsea coaching staff followed, with Wilkins providing vital experience as the Roman Abramovich-era continued to reap success, before a similar role at Fulham and Aston Villa sandwiched his spell as manager of Jordan.

"He became one of the most supportive and trusted assistant managers in the Premier League, providing a sounding board to many managers in the past 20 years and achieving great successes with his boyhood club, Chelsea," said LMA chairman Howard Wilkinson.

Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was among the first to pay tribute to Wilkins, and described him as an "impressive football talent".

That expertise was shared with Sky Sports viewers over many years. "His knowledge was amazing, he really understood the game," said his Sky Sports colleague Jamie Redknapp.

Player, coach, pundit. Wilkins will be remembered for excelling in all aspect of the game he turned his hand to. But it is perhaps Wilkins' endearing personality which will be most treasured.

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