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'He plays like every day is his last' - A Bond that helps keep Glenn Whelan going

The 38-year-old Dubliner has been tipped to continue beyond the age of 40 as he plays a part in Bristol Rovers’ League Two promotion push.

Glenn Whelan in action for Bristol Rovers.
Glenn Whelan in action for Bristol Rovers.
Image: PA

Updated Apr 28th 2022, 8:29 AM

FOOTBALL IS THE global game which operates as if within a small village.

Just take Glenn Whelan’s current circumstances at Bristol Rovers.

The Dubliner turned 38 in January and celebrated among his teammates vying for promotion from League Two.

The manager? One Joey Barton, Whelan’s former midfield partner in the Manchester City academy in 2000.

The pair would “kick lumps out of each other in training” according to fellow graduate Willo Flood, and then go into battle alongside each other at the weekend bearing the scars of the week’s work.

In the two decades since, their careers drifted in separate directions but, rather than suffer a malaise, both became Premier League regulars before coming full circle at contrasting stages – Whelan now the veteran player working under Barton the aspiring boss.

bristol-rovers-v-forest-green-rovers-sky-bet-league-two-memorial-stadium Bristol Rovers boss Joey Barton. Source: PA

The Liverpudlian broke into City’s first-team, where he made over 100 appearances in five seasons and captained the club, before moving on to Newcastle United, Queens Park Rangers and Burnley, with a brief stint at Marseille sandwiched in between.

Whelan, of course, was a dominant figure in Tony Pulis’s Stoke City when they were a Premier League force, becoming a mainstay of the Republic of Ireland midfield for over a decade.

“There are a lot of ironies and coincidences in football. For as big an industry that it is, it does throw up these kind of nuances,” Bristol Rovers first-team coach Kevin Bond says.

And he should know, the experienced figure working as one of Harry Redknapp’s right-hand men at Portsmouth, Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton, QPR and Birmingham City – yet it was a connection formed with Barton at Loftus Road that led to the 64-year-old joining the Rovers coaching ticket.

soccer-barclays-premier-league-arsenal-v-tottenham-hotspur-emirates-stadium Kevin Bond (right) issues instructions with Harry Redknapp while at Spurs. Source: EMPICS Sport

Bond was part of the Spurs staff when they made the breakthrough into the Champions League for the 2010/11 campaign, a season which helped catapult Gareth Bale to stardom and led to Luka Modric joining Real Madrid soon after.

The pair would be reunited in the Spanish capital although it is the latter still shining while the Welshman endures a drawn out, acrimonious exit.

Modric, 37 this September, continues to enthral in the middle of the pitch, and his outside of the right foot pass to carve open Chelsea in their recent Champions League quarter-final clash led to Bond getting in touch.

“I sent him a message after the final whistle. It was just amazing, amazing, amazing,” he exclaims.

He’s always had that ability, the best outside of the right foot you can imagine. He was doing that every day in training. It brings a smile to my face when I see it.

“One of the best things about Luka Modric is that he’s one of the nicest men I’ve ever met in football. Just a lovely, lovely man. There is no bad side to him. That makes it all the more pleasing to see him do so well.”

The nature of the game, and Bond’s lengthy career, means conversation takes natural tangents like these, where chat varies from the latter stages of the Champions League to the intricacies of a tense League Two promotion race – where Rovers are currently in sixth spot and could still secure an automatic place in League One or drop out of the play-off spots with two games remaining.

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Whelan may have lost his starting position in recent months, but the impact he’s made on Bond is telling.

“He is without doubt one of the best professionals that I’ve ever come across. He is first on the training ground and the last one to leave. He sets standards. He does everything.

“You would think he’s trying to make his way in the game because he trains like it’s his last day in football every day. There could be a bit of frustration there at the moment because he’s not starting and we have a settled side.”

Whelan’s contract is up this summer and what the future holds remains to be seen, yet Bond is unequivocal.

bristol-rovers-v-port-vale-sky-bet-league-two-the-memorial-stadium Whelan in action for Bristol Rovers. Source: PA

“I speak to Glenn about this, while you’re as fit as him and free of injury, still enjoying the game and as capable as he absolutely is, play for as long as you possibly can.

“He can play past 40, he could go and play for another four or five years the way he carries himself. I am sure that he will go into coaching at some stage, you can see that side to him, but however much he enjoys coaching it won’t come close to being able to play.

Avoiding serious injury is very important, of course you need that luck throughout your career,” Bond continues. “But the professionalism he has had throughout his career is paying him back now.

“You are seeing the benefit of it now when he is still fit and doing things properly you realise it’s not just down to luck that he is still able to go on.

“In terms of taking care of himself, the work he has done is the reason why he is still as fit and as strong as he is.”

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