In the newest edition of ‘Player Insights’ we take a look at our Scottish winger, Matt Ritchie. Known for bursts of anger and an unmatched work rate, the Scot has had a brilliant journey through the English lower divisions before establishing himself as a Premier League player.
Although Matt Ritchie was born in England, he was born into a family with a Scottish father, back in 1989. Ritchie has always been involved in football, from the age of just 6, he played for his local team in Gosport, before joining the academy of Portsmouth at the age of 13.
He signed his first professional contract during the the 2008/09 season and was then sent out on loan to Swindon Town to gain some important match experience. Just one month into his loan spell, he was unexpectedly recalled to his parent club due to the injury problems that had unfolded on the South coast.
Ritchie made the bench for Portsmouth in a 2-0 loss to Tottenham, before playing 80 minutes the following week against Wigan. Ritchie personally described making his Premier League debut as a dream come true.
Portsmouth were relegated to the Championship at the end of the season, with the club deciding to extend the Scot’s contract by an additional 2 years. The winger then begun the season in the starting lineup, being awarded the number 5 shirt.
With the clubs performances still below par, Ritchie found himself out of the starting lineup. As Portsmouth were suffering financial difficulties, they had disbanded their reserve team, and so the management opted to loan out the Scot.
Ritchie subsequently endured loan spells with Dagenham and Redbridge, Notts County, and Swindon Town.
His reputation started to increase while on loan at Dagenham and Redbridge, earning their Young Player of the Year award, while the loan to Notts County tested the Scot’s ability at a higher level. He made the step up from League Two to League One with a degree of comfort, and following his continued impressive form, Swindon Town came in for the attacker.
After making the move to Swindon, the following season didn’t go as planned, with relegation dragging the club back into League Two. This however was not a reflection of Matt Ritchie’s performances in the slightest, as he was named the Robin’s Player of the Year due to his consistently good performances.
With the club now back in League Two, they pulled off an absolute coup when bringing in Paolo Di Canio to manage the club. Matt Ritchie quickly earned the respect of the fiery Italian and the pair formed a very good relationship.
Matt Ritchie was lethal in front of goal under the stewardship of Di Canio, scoring ten goals for the club whilst creating numerous opportunities for his teammates. There were multiple clubs linked to the Scot, but Di Canio publicly denied these claims, stating the Scot was valued above £2 million by the club, as he was a key player in their bid for promotion.
Ritchie underlined his importance to the team by leading Swindon to promotion, picking up the Football League 2 Player of the Year, while also appearing in the PFA Team of the Year.
It then came as a shock to the Swindon fans, and more importantly to Paolo Di Canio, when Matt Ritchie was sold to Bournemouth for just £400,000. The manager again went public, airing his frustrations that the Scot had been sold behind his back, while Ritchie claimed he left the club with a heavy heart.
The move to Bournemouth however, was one that truly shaped the career of the now Premier League midfielder. The Scot played an integral role in the Cherries charge up the divisions. Appearing in Bournemouth colours a total of 130 times, Ritchie racked up 31 goals for the club across 3 years.
It is rare that teams dominate the Championship after receiving promotion from League One, however with Ritchie racking up 11 goals and 13 assists, Bournemouth won the Championship title during their first year in the division. Ritchie again was voted Player of the Year, and also received national recognition by earning a call up to the Scottish national team.
Ritchie was finally back where he dreamed of, the Premier League. From the difficult times he suffered while at Portsmouth, the Scot never tired. His relentless workrate and full commitment to maintaining his professionalism drove him back to England’s top flight.
He spent 1 year with Bournemouth in the Premier League, scoring a sensational goal against Sunderland during this period, before Newcastle decided to invest in the Scot.
Life at Newcastle
Matt Ritchie was brought to St James Park by Rafa Benitez following our relegation to the Championship. He had the experience of earning promotion from the league, while also possessing the leadership traits that were desperately needed on Tyneside.
It didn’t take long for the Scot to settle into the North East club, scoring 16 goals in his debut season as we earned automatic promotion back to the Premier League via a 1st place finish in the Championship.
His personal drive was also highlighted during an penalty incident with Mitrovic against Preston in the EFL. The Scot was the designated penalty taker, taking over the responsibility from Dwight Gayle who had previously missed one. Newcastle had a healthy lead in the match, with Mitrovic’s brace putting us out of sight. With the Serbian on the cusp of a hatrick, he pleaded with Ritchie to take the penalty. Ritchie point blank refused to stray from the original game plan, and coolly stepped up to take the penalty himself.
Back in the Premier League, Ritchie also contributed with some big performances. His goal against Manchester United last season came at a pivotal time for us in the season. Along with the magnificent debut display from Dubravka, Ritchie earned us an important 1-0 victory as he slotted the ball past De Gea.
The thing which Ritchie will perhaps be remembered the most for is his sudden bursts of rage, and general aggression towards not just referees, but players on both teams, substitutions, and mainly corner flags!
He has done a professional job in whichever position he has been fielded in, playing either as a left wing back, a left winger, or out on the right. The sheer workrate and determination of the Scot has to be admired, but in more recent times his technical ability has been questioned.
Ritchie was known throughout his career for being a dead ball specialist but it can be argued his standards in regards to both free kicks and corners have slipped over the last couple of years, while his desire to take on players has slightly dropped as he has lost a yard of pace.
What the future may hold
Matt Ritchie is currently 30 years old, so he may not have too many seasons left in the top flight. There have been previous rumours linking the Scot to Championship clubs, namely Stoke being the most recent.
The Scot has been a brilliant recruit for us, being a key component of us lifting the Championship title, while giving us some memorable moments in the Premier League. He no doubt motivated other squad players with his infectious work rate, not allowing the standards to slip in any session he was part of.
This side of football can never be measured in terms of statistics, but Ritchie is exactly the type of player you want around the club when you have youngsters coming through the ranks, or new recruits settling in.
However, with the takeover looming, players like Ritchie will need to be moved on, and replaced by more talented players. Personally, I will be sad to see the back of Ritchie, but whichever club recruits him will receive a boost, both on and off the pitch. I believe he is still capable of providing key contributions for clubs looking to escape the Championship, but unfortunately his remaining time in the Premier League is numbered.
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