Big interview: Ex-Wolves favourite Chris Iwelumo enjoying talking a good game
Football is an industry just about as cut-throat and competitive as you can imagine.
Thousands of players, managers and staff all jostle for precious few positions and roles at the top echelons of the game.
But try being a football pundit.
In recent years there’s been a rapid growth of a huge number of ex-players jostling for just a privileged number of roles in the industry’s main TV, radio and print companies.
Chris Iwelumo enjoyed a very successful playing career which included titles, promotions and international recognition.
But since moving to ‘the other side’, the outspoken Iwelumo admits it’s been tough to carve out a niche for himself – but a change in approach has helped him succeed
“It’s even more competitive than playing,” the former Wolves, Stoke, Watford, Charlton and Scotland striker said.
“In the early days I always ask for feedback and I got told I sat on the fence, which you might find hard to believe!
“I guess coming into so soon after playing you don’t want to have a go at your peers.
“All of a sudden I just thought ‘I’m going to be as honest as possible’.
“If I played in the same team as someone and they were having a hard time, I wouldn’t hammer them, I’d just make sure that they knew they were better than that, sort it out.
“That’s the way I’ve always spoken to players, I’ll always be honest and give my opinion, so that’s what I do now.
“There’s no opinion that’s wrong. If it’s your opinion, you express it and let people take it the way they have to.
“I do a lot with TalkSport and they know it’ll be an interesting one if I’m there!
But they play on it. I’ve sat there, prepped up for a show and the presenter will talk in and say ‘who can we annoy tonight?’. My prep goes out the window and for two hours you’re taking calls!
“That’s the enjoyable side.”
Iwelumo is a regular on TalkSport, the EFL highlights show on Quest and also pops up regularly in the Wolves commentary box alongside his partner in crime Mikey Burrows, with whom he presents the weekly club Old Gold Club podcast.
However, such a career after football didn’t look likely for the likeable Scot shortly after he retired almost five years ago.
“I probably fell out of love with football in the last year and a half of playing, all for personal reasons,” he admits.
“I’m a very positive person, so I spun that negative into saying I never really missed football that much when I retired.
“Players experience that void after not playing but I carried on going to the gym, doing all my bits.
“I went back to university and did my journalism degree, which opened so many doors.
“I’ve fallen back in love with the game. Even when I played I wouldn’t sit and constantly watch football but now it’s my job, so I’ll pick and choose my matches.
“I go to games even today and there are moments where it does hit home that you miss it. You miss walking out – what the teams walk out to at Molineux, that gets everyone going.
“It was October 2014 when I retired and I’ve no idea where the time goes.”
A lot of that time is spent at Molineux and he’s seen plenty of Wolves in the past two years, enjoying their rapid rise from the Championship to a lofty seventh place in the Premier League.
The 40-year-old said it’s been thrilling to witness.
“It’s been a great season which has delivered on all fronts,” he said of the current campaign.
“Are there any gripes about it? Even when it hit a sticky patch the manager changed formation, so it’s positive on all fronts.
“The brand of football is exciting to watch. There are little weaknesses up against the lesser teams – and Wolves, having just been promoted, it’s quite funny to say that but that’s exactly what it is. They’ve found it hard to break them down.
“They’ve got to find that player who can unlock those doors and I think that’s exactly what they’ll be out looking for.
“What they’ve got, the foundation is in place and the players they have are very capable, they’ve proved that.
As an ex-striker, it’s no surprise that Iwelumo has marvelled at the exploits of top scorer Raul Jimenez – but also the club’s longest serving player, Matt Doherty.
“Jimenez, for me, is the perfect striker – and probably works too hard without the ball,” Iwelumo added.
“When he gets it, he’s scoring goals, linking play. I get excited watching him and that’s a very rare thing for me watching football.
“As a striker, I remember watching him thinking ‘why is he working so hard without the ball?’.
“Then when it comes to him it sticks, he creates, he links, he scores goals himself. So he’s the one who gives me goosebumps.
“You look at Doherty. He’s come into his own, an absolute box-to-box player from first minute to last, he brings goals and assists.
“I never really knew him before but people comment on how much he’s changed, which shows you the hard work he’s done. The penny must have finally dropped and he’s realised he’s got the potential and the chance to have a really, really good career.
“Sometimes that penny doesn’t drop. He’s getting his just rewards for it.”
Iwelumo is fondly remembered around these parts for the big role he played in helping Wolves win promotion to the Premier League under Mick McCarthy in 2009.
After moving from Charlton he enjoyed a phenomenal purple patch of 15 goals in 16 games at the start of that season as Wolves raced clear at the top of the league – a lead they never relinquished.
“It was a fantastic group of people brought together and for me it was definitely the highest of the high.
“As a professional footballer you want to play at the highest level. To win the Championship, for me one of the most difficult leagues in the world, was an outstanding achievement.
“That season, the goals we were scoring, the way we went about our football, was fabulous.
“I’m only disappointed I missed the last few games through injury but I went away in the summer and it really hit home what we’d done.
“Sometimes you don’t realise what you’ve achieved until you have those quiet moments to reflect on it.
“Wolves will go away this summer and realise what they’ve done too.”
* Chris Iwelumo will join Mikey Burrows and a host of ex-Wolves players for a live version of Wolves' Old Gold Club podcast on June 7 at the Grand Theatre.