BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Jon Meades has battled back from a succession of career-threatening injuries, so finally being forced to hang up his boots was never likely to derail him.
The 26-year-old took the decision to retire in August. When a long-standing ankle injury flared up in pre-season for AFC Wimbledon, it was the final straw for the former Wales U21 international.
But Meades has almost instantly switched into coach mode with the Dons after becoming one of their coaches in the academy.
And he is not bitter about the early ending to playing.
“I’m still very young and was hoping to have another 10 years in the game if I could but it wasn’t meant to be,” he said. “But there are no regrets. I’m not that type of person anyway.
“Sometimes I feel like injuries played a big part, which is unfortunate, but there are people who are worse off than me. I’ve loved it and football has given me so much.
“It’s been a journey – a rollercoaster. But there are so many more ups than downs for me and if you can say that you have been lucky.
“I’ve had so many amazing moments. I got a promotion under my belt at Wembley, I’ve played abroad [for Norwegian side Moss FK], had some really good clubs and met a lot of amazing people.
“I’m not saying I wasn’t devastated to stop playing but it gives me a chance to try something brand new at a young age.
“I’ve had a lot of injuries but basically the ankle is what has stopped me doing what I can do. Any big loads, it just can’t deal with it due to the cartilage damage and other things which have happened to it. If I’m on the bike or swimming it is okay, but any running and it really swells up. I’ve got a limited range of motion in it.
“It was getting to the stage where I didn’t think I could play two games in a week or the full 90 minutes. It wasn’t fair on myself, the club and team for me to be out there. My body couldn’t cope with a couple of games, let alone a season.
“It was extremely emotion. I tried to mask things as much as I could, in case I could get through it. I didn’t want to show signs I was struggling. It’s all I’ve known since the age of 15. But this was the right decision.”
Next up for Meades is to do his UEFA B coaching licence. He is working with different age groups in the Dons’ youth set-up to broaden his knowledge and find the right fit.
Spells at Cardiff, Bournemouth and Oxford United – along with 126 outings for Wimbledon – give him plenty of experience to advise young talent.
“The biggest influence on my career is the current manager at Wimbledon – Neal Ardley,” said Meades. “He brought me up through the youth team [at Cardiff], taught me a lot and gave me my debut. He improved me a huge amount.
“He is very inspirational to me. I had a lot of good managers – like Eddie Howe, who is flying now in the Premier League. He’s done remarkably well. I played for Chris Wilder at Oxford. He was a very good manager in a different way to Eddie and he has got Sheffield United promoted. As a youngster I had Dave Jones at Cardiff, again it was a different style but very successful.
“It gives you that broad spectrum. Even with the ones where it didn’t work out, like Michael Appleton and Malkay Mackay. You learn from different situations.
“I don’t know if I want to be a manager. I haven’t thought about it too much. I’m more thinking about the immediate future. I’ll set myself goals but I want to keep things open and then see what path I want to go down. It’s a beautiful position that I’m in, without too much pressure.
“Wimbledon have been amazing with me. Firstly, just giving me the opportunity – I’m very thankful. But also they have given me a few different roles and age groups, so I get a taste of different aspects. It means I can see what I’m best at or things I need to improve on.
“That’s perfect for the next couple of months and then we’ll sit down and see what, if anything, we need to change. Hopefully I can do enough to be a real asset.
“I don’t think we have any other ex-professionals in the academy, so I can bring something a bit different.”
So what is his best advice to aspiring footballers?
“That is a tough question. I’d probably say to try to treat every training session almost as if it is a game. Get as much as you can out of each one and try because it will speed up the learning process and keep you one step ahead of everybody else.
“You have got to enjoy it, especially at the age because the margins are so small. If you don’t then there is really no point.
“The percentages are very small in you making it, so you have to be the best version of yourself to have a chance of rising to the top. You also need a bit of luck, to be in the right place at the right time.”
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