Michael Woods: From Chelsea prodigy to Harrogate Town star

NADV 1303028AM1 H'gate Town V Histon. Michael Woods Picture : Adrian Murray.  (1303028AM1)
NADV 1303028AM1 H'gate Town V Histon. Michael Woods Picture : Adrian Murray. (1303028AM1)

His manager has already compared him to Jack Wilshere, while his natural hair colour has always seen his talent measured to Paul Scholes.

But for new Harrogate Town recruit Michael Woods, he is just cherishing playing the game he loves after years of turbulence cast his career into uncertainty.

The York native’s career has never been an easy ride.

At the age of 16 his transfer to Chelsea became embroiled in a High Court battle with former club Leeds United claiming a £5million victory.

A year later he was told he may never play football again after seriously damaging his knee, and then when he finally did, within 10 minutes he returned to the surgeon’s chair with a dislocated ankle.

Since leaving the London-club in 2011 he has still yet to find a run of games. Yeovil offered him his first lifeline, but released him after just five appearances at the end of 2012. Doncaster Rovers then gave him a second chance, but Dean Saunders’ move to manage Wolves curtailed any hope of games and the York-born midfielder returned north.

“It’s been a steep learning curve,” Woods admitted. “At 22, I have seemed to have everything happen to me.”

After starting four Harrogate Town matches in a row, each time showing the talent that earned him the initial contracts at Leeds and Chelsea, life is starting to find a normality for the midfielder.

“I am a firm believer that no matter what level you play at, as long as you are playing week in week out you will find your level,” he said.

“It’s just nice to get that competitive edge back rather than sitting on a treatment bed.

“Nothing changes on the pitch, you can have all the facilities and all the stadia in the world but at the end of the day it’s just 11 v 11.

“You go out there and try and win every game.”

Woods will never forget his time at Leeds. He said his decision to move from a club in free-fall to the best in England was a “no-brainer”. It all seemed to fit.

“There was a time when we were all dragged in (at Leeds) and told that the academy was going to be scrapped, there was going to be no youth set-up and they were struggling to pay wages,” he said.

“I don’t think people realise how bad it was. I didn’t have a choice but to go.”

Woods moved to play in a midfield alongside Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and Claude Makelele.

He made his first team debut in the FA Cup against Macclesfield before featuring again against Nottingham Forest. And he felt comfortable at their level.

“I had to grow up fast. I was thrown into London as a 16-year-old Yorkshire lad,” he said.

“The professionalism of the players was frightening,”

“Just to see how they go about their everyday business was an experience that not many people get.

“But I felt comfortable at that level. Once I had a taste of that I just wanted more. Until I got injured I was absolutely flying.”

Woods damaged his knee in a reserves match five years ago. As soon as he went down, he knew he was in serious trouble.

He said: “I had two days to wait for my operation. It was unbelievable, I couldn’t keep myself together. The biggest thing was, ‘what was I going to do without football?’”

For Woods, he had never considered a career without football. His granddad played professionally, so did his uncle and cousin.

“It’s all I ever wanted to do. I had never thought about, life outside of football,” Woods added.

“When I woke up from the operation my first question was, “am I going to play again?” The surgeon said, ‘I’m happy with it, I think you have got a great chance.’”

Woods admitted he was lucky to have the rehab services Chelsea offered. Without it, he said, “I might not be where I am today”.

But his move to Town, brought about by a chance conversation between his uncle Neil and Simon Weaver’s assistant John McDermott. has reinvigorated his tenacity.

It’s given him a chance to play football again. A chance to fight for three points.

And he’s loving every minute of his new set-up.

“It just seemed an exciting project. The chairman seems ambitious and he wants to achieve something,” he said.

“The gaffer wants me to go forward and dictate stuff. He has allowed me and Knowlesy to go and play with freedom and hurt the other teams.

“That’s what I enjoy doing.

“The boys are brilliant, they are a great bunch of lads. And I am not just saying that because I am here.

“We are all in it together, there is no discontent and no people hiding in the corner bickering.

“We all want to do well. It’s a really good place to be at the minute.”

Woods remains ambitious, he wants to play at a higher level. But his first priority remains with his new club and helping them into the play-offs, and beyond.

“You have seen players go from the lower leagues right to the top,” he said.

“You look at your Chris Smallings of the world, it’s frightening that two years ago they were playing two divisions below this.

“I’ve seen already, there are some gems in this league.

“But it’s just nice to be back playing again. I’m still nowhere near 100 per cent fit, I haven’t had a run of games and my body is not used to playing week in week out yet.

“Hopefully there will be more to come. I believe we can achieve something here.”