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Page last updated at 10:09 GMT, Friday, 21 November 2008

Kightly flying high

Michael Kightly, England under-21 coach Stuart Pearce and Wolves boss Mick McCarthy
Michael Kightly has impressed for Wolves and England Under-21 this season

By Chris Bevan

Flying Wolves winger Michael Kightly does not have to look far for inspiration as he continues his remarkable rise from non-League towards the Premier League - his England under-21 boss Stuart Pearce made the same journey 25 years ago.

The likes of Pearce, Ian Wright, and, more recently, Steve Finnan and Jimmy Bullard all took a similarly rocky road to the top after starting outside the professional ranks.

Now Kightly is trying to emulate them by helping to maintain Wolves' Championship promotion challenge at the same time as building up his own fledgling international career.

A down-to-earth 22-year-old, Kightly says "everything has happened very quickly" for him but there is no way he can be accused of attaining overnight success.

Michael Kightly holds off the Czech Republic's Jan Halama (left) and Michal Svec
Kightly completed his first 90 minutes for England Under-21 against the Czech Republic

Released by Southend in 2005, he had to rebuild his career at Farnborough, before things took off for him in his native Essex with Grays Athletic. A move to Molineux, on loan, followed in November 2006 with a permanent switch taking place in January 2007.

Since then he has also had to contend with a serious ankle injury that sidelined him for most of last season.

But he has still become the most feared wide man outside the Premier League and, thanks to Pearce, England recognition has followed too.

Kightly's first Under-21 call-up came in August 2007 and he played his first full 90 minutes in Tuesday's 2-0 win over the Czech Republic.

"Stuart has been brilliant with me," Kightly told BBC Sport. "When he first picked me we talked about his career and how he came from non-league. Our paths seem pretty similar.

"Then, when I was out injured last season, he rang me a few times to see how I was and just to let me know that I was still in his plans, which was nice. I needed that.

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"I was very down and sulking quite a lot. To get that from him gave me a real boost and I appreciated it a lot. Hopefully I can play many more times for him."

Pearce is not the only manager whose faith Kightly is eager to repay - he is just as keen to credit Wolves boss Mick McCarthy for his progress.

"Mick is fantastic," added Kightly. "When I first came to the club I had a look at the stadium and the training ground and it was all a bit overwhelming.

"The gaffer sat me down, had a good chat with me, and made me feel really at home. He made me feel like he was signing a big player when, at 25,000 from Grays, I was far from that. But he made me feel really welcome and that gave me confidence straight away."

That self-belief has been transmitted into performances that have seen him linked with a host of Premier League sides.

Nowadays I am much more closely marked but, if anything, that gives me more confidence. I'd hate it if one day people were saying 'don't worry about Kightly, he is no good'

Michael Kightly

But Kightly is used to the attention - he was known as the 'Ryan Giggs of non-league' during his Grays days and Manchester United famously tried to hijack Wolves' deal for him - and he does not find it a distraction.

He signed a new four-year contract with Wolves in June and explained: "The speculation doesn't affect me at all - it just means I'm playing well.

"It is flattering and, if I haven't got people talking about me or teams that want me, it will mean I'm doing something wrong.

"It's just like during games. Nowadays I am much more closely marked but, if anything, that gives me more confidence. I'd hate it if one day people were saying 'don't worry about Kightly, he is no good'."

At the moment, there is no danger of that happening. Kightly has played a starring role as Wolves have opened up a six-point lead at the top of the table.

In contrast to previous seasons, McCarthy has installed an attacking ethos that is paying dividends this campaign and Kightly is reaping the rewards too.

Michael Kightly
Kightly has scored seven goals for Wolves so far this season

"It suits me because that is the way I like to play," he added. "But we have a much stronger squad this year too - our reserves could probably play in the Championship and do well."

Things are going well for club and country. But, for Kightly, probably the most satisfying aspect of his success this term is that he has stayed largely injury free.

A mystery ankle problem meant he barely featured from November onwards in 2007/08 but he has only suffered one minor hamstring injury since the summer.

"Touch wood I won't be getting any more," Kightly said. "I had such a frustrating time. It was hard for me because we didn't know what the injury was or what was causing it - we were trying things and they weren't working."

Kightly feels there are two reasons why he has had no further problems - the treatment of physio Steve Kemp and the training regime of fitness coach Tony Daley, who has tailored a special programme for him.

No-one is ever the finished article and, from the way my career has gone, I know not to get carried away because things can change so quickly

Michael Kightly

His desire to make up for lost time meant Kightly took only a week off in the summer - the rest of the time was spent in the gym regaining his fitness and working on his strength, something he sees as key to continuing his development.

"Since my time at Grays I have filled out and become more of an athlete than I was before - that is important because a big part of my game is running," Kightly stated.

"And I have learnt a lot too. Not just from players I have played against or trained with but from the management staff too.

"It has been nice to get rave reviews and I know now I can perform well at this level but I want to continue to improve.

"I am not the kind of person who gets above my station - no-one is ever the finished article and, from the way my career has gone, I know not to get carried away because things can change so quickly."

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see also
Kightly flying high at Wolves
30 Jan 07 |  Wolves
England U21 2-0 Czech Rep U21
18 Nov 08 |  Internationals
Kightly ready for Wolves return
14 Oct 08 |  Wolves
Operation ends Kightly's season
29 Feb 08 |  Wolves
Kightly suffers fresh ankle woe
28 Jan 08 |  Wolves
Wolves sign McIndoe and Kightly
01 Jan 07 |  Wolves


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