Belfast Telegraph

Gentleman Ray Wilkins hailed as one of England's finest

Ray Wilkins 1956-2018

By Robert Jones

The "phenomenal" technical ability of Ray Wilkins, who has died aged 61, would have made him one of the leading players of the modern game, according to England manager Gareth Southgate.

Former Chelsea captain Wilkins, who won 84 international caps, died in hospital yesterday morning following a cardiac arrest having been treated at St George's Hospital in Tooting, south west London since Friday.

Southgate and former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson led the tributes to a 'gentleman' of football, who won friends on and off the pitch during a career which spanned some 11 clubs, from the likes of AC Milan to QPR and Leyton Orient, before then moving on to join the coaching staff of several more.

Chelsea, for whom Wilkins broke into the first-team as a raw teenager during the early 1970s, plan tributes to their former midfielder ahead of the home Premier League match against West Ham on Sunday.

Southgate, 47, was a youngster at Crystal Palace when Wilkins - known in the game by his childhood nickname 'Butch' - took on a player-coach role in 1994 under Alan Smith.

Now preparing to lead the England team into the 2018 World Cup finals, Southgate recalled the impact Wilkins had on the squad at Selhurst Park.

"I'll always remember the humility that he had, coming into that dressing room, having played for Manchester United, AC Milan, PSG and being a multiple-capped player for England. He just fitted into the group so easily and had the complete respect of everybody," said Southgate.

"I felt privileged to play with him and even though he only joined us for a six-month period, he was a really good influence on all of the guys there at the time and he had a big influence on me in terms of his professionalism and outlook on training - and he's always kept in touch.

"He was one of the great English midfielders. Until you work with somebody, you don't necessarily know how technically good they are.

"He would have been one of the earliest to go abroad and play in the Italian league. At the time, it was at a really high level, so being able to transition into a club like AC Milan and be as popular as he was there speaks volumes for his ability."

Southgate added: "Ray was a great ambassador for the game, a proud Englishman who loved playing for his country and an absolute gent - a class act."

Ferguson said: "Ray was a great football man, who was well respected and liked by all who knew him and he always had a kind word and time for people.

"Ray was an impressive football talent and had a fantastic career representing some of the biggest clubs. As a manager, Ray was so popular amongst his LMA (League Managers Association) colleagues and I know that he will be missed by us all."

Wilkins had carried out media duties on radio and television - he was a regular pundit on both platforms - shortly before suffering the cardiac arrest.

A family statement read: "We would like to say thank you for the many goodwill messages we have received from Ray's friends, colleagues, and members of the public.

"Ray leaves behind his loving wife, Jackie, daughter Jade, son Ross, and his beautiful grandchildren Oliver, Frankie, Ava, Freddie, Jake and Archie."

Wilkins started his career at Stamford Bridge, turning professional at 17, and spent six years with the Blues before leaving to join United.

While playing for England, he was dismissed during the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico in a game against Morocco.

Wilkins won the FA Cup with Manchester United in 1983, scoring a memorable goal in the first tie against Brighton at Wembley, which ended 2-2. He also won the Scottish title with Rangers in 1989.

Later, he would have several stints as assistant manager at Chelsea, also leading the side on a caretaker basis.

A statement from Chelsea read: "Everybody associated with Chelsea Football Club is devastated to learn of the passing of our former player, captain and assistant coach, Ray Wilkins. Rest in peace, Ray, you will be dreadfully missed."

Wilkins' former England team-mates Gary Lineker, Terry Butcher and Peter Reid all spoke warmly about the ex international skipper's personality as well as his talent.

Lineker said on Twitter: "A wonderful footballer and a delightful man. No teammate was more helpful and supportive. I'll be forever grateful."

Butcher said: "We've lost an unbelievable character, an unbelievable gentleman and an unbelievable football player."

Reid added: "His legacy would be win, lose or draw, you've always got to have class."

Former AC Milan team-mate Franco Baresi tweeted: "It was an honour to have you as a companion, you were special, a gentleman on the field and out."

Paul Gascoigne said: "Such a gentleman an unbelievable player."

Former England striker Alan Shearer put on Twitter: "I was lucky enough to have worked with him and he was always a true gentleman."

Former Rangers team-mate John Brown said: "When you stood with him on the pitch you were standing beside a friend for life."

Ray Wilkins in numbers

Former Chelsea captain and England midfielder Ray Wilkins has died in hospital following a cardiac arrest aged 61. Here we take a look back at some of the numbers behind his football career.

825,000: transfer fee in pounds when Wilkins was signed by Manchester United from Chelsea during the summer of 1979.

17: age when making his first-team debut for Chelsea, having just turned professional, when he came on as a substitute in the 3-0 win over Norwich City at Stamford Bridge during October 1973.

11: clubs played for, which took in spells at AC Milan, Paris St Germain, Rangers — and Leyton Orient.

1986: at the World Cup finals in Mexico, Wilkins was shown a red card during the match against Morocco, becoming the fourth England player to be sent off.

198: appearances for Chelsea before he left for Old Trafford.

84: number of England caps won.

12: goals for Chelsea in all competitions during the 1975/76 season which made Wilkins the club’s top scorer.

1997: the year when Wilkins became the manager of Fulham, with former England team-mate Kevin Keegan as chief operating officer at the then third-tier club.

10: number of goals for Manchester United, including a fine curling effort in the 1983 FA Cup final draw against Brighton at Wembley, which ended 2-2.

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