IN the latest series of getting to know our Under-23 players we profile Ben Wells, who joined the R's from West Ham last summer.
Ben Wells is a defender and holding midfield player who joined QPR in July 2018 after rejecting a new deal at boyhood club West Ham United.
The teenager captained West Ham’s under-18s but has enjoyed his first season at QPR, training with the first team on a number of occasions.
Wells has represented Republic of Ireland’s under-18s but is also eligible for England.
Favourite position: Holding midfield
Idol as a kid: Rio Ferdinand
Qualities: Passing, reading the game well, decision-making
Sum yourself up: hard-working, reliable, composed
Nickname: Wellsy, Bobby Moore or Fashionista. Obviously Bobby More is a nice one but he’s a one off, no one can come close to him. Fashionista is because I rock up with new clothes sometimes.
“Sometimes a change can be good,” says Ben Wells.
Last summer, he left his boyhood club to join QPR. A season ticket holder at Upton Park and now the London Stadium, Wells has been a West Ham fan for life, and had been a player there since the age of six. Despite all of that, he chose to leave for QPR.
“The staff and players have been great and I’ve improved so much. I get on well with the boys and being in a different environment is great,” Wells explains.
“When you’ve been at a club for a long time, you can get comfortable,” he acknowledges.
“That’s when problems start occurring, when people start going past you. I didn’t want that to happen.
“At a new club, I have to improve myself. I have to show them what I can do, always be on top form.”
Wells lived in Upminster, Essex as a kid. He played for West Ham from a young age, but also Arsenal.
“Around the age of 8, I had to choose which club I wanted to play for. I chose Arsenal to start with.”
His dad ‘couldn’t believe it’. He was a passionate West Ham fan, and the pair, along with Ben’s oldest brother, would stand together at Upton Park.
“It was near Christmas as well, and I asked for an Arsenal kit. My dad said he couldn’t bring himself to do it so my mum had to get it for me!”
Wells played for Arsenal for a little over a month, but wasn’t enjoying it so he took up West Ham’s offer instead and then stayed for a decade.
He still goes to see the Hammers play. They’re still the club he supports. But QPR offered something different.
“I was under-18s captain and it was all going well, but I didn’t feel I was getting the opportunity there.”
It was a brave decision, particularly when you think of his dad’s reaction to choosing Arsenal as a kid. But he describes his family as being “so supportive” when it came to this decision, which was a mature one.
“I was offered a new deal at West Ham, which I refused. I thought I could have a better opportunity elsewhere. My family backed me 100%. We spoke about it every night to make sure it was what I wanted to do.”
Wells had trials at Nottingham Forest as well as QPR towards the end of the 2017/18 season.
“As the chance of becoming a professional player becomes more realistic, naturally my dad just wants the best for me. He wants the dream to happen for me, whether it’s at West Ham or somewhere else.”
Wells spent his whole childhood at one club. But QPR’s youth sides have a lot of players like him, footballers who have joined from another elite-level academy in search of a fresh start. Under-23s players Charlie Owens and Aramide Oteh have come from Tottenham. Nathan Carlyle arrived from Millwall last summer and plays for the under-18s.
“Everyone understands that they’re in competition with each other,” Wells says. “It can be a dogfight sometimes, but you’ve just got to stay focused and dedicated.
“We’re always encouraging each other to do the best and we’re all good mates. We all want to see each other achieve but it’s a tough environment.
“We push each other on because if the training is at a good intensity, you’re going to improve.”
Wells has made a number of mature decisions over the last few years. He worked hard for his GCSEs as “something to fall back on.”
He didn’t want to get sucked into the football world so much that he lost his original friends from school. “At 14, West Ham tried to make me go to their school. But I stayed at the school near my house, just to keep the social side. I wanted to keep in contact with my other friends, not just my teammates.”
But sacrifices have to be made because “you can’t go out. You have to be really dedicated.”
And, of course, the closer you get to the first team, the more you stop watching football as a fan.
“You start to analyse it more. I’m watching it to try and improve myself, to see what aspects there are in first team players that I can put into my own game. You work on that on the training ground, by yourself.”
The comfort of West Ham has gone for Ben Wells. A new club, a new set of teammates, a new set of pressures. His current deal only lasts until the summer, like most young players at QPR. He says it keeps him on his toes.
“There’s no messing up. You have to be on top form every day.”
He’s trained with the first team on a couple of occasions, with players like Ebere Eze and Joe Lumley who are the inspiration for the upcoming crop of QPR’s youngsters.
“Eze has done amazingly. He’s a great asset for the club, showing how there is a pathway for the academy players. The first team are giving players a chance here. You’ve just got to make sure you’re ready if the opportunity comes.”
If that opportunity is a loan move rather than a first team debut, Wells will be ready, too.
“I think getting into men’s football early can be vital. But you don’t want to go out too early. It’s got to be the right team. You don’t want to go out on loan and then not play,” Wells explains.
The maturity with which he describes the decisions that shape his career is impressive. He made his debut for the Republic of Ireland’s under-18 side in 2018. He’s also eligible to play for the country of his birth, England, but no decision needs to be made on that front for some time yet.
“It was a proud moment for me, getting a cap.”
His idol is Rio Ferdinand, who started out at West Ham and developed into one of the world’s finest ball-playing centre-backs. His teammates call him Bobby Moore sometimes. Despite those things, Wells sees his future in holding midfield. Wherever he is, the leadership and maturity he has shown already at the age of 18 will stand him in good stead.
“I want to be playing regular first team football,” he says. That’s why he came to QPR in June 2018.
Does he regret the move? “No, I’ve improved so much. It’s been great.”