W HEN Liverpool scout Noel McCabe was trying to woo a teenage Richie Partridge to Anfield, he made it clear to his protege how difficult it was to make the breakthrough to a top club in the FA Premiership. "It's one per cent ability," he proclaimed, "and 99 per cent luck."
Partridge's ability as a tricky winger was never in doubt, but when it came to luck he could easily echo Mick McCarthy's refrain -- minus the broad Yorkshire accent -- "don't talk to me about the luck of the Irish."
At 29, Partridge has spent all his adult life in professional football, and he has an updated take on McCabe's view. "Luck plays a big part in what club you play for," he explains, "but in making a career from the game the percentages change to 90 per cent ability and 10 per cent luck. Included in ability I would put attitude and temperament if you want to make a living from the game. Generally the players with the best attitude and ability will go on to have a career."
However, to make the breakthrough at the top level, luck does play its part, as he discovered when, at vital times of his career, he suffered two major injuries.
"The first was when I was 18 and looking to make the breakthrough from the Academy to the first team squad. The anterior cruciate in my left leg went and I was out for a whole season.
"The second was when the cruciate in my right went. I was 22, a time when you should be looking to cement a place in the first team, and I was on the back of a good season on loan to Coventry City. That was a big disappointment and kept me out for another season."
In all, Partridge spent eight years at Liverpool, playing in the Carling Cup but never in the League. What kept him there so long? Well, for a start, each time he was offered another contract better than the last one.
Leaving Liverpool four years ago proved a turning point in his career in more ways than football. "I signed for Sheffield Wednesday, who had just been promoted from League One, and I'm thinking my chances of playing in the Premiership are slimmer, so I looked at other avenues to pursue and signed up for a course in Salford University to get a degree in physiotherapy."
After four years' study, he graduated last summer with first-class honours as a chartered physiotherapist, and is now pursuing a Masters in football rehabilitation. "It's only a new course, so it's the gold standard at present," he explains. "It will help me when I go looking for a job."
Already he has made his mark in his new discipline. He helps physio Dave Galley at the Liverpool Academy on a part-time basis, and he has set up a clinic with a former Liverpool physio, Mark Browes, just outside Chester.
"Liverpool were as good as gold to me," he says, "because they showed they had faith in me. In hindsight it would have been better for me if I had gone to another club, but ever since I went to Anfield on trial at 13, my dream was to play for the first team and as long as they wanted me, I was happy to stay."
Of course, his playing career hasn't all been doom and gloom. Ask him about the highlights and he quickly lists four. "The first has to be winning the U18 European Championship for Ireland in Cyprus against Germany. We had such a good time with Brian Kerr and the late Noel O'Reilly.
"Next was my debut for Liverpool in the Carling Cup against Stoke City when we won 8-0, and then coming on against Spurs in the Carling Cup, the game went to penalties and I scored one, and we got through to the semi-final, and eventually the final, but the young fellows weren't involved by then.
"Being involved with the full Irish squad against Greece under Don Givens. Even though I didn't get on, to be involved at that level was fantastic, it's a great achievement. I was at Coventry at the time.
"When I look back at the end of my career, I won't have notched up as many appearances as other pros, but I have had my good times and good clubs, and there's satisfaction in that too."
At Anfield, Partridge started in the Academy the same year as Michael Owen, and that proved fortuitous. "He introduced me to his sister Lesley somewhere along the line, and the rest is history." They married and have an 18-month-old son Conor, who is already showing an uncanny fascination with football.
"We had several names in mind, but Conor was Lesley's idea more than mine. Her father Terry is from Scotland, and very strong on the Celtic side of it, and that was taken on by Lesley, who is very proud of Conor being half-Irish. The fun and games will start if he has the talents of his uncle and he has to decide which country he will represent."
Partridge is currently on loan at Conference side Kettering Town, and played in their two momentous FA Cup ties with League One leaders Leeds United, who only came out on top after extra-time. "That's something the lads are very proud of, holding Leeds over 180 minutes."
By the time he returns to MK Dons on January 1, Partridge will have seven games under his belt, and he aims to convince his former Liverpool team-mate and now Dons' boss, Paul Ince, to select him for the first team. Kettering are the eighth club Partridge has lined out for, but he has only one regret -- moving to Chester City. "It was a bad move football-wise," he admits. "I moved for reasons other than football, solely because I live there. The first six months were great, the club was being run brilliantly and we were in a play-off position, but unfortunately they ran into financial difficulties and went into freefall. That's the only regret in my career so far."
This weekend the MK Dons squad are in Dublin for their Christmas party. They flew in from Luton last night. "It will be good craic. It's a team-bonding thing."
The Dons are also in the news because their stadium has been listed as one of those which will host World Cup games if England are granted the 2018 finals. "I'm delighted for the chairman, Pete Winkelman," says Partridge. "He's one of the best I've come across. He would do anything for his players, he loves his players. He's always the first to lend a helping hand if one of us is in trouble, and after a game he always makes a point of thanking you for your efforts."
As to his future footballing ambitions, Partridge is a model of realism. "My future won't be dictated by my ambitions, because my ambition would be to play till I'm 100. With the knowledge I have now about injuries I couldn't indicate the length of my career, because after the operations I've had, I have to look after my physical future. Still, I'd be disappointed if I didn't get another two to three years."