It’s funny how football unfolds sometimes.
Ever since the end of the 2013/14 season, Derby County supporters always dreamt that, one day, Andre Wisdom would return as a Ram.
Three years later, here we are. Pride Park Stadium is the defender’s new permanent home.
A lot has happened in those three years. There’s been a two temporary pit stops in the Premier League, an eye-catching move to Austria and the next step is fulfil some unfinished business.
In this exclusive interview with The Ram, Wisdom discusses why he wanted to come back to Derby, what he learned from his time out in Austria and how he feels about THAT chant…
The Ram: There’s only place to really start this interview, Andre. Why did you decide to re-join Derby County this summer?
Andre Wisdom: When I came on loan here, we had obviously had a great season, but with the players we had, the way we played football and how good the facilities and the staff around the place are, I loved it here. It sounds like a cliché, but that is genuine. I feel like I played my best football here and that helped, so when I knew that Derby were interested, the decision was easy. Because I had been here before, I knew the direction that the club was heading in, where they want to go, how it all works and a lot of the lads that were here before are still here now. I knew about the quality of the squad that I was coming in to. The decision to come back felt right, it felt good and after I spoke to the manager, I was in no doubt that this was what I wanted.
TR: Your first spell here ended in a play-off final defeat, do you ever think what if the outcome had been different on that day? Do you think you would have been back at Derby had the result been different?
AW: I do to be honest. There’s no doubt that if we had won that game that I would have asked Liverpool to extend my loan. There’s a lot of what ifs in football. At that stage of my career, I felt ready to test myself in the Premier League and it’s what I needed to prove to myself that I can play at that level. With respect to Derby, at that time I couldn’t stay for that reason. Everyone wants to progress in life and I am no different.
TR: You got your move to West Brom shortly after that and then Norwich City to give you your chance in the Premier League. How were those two experiences for you?
AW: They were really good. Before I joined Derby the first time I had played in the Premier League with Liverpool and in my opinion, that was easier than playing in the Premier League with West Brom and Norwich. I don’t mean any disrespect when I say that – they are both very good teams – but if you do the basics half-right for a club like Liverpool, you can still look a good player. All we had to do back when I was there was give it (Luis) Suarez and if he was on it, we would win. When you win, no-one really looks at the performance. That was different at West Brom and Norwich, though. You get far more exposed and you have to do your job right or you can cost your team a goal. I played most of my games in the Premier League at right back and everyone knows that, growing up through the youth and reserve teams, I was a centre back. I’m fine as a right back and I have really grown into it, but I am not your traditional right back. I’m not attack-minded and you will be lucky to see me get forward more than three or four times in a game! I get a nose-bleed and a headache when I get too far forward! In all seriousness, though, whenever I was asked to do that, I always gave my best against some very good players. Maybe it went against me in the end, but when I met the manager here and we spoke about it, I said that he knew what to expect of me. I’m not going to charge up and down the pitch because that’s never been me. He understood that and he knows what he is going to get from me.
TR: Does that right back position feel second-nature to you now?
AW: I would feel comfortable playing anywhere on the pitch. You’re a football player and should be able to do that. I feel comfortable as long as I can play my own game – not as in doing my own thing – but by doing the basics. That involves defending, pressing as a team and being in a certain position when we have the ball. It’s the getting forward bit which has always been a challenge. The traditional right backs today are like converted wingers and I know that’s not me. I remember during my first spell here and I set up Chrissy Martin in a game against Barnsley away from home and I was saying to myself afterwards ‘what was I doing up there!’ I’m a negative right back really. I don’t want to be that full back that charges up the pitch and leaves the team completely exposed. Who knows, maybe I will be bombing forward in a year or two!
TR: Just quickly touching back on the loan spells, you raised a few eyebrows when you decided to go to Austria. Why did you decide to do that?
AW: There was no particular reason. I didn’t have to go, but I really just wanted to do something different. It was a new opportunity and I was wondering what it would be like and I just jumped straight into it. I knew of Oscar Garcia, who used to manage Brighton and Watford and he was the manager there at the time, and he told me that whilst it wasn’t a glamourous league, it was competitive and I would have the chance to play in the Europa League. It was a good opportunity, but I am not going to lie it was tough at the beginning. I was living in a different country, learning a new language and driving on the other side of the road really annoyed me! It was just a different way of living, a different style of play, but once I had settled and everyone knew what I brought to the table and what type of person I am, everything was so much better. Even when I wasn’t in the team and people were saying it was a bad move, I always remained positive. I got into the team and we won the league title and Austrian Cup too.
TR: What is the biggest thing you are taking away from your time in Austria?
AW: You don’t always have to listen to people! Obviously, I read things before I went there that were questioning whether it was the right thing to do, whilst some of my family and my boys were saying ‘are you sure you want to go out there’? I learned that you just have to go and do your own thing. At the end of the day, this is my career. I will always remember that year and I proved to myself that if I did need a career change, I could go abroad and I would be able to cope.
TR: At the beginning of the interview, you mentioned Gary Rowett and how his approach to football suited you. Can you develop on that more?
AW: I initially spoke to my agent about the move and he was telling me what Gary was saying. I really liked the sound of it. Me and Gary only had one conversation, mainly because I was on holiday at the time, but from that I knew what I wanted. I knew about Gary, as a manager, anyway. I have seen how his sides play football, but because I knew most of the lads here you naturally ask what he is like. Everyone said that he was good and that I would like him and he was my type of guy. Everyone said he was straight and didn’t beat around the bush and when you combined everything together, it was simple really.
TR: You mention you kept in contact with the rest of the lads from when you were originally here, who was that in particular?
AW: I kept in contact with Dawks (Simon Dawkins), Johnny Russell, Jeff (Hendrick), Will Hughes, Rich (Richard Keogh), Mase (Mason Bennett), Chrissy Martin, Thorney (George Thorne), Brys (Craig Bryson and Wardy (Jamie Ward), whilst I also knew Brad (Bradley Johnson) from our time together at Norwich City. I kept in touch with everyone. It wasn’t a case of every other day saying, ‘hi mate, how are you doing?’, but if we saw each other out we would catch up. We would go out for food in London and Manchester, whilst Snapchat is a popular thing right now too.
TR: That must have helped you settle seamlessly, but I guess the supporters have helped with that too. They have certainly taken to you very quickly and that chant looks like it is never going to go away!
AW: I quite like it to be honest. When it happened at the time I was raging. It happened on the day of a game and I had to calm down, but I came in for training the next day and because it had been in the paper it was on the lockers, everywhere! Everyone was clapping and all you can do really is burst out laughing. I never told anyone at the time how bad it was and they were like ‘I thought you said you just got stuck a bit!’ I downplayed it big style! The supporters, in fairness, have made it funny. They could have been singing something worse and I just have to try and not take it quite so literally or else I will be getting a lot of parking tickets! As players, we have to motivate the supporters by playing good football, but if I can give them a bit of comedy along the way then I am more than happy to do so!
TR: Looking ahead, you have come in and signed a long contract with the club. What are you looking to achieve during that timeframe? Is it a case of unfinished business?
AW: As a club, I think it is pretty clear that Derby wants to get to the Premier League so on that front, you could say that there is an element of unfinished business from my perspective. Every season, if you are not in the Premier League, no matter who you are, you should be looking at doing everything you can to make that next step. I’m not going to sit here and say we are going to try and deliver good performances. I want to get back to the Premier League. We want to play well, we want to win games and, hopefully, we will get that luck along the way. As a team, and I can’t preach this enough, we can’t take anything for granted. We can’t underestimate anyone, we can’t be in fear of anyone, because if you take your foot off the gas one little bit you can be shown up! You never go into a fight wanting to lose. If you’re in that position you have to give it your all – no matter who it is against.