When talking about favourite City players over the years, there is only one primary choice for me. Of course, I’m in awe of the wizardry of David Silva, the individual magic of Sergio Aguero, the fight and leadership of current skipper Vincent Kompany and the unparalleled passion displayed by Pablo Zabaleta, but you can only have one hero and mine is none other than Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Shaun Wright-Phillips was the shining light in the dark days for Manchester City. Amongst all the turmoil and with the club lurching in mediocrity, there was one sole reason to want to watch Manchester City and yet this reason wasn’t much taller than 5 foot.
But what he lacked in stature he quite clearly made up in application and ability and was a joy to watch in both of his stints at Manchester City, where he will always be held in high regard.
After being released by Nottingham Forest as a youngster for being ‘too small’, City soon got hold of ‘SWP’ and he would make his debut in a League Cup game against Burnley, before making his league debut against Port Vale not long after. Unusually, Wright-Phillips was sent on as a substitute striker when the Blues were a goal down and sparked a turnaround – even attempting to claim a goal when his shot took an almighty deflection on its way into the net. Still it didn’t matter too much as we have been treated to plenty of long range strikes from Shauny over the years.
When City’s Premier League stay under Joe Royle was cut short, Kevin Keegan was handed the reins and it was fair to say he took Wright-Phillips’ game to a whole new level. His industry, dribbling and mobility would prove to be a vital weapon down the right flank – with Keegan even deploying him at wing-back on a number of occasions.
He went on to claim the club’s inaugural Young Player of The Season award a staggering four times on the trot, which spoke volumes of his remarkable consistency in a blue shirt. He was undoubtedly the rising star and City fans were regularly left in awe over his talents. Some of the stuff on the pitch was quite brilliant. Jinking past a series of challenges before unleashing an unstoppable effort into the top corner. That was trademark Wright-Phillips.
While he looked great in an average side, it was inevitable that at some point, a superior outfit would come in for him and that is what happened. As it was then, a bid of £21 million from Chelsea was too tempting to turn down and it was later learned that Wright-Phillips didn’t really have much of a choice. He wanted to stay but the financial status of the club meant they simply could not reject such an offer. Speaking on the Blue Moon Podcast, Wright-Phillips said: “In the car on the way down I was crying because I didn’t want to go.”
Stuart Pearce, who was City boss at the time, revealed in an interview with the Mirror that the sale of Wright-Phillips saved the club.
“The club had sold the club shop, sold the ground to the council, we were paying on the never-never for the Anelkas of this world.
“It really was a case that the owners said, ‘Unless Wright-Phillips goes, we go.’ On the Monday Morning they pressed the button and Chelsea put £21 million in the bank which bails the club out, which puts pressure on me because you are selling your goal-scorer.”
It’s a stark contrast to the overwhelmingly comfortable situation City find themselves in nowadays. In terms of the transfer though, it did not go to plan and Wright-Phillips appearances in the Capital were rather limited. He had been the main man at City and despite winning the Premier League, FA Cup and League, you never had the feeling it was the right move.
Liverpool had been rumoured to be in for the now 33-year old and perhaps that would have been the better option at the time. Wright-Phillips should have been England’s regular wide-man for years to come but things didn’t go to plan.
That made it all the more refreshing when ‘SWP’ did return to the club for a second spell, even if he wasn’t the same player who terrorised and tormented any full-back in his way years earlier. But he did remind Blues fans just what he could do and his homecoming was near impeccable; Wright Phillips bagging a brace against Sunderland in his second debut with the club.
There were plenty of moments where he really did roll back the years. Impressive strikes against the likes of Crystal Palace and Portsmouth as well as two sensational goals in the same season against Arsenal. The first was a delicate chip past Manuel Almunia in the memorable 4-2 contest back in 2009 and Wright-Phillips helped sink the Gunners again in the League Cup with a blistering strike that flew into the top corner. Just a few moments for City fans to savour. He bagged himself an FA Cup Winners’ medal when the club ended that almost interminable drought without a major trophy, even though he didn’t play the biggest part.
It wasn’t just on the field where the winger was well taken to by Blues. He came across as one of the friendliest characters at club events and I had a memorable interaction with him when I was younger. At an old Junior Blues meeting SWP was doing some sort of signing, but for some reason my young self was too nervous to meet him. But after the event I would see him riding around outside the ground on his chopper bike along with what looked like his agent/advisor. My dad chatted with him while I watched, probably still in awe.
For some reason, Dad proceeded to enquire about the possibility of Shaun attending my upcoming football birthday party. In typical and professional fashion, he said: “I would love to but I can’t make it on that day.” It was a long shot but nevertheless a memory that still sticks in my mind. Not many people can say they nearly got Shaun Wright-Phillips to attend their birthday party.
I still value Wright-Phillips’ contribution to the team’s 2012 title success. He was not a City player but on that joyous day in May, I believe that when he had the ball in his stride on the right flank in the closing stages, he had the ability to take that ball into the corner flag. If I recall correctly this was what lead to QPR throw-in whereby City claimed the ball back and then you know what came next. That day was perfect for Shaun Wright-Phillips as QPR stayed up but it must have been something special for him to see City win in such dramatic fashion. After all this was a guy who displayed so much devotion to this club.
You see players come and go at your club, but there are always the ones you establish a connection with. Last season, when Aguero and Silva dazzled and City dismantled QPR, the deafening cheers heard were not for them, but for an opposition player who came out for a short cameo.
Shaun Wright-Phillips will always have a place in the hearts of City fans and that reception at the Etihad on May 10th evidently demonstrates that.
As they say, once a blue, always a blue.