David Wheeler was handed the chance to play EFL football by Paul Tisdale back in 2013. The attacker now hopes to repay the manager by helping his MK Dons side enjoy a successful end to the season.
Wheeler, released by Brighton & Hove Albion as a youngster, began his senior career in non-league before being handed the opportunity to turn professional with Exeter City, then managed by Tisdale.
The winger rewarded Tis with 39 goals in 171 appearances, including a 17-goal season in 2016/17 which earned him a move to Sky Bet Championship side Queens Park Rangers.
Now, Wheeler is back under Tisdale’s guidance, on a loan deal which will run until the end of the season, and the 28-year-old hopes to continue repaying his manger for faith he showed in him all those years ago.
“I’ve put in a lot of personal effort over the years but I owe a lot to Tis and his coaching staff for their work and their belief in me,” Wheeler said in an exclusive interview with Red Dot. “For sure, I wouldn’t be the player I am today without their stewardship.
“I was extremely fortunate that I went to Exeter when I did because, if I went somewhere else and worked under a different manager, it may not have worked out the way that it has. I may have ended up feeling that football wasn’t for me.
“I started at Brighton [& Hove Albion] but was released at 16, even though I thought I was good enough to get a scholarship there. When that didn’t happen, it was a huge hit to my confidence and I had to question if football was going to be my career.
“I went to college and University, and during that period I started playing non-league football. I was always playing for teams that were fighting relegation, so it was rarely a situation where I felt confident about the future of my career. I enjoyed football, I wanted to keep playing and I always took it seriously but I was going after my education and looking at other options at the same time.
“Once I got my degree, I had a good season with Staines Town and I got a chance to go on a couple of trials with EFL clubs. I felt why not give it one last go, because I was only 21 at the time. It was my last opportunity before I was going to give up on my dream of playing league football. I went on the trials and I chose Exeter City. The rest is history!”
Wheeler and the Dons are in the mix for an automatic promotion places after a run of five straight wins, which sadly came to an end in midweek with a 4-2 reverse at Morecambe.
They take on Stevenage at Stadium MK this weekend knowing a win will move them back into the top three.
“When I arrived, we weren’t in the best form but we’ve picked up and found our rhythm, and a way of playing that we are happy with and one that’s effective,” Wheeler said.
“We’ve got back into the frame now, so it would be really complacent of us to now feel comfortable.
“We’ve got to keep doing the right things and hopefully we will be in and around it come the end of the season.”
Read the full interview with David Wheeler in Saturday's edition of Red Dot, which will be available from sellers around Stadium MK and the Box Office at a price of £3.