Pain, perseverance and a kick up the backside – Joe Wildsmith’s long road to Sheffield Wednesday half-century
When Joe Wildsmith made his 45th appearance for Sheffield Wednesday back in April 2018, little did he know that he’d be two years away from reaching his half-century for the club. Now, after finally hitting 50 against Nottingham Forest, the goalkeeper has spoken about his tough journey back.
It’s now almost five years since Wildsmith completed his climb through the ranks at Wednesday by making his senior debut in August 2015 against Mansfield Town, and after admitting that there were times that his Owls future was up in the air, he’s delighted to be fighting for that number one spot once again.
“I went into the offseason last summer thinking, ‘Right, get myself in good shape, have a good preseason and you never know’”, he said in a press conference this week. “And then there was another setback with the injury. So that took leaving out of the picture again.
“So yeah, there’s been times when I was looking for opportunities elsewhere, but nothing really ever came to anything major. I’ve always been focused on getting back in and around at Sheffield Wednesday, and that’s what I’m looking at now.”
And the injury that he spoke of was no joke. What Wildsmith did was sustain an injury in a preseason game that is common among car crash victims, it was a possible career-ender.
Speaking of his injury, he said, “I ruptured my posterior cruciate ligament, my PCL, I ruptured it completely. It was in the game out in Germany. I got a knee to knee challenge, and the injury is common in car crashes – from people whacking their knees on the dashboard.
“The impact was really bad, and I got it checked out straight away when I returned to England… I was in a brace for 12 weeks without being able to move my leg. It was a tough period, and they did say that it might not be the way it was, and that I’d have to do rehab on it for your whole career.”
Thanks to his hard work though, and that of the medical team at Hillsborough, the 24-year-old is back and raring to go as he hopes to add a few more appearances to his Owls tally in years to come.
“There was no operation,” he explained. “It was left to heal naturally and it’s reconnected now and feels as strong as ever. I haven’t had a problem with it since – touch wood – and I’m still doing the rehab that I need to do before training to keep on top of things strength-wise.
“It’s pretty much as good as it was before, so I’m really happy with the guys who looked after me in the physio department and sports science department. They did a great job, they didn’t rush me, and let me go at my speed.”
Now, having returned to action with an impressive performance against Manchester City before the Coronavirus pandemic caused the shutdown of football, the shot-stopper admits that his injury may even have been a blessing in disguise as he managed to get himself back on track.
“I think I was sort of stuck,” he added. “At the end of last season I hadn’t played games, and I sort of thought ‘Where does my career go now?’ It was a weird one, because I got the injury and it gave me an opportunity to reassess where I was… It gave me a routine that I probably wasn’t doing before, where I was working on myself. It was little steps, little gains.
‘Getting the nod when the knee was ok and I was going back to training, I sort of felt better than I’d ever felt before. And it was a bit of a shock to me that I’d come back from such a bad injury and felt great. It gave me the confidence to kick on again, and right now I’m probably in the best shape I’ve been in since becoming a professional.
“It gave me that kick up the backside that I probably needed, and it turned the tides a little bit on where I was in my career, and it came down to hard work, being mentally strong and getting through things.
It was a great moment walking out against Manchester City to see that all that had paid off, and I didn’t let that slip.”
Wildsmith will now spend the next month or so battling it out with fellow academy graduate, Cameron Dawson, for a starting berth in the remaining eight Championship games this season, and he’s delighted to be back in the thick of things after getting the nod from Monk for the 1-1 draw against Forest last Saturday.
He said, "I found out on Friday morning when the gaffer named the squad and did the usual pre-match routine of going through set pieces and shape work.
"It was great to hear that news and get back amongst things. It has been a while since I have had a Championship appearance… It was great to get back out there and do what I love doing."
Wednesday now face Bristol City on Sunday as Wildsmith looks for a first clean sheet since his return to action.