Ben Wiles and Matt Hamshaw: How a nine-year-old prospect grew up to make Rotherham United's first team

MATT Hamshaw still remembers the first time he set eyes on Rotherham United prospect Ben Wiles.
Ben Wiles with mentor Matt Hamshaw. Picture by Steve MettamBen Wiles with mentor Matt Hamshaw. Picture by Steve Mettam
Ben Wiles with mentor Matt Hamshaw. Picture by Steve Mettam

Now one of manager Paul Warne's trusted first-team aides, Hamshaw was part of the youth set-up a decade ago as nine-year-old Wiles trotted on to the pitch.

“It was up at Thomas Rotherham College on Moorgate,” the coach recalls. “Just a little, small-sided, six-v-six game.

“You could tell he had something. There was another lad at the side of him who I thought had just as good a chance as well.

“Obviously, when they're nine you can't tell whether they're going to be a professional footballer. But Ben had the fundamentals, the movement, the balance. He could deal with a football.

“We've worked and worked and worked with him. We do the same with every player but unfortunately only a small percentage come through.”

Wiles plays on bigger stages than Thomas Rotherham's all-weather surface nowadays.

The 19-year-old has broken into the Millers' senior side and has started the last three Championship matches.

Twelve days ago, meanwhile, he was among the best Rotherham FA Cup performers at Pep Guardiola's Premier League champions, Manchester City, as Warne's men took on Kevin De Bruyne, Kyle Walker and a team containing other 2018 World Cup semi-finalists in front of a crowd of more than 52,000 at the Etihad Stadium.

In action at Bristol City

“We had a big push with him at the end of last season about the physical side of the game, which is obviously difficult for a teenager training every day with the first team,” Hamshaw says.

“He had a fantastic summer. He worked every day and we saw a big physical change in him when he came back.

“He's done extremely well. Every time he trains, he always has one of the highest distances covered and his sprint distances are always up there. His GPS data (which shows how hard a player is working) is fantastic. When he's played in the reserves, he's done extremely well. He's deserved his first-team opportunity.”

Hamshaw is a former top prospect and pro himself and his pride in his protege is evident. They're from the same part of the town and their bond had been forged over ten years of ups and downs.

“He's a Rawmarsh lad, like me,” the coach says. “He'll come and speak to me and he always watches his clips with me. He probably comes and speaks to me when he's not sure on things. I've had that relationship with him. We do get on.

“Ben did veer off at times. That happens with kids. He had numerous occasions where it wasn't going for him and he had a bad year or a bad six months.

“He kept working, he kept his head down. The biggest thing, I think, in a young player's development is when they can correct themselves and when they respond well to failure.

“A lot of kids, when they go out of the game actually stay out of the game and don't play football again, which is really sad. It affects them that much that they end up doing no more than playing with their mates.

“But Ben kept pushing himself. It hasn't been a straight path but it's one which I think has defined him as a character.”

Warne has had him in his thoughts ever since watching him chase the length of the pitch in training and take the ball off then-skipper Lee Frecklington in 2017. “You have to be some athlete to do that,” the boss mused at the time.

Football, meanwhile, is in the Wiles genes, His granddad, Eddie Colquhoun, is a Sheffield United great from the 1960 and 70s.

“Ben's from a lovely family,” Hamshaw says. “We had Alex, his brother, here. Alex was an Academy scholar. He's playing at Stocksbridge now. I also had Aaron, his other older brother.

“He's got two brothers and two twin sisters. His brothers were great players, but it does tend to be the youngest who seems to come through!”

Wiles' first big chance came early this season in the Carabao Cup at Premier League Everton. He was taken off at half-time but instead of sulking he strived. When a second opportunity was offered last month, he took it.

“He'll come out of the team because he'll need to come out of the team at a certain period,” Hamshaw says. “When that is, who knows? I think, sometimes, a young player finds that hard to accept.

“It was important how he reacted when he got subbed against Everton at half-time. A lot of kids would have thought: 'That's it now. It's not going to be for me. The gaffer's brought me off.'

“After two or three days, he came round. Not straight away! He saw the positives in it and it made him really knuckle down.

“Like against Manchester City, you see what the best players do and you learn from it. The ones who don't learn don't last. Sport is tough and ruthless. Ben learns every day that he needs to do better and be better.”

Wiles played every minute against Guardiola's side.

The word from more experienced teammates at Rotherham's Roundwood training complex is that he's the real deal, and he has no greater advocate than Hamshaw. The teenager - not that he would anyway - hasn't had to go knocking on Warne's door because, figuratively, his mentor has done it for him.

“I've spoken about him on numerous occasions,” Hamshaw smiles. “The manager will probably say I've driven him crackers with it. I believe in Ben. He's got a great opportunity to have a great career.

“You need a little bit of luck getting your chance but once it comes it's down to the player. We're not getting carried away saying Ben is going to do X, Y or Z, but the opportunities he's had so far he has taken.

“His feet are firmly on the ground. He's a great lad and he wants to learn every day. It's important we keep him on the right track. He's a young player. He's going to have dips. From what we've seen so far, we're all pleased with him.

“I've known him since he was nine. He's confident but he's not arrogant. He knows me and he knows I wouldn't let that happen. I'd come down hard on him.

“There aren't many times that a lad has been with a club since he was nine and comes all the way through the system. He's played every age group, reserves and first team.

Impressing at Ipswich Town

“He knows what the club expect and he certainly knows what I and the manager expect. It's easy with him, to be honest.”

Warne liked what he saw in Wiles' most recent performance, at Ipswich Town last Saturday, and it will be hard to leave out the player for this week's home clash with Brentford even though Richie Towell is available after a ban and new signing Matt Crooks is eligible for his debut.

“He's got confidence on the ball,” the boss says. “He's a really good player.”

From Thomas Rotherham to the Championship. But what about the other young talent who Hamshaw spotted alongside Wiles all those years ago?

He's no longer in the game.

*******************************

Ben's Advertiser ratings since forcing his way into the Rotherham side ...

Dec 29, Bristol City, A: 6

Great to see a home-grown kid in the side. Let nobody down on his first Championship start. There was a great lay-off in the build-up to a chance for Taylor and a perfectly-struck volley that was heading for goal until it was blocked.

Jan 1, Preston North End, H: 8

There were signs of quality at Bristol City a few days earlier and many more signs on his first home league start. He can pass, run and compete, has a turn of pace and isn't scared to back himself. Brilliant that a home-grown talent like this is coming through. Raw but good enough for this level.

Jan 6, Manchester City, A: 7

A performance belying his tender years. Unfazed by the occasion and the one Rotherham player who really asked questions of City from time to time. Unafraid to take the game to the Manchester superstars.

Jan 12, Ipswich Town, A: 8

Quiet in the first half, everywhere in the second. Constantly probing for Ipswich weaknesses. Has that priceless knack of being able to go past his man and then see what's on. A bit of invention, a bit of quality, a bit of a dig in the tackle, a bit of pace, a bit of an engine, a bit of everything. And he's only 19.

This article first appeared in last week's Advertiser