Whelan: “Sánchez Flores Is Always Encouraging Me”
Callum Whelan has made quite the impact since joining the Hornets from Manchester United in the summer and the midfielder has been rewarded with an invitation to train with the first team indefinitely.
The 21-year-old has been a mainstay in midfield for Hayden Mullins’ table-topping Under-23s side, been called upon to train with the first team on numerous occasions already and travelled with Quique Sánchez Flores’ squad for the Carabao Cup tie against Everton. Now the Head Coach has decided he wants to keep a close eye on Whelan and have him around on a permanent basis.
“[Sánchez Flores] has been top, always encouraging and speaking to me, but he also tells me what I need to improve at and get better at,” said Whelan. “But I’m just grateful for the opportunities really, because I’ve been up there [training with the first team] quite a bit recently and I’m finding it a little bit easier the more I’m with them because you get to feel more comfortable in yourself.”
Settling in with the international stars and experienced Hornets has been made easier by the group’s welcoming nature – but that’s not to say they’ve been going easy on him.
“They are all top players and they are consistently at that intensity day in, day out,” he said. “They apply themselves so every time you go over there you’ve got to raise your game every session from the Under-23s. At the minute that’s not even enough, you’ve got to keep improving that one per cent every day and learn what you can off the top Premier League players.
“I watch the midfielders and I think Chalobah is unbelievable. He gives me a lot of advice and speaks to me a lot. Also Will Hughes. They are just top technical players and apply themselves as well.
“Ever since I’ve been going over, Will Hughes has a laugh and a joke and makes me feel comfortable, but when the time comes to tell me something I need to do he’s very firm with me as well. All the lads are so sound with us and make us welcome.”
Training and playing with high-profile players will not come as a shock to Whelan. While at Manchester United he was part of an intake that produced Marcus Rashford – and the midfielder even won the club’s respected Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award in 2017.
Since then he has spent time on loan at Port Vale and also trained with the Red Devils’ first-team squad before leaving for Vicarage Road in the summer.
“I had a few sessions up there [with the first team at Manchester United] and it was the same really, two similar clubs really, big players, big teams,” said Whelan. “It’s just the intensity and the quality, both areas they are consistently unbelievable and consistently intense as well, so you’ve got to up your game just to cope over there.”
Whelan’s desire and determination are evident from the way he speaks about his career, and what he aims to achieve in the future. After a first trip with the first-team squad to Everton, his sights are now set on more opportunities.
“The experience of going up to Everton was amazing, it’s what we all want,” he said. “I wasn’t on the bench but to be around the lads, see what they do and how they apply themselves for a big competitive match was good experience and I loved it.
“I’m very grateful for the experience and it’s one where you can’t just let it pass you by. You’ve got to remember how good it was and then strive to work hard and get on the next one and travel again.”