HE was living his dream working with the best team in world football, yet Richie Partridge is preparing to walk away from it all to start a whole new adventure.
ack in the days when a teenage Partridge was one of many players to be bestowed with the unwanted tag of ‘the next big thing’ in Irish soccer, he could never have imagined the path that lay in front of him.
Now, 20 years after he made the move from a talented Stella Maris team that also produced future Ireland international Keith Andrews, and signed for Liverpool, Partridge is about to wave farewell to his adopted homeland to start a new life in Qatar, in a twist of fate that continues his remarkable journey.
Injuries played a part in ensuring Partridge’s playing career did not reach the heights he would have wanted, as he failed to make a first-team breakthrough at Liverpool and played out his career in the lower leagues of English football.
Yet a move into physiotherapy has reaped huge rewards for the 39-year-old Dubliner, who moved seamlessly into a new high-profile role in the game when his playing career came to an end.
Now Partridge looks back on a career that encapsulated so much joy, despair, agony and ecstasy, with his first experience as a homesick teenager in Liverpool now a distant memory.
“I could never have imagined I would be here at this stage of my life,” begins Partridge.
“When you are a kid and get a chance to come over from Ireland, you just want a bit of grass, a ball and at the end of the week, you hope you might get picked to play.
“Looking back to my first few months at Liverpool, I was very homesick when I initially came over from Ireland. I remember Steve Heighway (youth team coach) and Roy Evans, who was manager at the time, pulling me into the office when they could see I was struggling.
“The message was that I could go home whenever I liked, every weekend if you want. They wanted me to do whatever I needed to do to make me feel comfortable and to start with, I did go home every weekend.
“Then I started only going over once a month and suddenly you find yourself feeling settled and not needing to go back as much. I stuck it out and obviously it was the best decision I ever made.”
Partridge was part of the fabled Ireland under-18 team that were led to European Championship glory under the management of Brian Kerr back in 1998.
While he enjoyed a lengthy career in England that included spells with Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham, Chester and MK Dons, the medal collected with that Ireland team is his most cherished prize.
“If I am asked to remember my best memories, not just of being a footballer but of growing up, I will always go back to that summer in Cyprus with the Ireland under-18s,” continues dad-of-four Partridge.
“The success we had was just incredible, with a great set of lads and under a great manager in Brian Kerr. To win a tournament like that was very special and I would always say that was one of the best experiences of my life.
“Richard Dunne and Robbie Keane came out of that team and had amazing careers, but I didn’t have the best of luck with injuries and that meant I didn’t achieve everything I believed I could in the game, but that is how this game goes.”
Cruciate ligaments injuries to both knees by the age of 22 were hammer blows to Partridge’s hopes of making his mark at the top of the game and even though he settled in England as he married his first wife Lesley – sister of his Liverpool team-mate Michael Owen – his career struggled to gather momentum as he spent too much time in treatment rooms.
Ironically, Partridge’s misfortune opened doors he could never have imagined as his unwanted hours on medical treatment tables prompted him to consider a second career in football and, by the time he hung up his boots in 2013, he was already a fully qualified physiotherapist.
With the door to Liverpool open to him once again, Partridge the physio quickly moved through the ranks at Anfield and since 2016, he has been working as a key member of the medical team for Jurgen Klopp’s first-team squad.
When you have lived through the revival of a club that has long since held a special place in your heart, walking away and starting a new life thousands of miles from home seems like a curious plan.
Yet that is what Partridge is about to do after he accepted a job working with the Qatari FA in the build-up to the 2022 World Cup finals.
“I have been so fortunate to get a chance to work at Liverpool in a very different capacity over the last few years and, as you can imagine, the last couple of seasons have been incredible,” he reflects.
“The place is unbelievable at the moment, both on and off the pitch. You walk into the training ground and everything is buzzing.
“We are winning games week after week and Liverpool as a business is in such a healthy position. It has been an amazing place to work.
“With the injuries I had, I realised a long time before my playing days ended that I needed to have a career after football and having had so much experience in the medical side of the game with my injuries, it interested me.
“The PFA were great as they offered five paid places at Salford University for players who wanted to get physiotherapy qualifications and it meant I could still train in the morning and go to study in the afternoons.
“Then the door opened for me on the Liverpool medical staff and getting an opportunity to work with the first team under Jurgen Klopp has been incredible and when you see where we are at the moment, you might ask why have I decided to walk away.
“Anyone who leaves Liverpool usually gets told to leave, but I have been offered this chance to work in Qatar and it just feels like the right time to try something different.
“It will be great for my CV, will tick the box of international football and hopefully I will get a chance to work at a World Cup in two years’ time. I wanted to have that on my resumé and I just loved Doha when I spent some time down there. It is just an amazing place.
“This is a leap of faith and I will throw everything into it and I can’t wait to get started at one of the best rehabilitation facilities in the world. I’m 39, going on 40 and this is the moment to do this.”
With his wife Hayley and two young girls Ava and Violet heading out with him to Qatar in the latest chapter of his story, Partridge is walking away from one dream to start another.