London (AFP) – Ray Wilkins, who has died aged 61, achieved every English youngster’s dream of captaining his country.
He did that and more in a playing career which saw him grace the colours of boyhood club Chelsea, who he skippered at just 18, and Manchester United, where the midfielder displayed skills that few of his English peers could match.
Wilkins also stopped off in Italy with AC Milan, in France with Paris Saint-Germain and Scotland at Rangers.
With the game in his blood, Wilkins also even managed a brief spell as coach of Jordan.
Affectionately nicknamed “Butch”, Wilkins struggled when his playing career, which stretched the best part of 25 years, ended.
– Struggled when career ended –
He fought a battle with alcohol, twice picking up drink-driving convictions.
“Footballers who think they are something special are making a terrible mistake,” said Wilkins who revealed he was an alcoholic in 2016.
“I always told my kids (he has two sons, Ross and Jade) I’m nobody but their dad. But I just don’t cope well with rejection.
“I was lucky enough to play until I was 40, 41. But when time decided I could no longer continue, I struggled in a way I’m sure a lot of sportsmen do.
“It’s hard to replace what sport gives you. After QPR, I suffered badly with depression and it had an impact on the whole family.”
For Wilkins, who admitted to being hooked on Valium even during his Chelsea days in the 1970s, his losing battle with alcohol did not at least cost him his marriage.
Jackie, who he met when she was a secretary at Chelsea, stood by him through thick and thin.
Wilkins had appeared the least likely person to suffer from self-doubt as his days on the pitch saw him play with a swagger.
Softly-spoken, he was a far more creative player than another of his nicknames, “The Crab”, suggested.
However, he sacrificed that both at club and international level to allow Bryan Robson the freedom to roam and get forward.
Wilkins, who came from a footballing family, won 84 caps — skippering England 10 times.
But his international career was never to be rewarded with silverware.
Indeed, for many, his most noteworthy moment in an England shirt was becoming the first England player to be sent off in a World Cup finals — a rare moment of petulance seeing him throw the ball at the referee in a torrid 0-0 draw group phase match with Morocco in 1986.
Inadvertently, his suspension allowed coach Bobby Robson to change his formation.
Wilkins’s replacement Peter Reid proved more than capable of standing in and transformed the team’s fortunes to such an extent he was unable to regain his place for the Diego Maradona ‘Hand of God’ quarter-final against Argentina.
– Chelsea in his veins –
For such a storied career, the return of just one FA Cup medal in a 1983 replay romp over Brighton — he scored a sublime goal in the drawn match — and two trophies in Scotland with Rangers seem little by way of reward.
But if that nagged at him, it was nothing compared to the upset and hurt that came when Chelsea sacked him as assistant coach early in the 2010/11 season just months after he and Carlo Ancelotti had guided the club to their first ever domestic double.
“I slipped into a deep hole. That was my darkest time,” he told the Daily Mail in 2014.
Ancelotti never forgot Wilkins’s contribution.
“Ray is one of those select few, always present, noble in spirit, a real blue-blood, Chelsea flows in his veins… without him we wouldn’t have won a thing,” Ancelotti wrote in his autobiography.