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Former Manchester City winger and England international Shaun Wright-Phillips hails Raheem Sterling as the perfect role model
A Premier League winner with Chelsea, England international and model professional Shaun Wright-Phillips shared his thoughts with AmericanGambler.com and our partner – William Hill. Wright-Phillips, a Manchester City fan himself, gave his thoughts on how Vincent Kompany led Man City to the title and expects them to complete an historic domestic treble this weekend.
He also shared his opinions on a difficult season for Chelsea, but that he believes they will finish their season off by winning the Europa League. Sterling also spoke about the incredible maturity of Raheem Sterling both on and off the pitch, and that any youngster going in to football should aim to emulate the Manchester City star.
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How impressed were you with City’s final day performance, and the way that they came from behind to win?
I’ve been watching City all year and you can see that they never ever give up and they always fight until the bitter end, City have always done that for the last few years. The quick response after falling behind with Aguero scoring, completely set the pace and the tone, and gave the belief to the players.
For me Aguero’s equaliser completely turned the game on its head, because the longer the game went on at 1-0, you’d start thinking it would more likely turn out as a draw or a loss, but the players built on the momentum of the quick response. You know that City are going to create chances and they all went in, and obviously Mahrez’s goal came at the perfect time.
Are Man City deserved champions this year? Liverpool gave them a great run but does that only show how good this City side is?
Yep, I think that City definitely deserved it and Manchester United fans and most people didn’t want Liverpool to win the title, but Liverpool were outstanding this year and if it wasn’t for City having that game in hand, Liverpool would have won the league. But they won their game in hand, kept the train rolling and kept pulling off result after result.
I think the most important goal was that hit from Vincent Kompany against Leicester. It was an unbelievable hit and considering that he hasn’t hit the target from outside the box since 2013, it was just meant to be! He scored the header against United in their first title win, and twice he’s scored the goal that has got them to a point to be able to win the league. Big players always show up at the right times, and Vincent being the amazing person and captain that he has been for the team, he showed that over the back end of the season.
Recently, people have said that Van Dijk is the best defender we’ve ever seen. Would you argue that Kompany is the best defender of the Premier League era?
I think it’s hard to say because they’ve both played in different eras and the game has evolved a lot in a short space of time and Vincent is now a lot older than he once was. When Vincent was in his prime, he was just as good as Van Dijk but Van Dijk has the age on him and I think he is now the best centre back in the world right now.
How does this City side rank in the history of Premier League teams, against the first City side to win the Premier League, Arsenal’s Invincibles and United’s Treble-winning side?
They’re up there for sure and I’d definitely say they’re in the top three Premier League sides in history, but it’s always hard with an ever-evolving game. Every time we see a good new manager come into the game, it keeps evolving but where the game is right now, City are certainly the best team in the game. Obviously the Invincibles and the United Treble-winning side were very good but football was a very different game back then.
Do you see City becoming Champions again next year for the third year running?
I just don’t think that it’s going to be a two-horse-race next year, and I feel that the other big teams like Arsenal, Chelsea, United and Spurs know what they have to do now and if they want to be up there in the running, they have to win the big games. Whether people like it or not, there’s always spending money but it’s about spending the right money and I think that City seem to have an edge on that.
Players that City have bought, play the City way – they add to City, they make them a better team. People will say that Mahrez hasn’t played a lot this year, but if you look sat his stats, he’s still scored as many goals as other Premier League players. They have a way of knowing that when they come on, they’re going to do what they need to do to make an impact, and that runs the whole way through the team. Sane is a prime example as well, and he knows the challenge and how tough it is to get in that team.
Where do you think City could strengthen in the summer?
I don’t know what’s happening with Vinnie at the minute, whether he’s going to re-sign or if he’s going to hand the boots up, but I think it would be nice to have a few more centre backs and that’s the only position that I can think of, just to cover injuries. They suffered a lot with injuries at the back this year.
Is there any one defender that you would love to see join City?
Van Dijk! In seriousness though, De Ligt from Ajax would be a great move, and considering he’s only 19, he’s a top class player, and very intelligent for his age. With the way Ajax play passing football, he would 100% naturally slot in to the City side.
What do City need to do to win the Champions League?
This year was hard as Spurs played very well in that game, but I think it was also harsh on City as we had chances to put the game away and didn’t take them. We all know what football is like – if you don’t take your chances against the big teams, you’ll get punished. In the first leg we had the penalty and a few other chances that we missed and end up losing 1-0 and it was the away leg that killed City.
How impressed have you been with Raheem Sterling this year?
Very impressed, both on and off the pitch, and he has shown that he is the perfect role model for a new kid coming through. He has seen what it takes, he has gone and done it and dealt with the bad stuff that has come with it, that he never even had a say in.
How impressed are you with Sterling’s maturity?
People forget that he is still young, in footballing terms he’s still a baby. He’s meant to be learning but he’s dealing with things that a more experienced pro should be dealing with, and doing it perfectly. He’s answered everything in the right way by letting his football do the talking. It’s very powerful what he has done.
You were the subject to appalling behaviour in Spain. It seems as though the FA hasn’t done that much to tackle the problem since then; would you agree with that?
To an extent I agree with that, but it’s hard to police racism for the FA. How do they police it? Unless someone makes people aware of what has happened within a stadium, the FA would never know that it is happening. I would just ban the fans. I think it’s everywhere and it’s just whether it comes out or not – some people get ahead of themselves and it just comes out.
When I say ban the fans, not to punish people, but so that fans will start policing it themselves. I don’t want to bring my kid to a stadium and sit next to somebody who is shouting racist chants, because it’s going to make kids think that it’s okay to do it. It’s not only affecting players, but it is affecting kids that are growing up now, and are going to bringing their kids in future. It needs to be nipped in the bud somewhere, and I would just ban those fans for life, and don’t allow them into any football stadium in England.
Now that you’re watching your son go through City’s youth ranks, what has changed from your time there at the club and your senior team call up?
The kids are spoiled! I think it’s hard for any kid playing in the top six Premier League teams to keep grounded, but so long as they have got a good family behind them then that keeps them humble and it shouldn’t be a problem. The improvement is drastic and the improvement with the training ground, the facilities, the food and the way they take care of you is only of benefit to the players. The hard part is just keeping the kids grounded away from the game, because of social media and the money, and it can be difficult for some kids.
This City side has a wealth of talent. If there’s one player you could play with from this current crop, who would it be and why?
I think I would have to say David Silva, because as a winger you don’t want to have to dribble to get past your man every time, you want to be able to run into space and run in behind and he’s the master. He’s the man that you don’t have to shout for the ball from – he just knows you’re going and knows how to get the ball to you. As a creative midfielder who either wants to score or get an assist, I think that he would have played a pivotal role in my game.
You scored a number of great goals in a City shirt, but what goal or goals stand out in your mind as the most memorable?
Everyone always expects me to say the goal in the derby, but it’s actually my very first City goal, which was against Millwall at The Den. It was a really weird situation because Millwall fans had been fighting so both sets of fans had away game bans so we had no City fans at The Den. So my first ever goal was in front of no City fans so that always stands out for me!
What’s your prediction for the FA Cup Final?
I think it’s going to be a tough game. I think City will win but it will be a tough game. Watford are a good team – they’re physical, know how to play football and they’re very dangerous from set pieces as well, which is where I feel Man City sometimes struggle. I don’t think that’s where the match will be won and lost, but I think we might have a difficult time with the set pieces. Teams have started to notice it and isolate in the box. Teams have started winning free kicks around the box and instead of taking short free-kicks, they’re setting up and getting the ball into the box to see what happens.
Do you think City will remember the cup final against Wigan and ensure that they don’t make the same mistake?
100%. They’ve done everything right so far in winning the Premier League so they’re in good spirits and they’re going to want to win The Treble, and this is the perfect time to do it.
What are your thoughts on Reuben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi? Do you think they should be given a greater or more important role within the Chelsea team?
Most definitely. Firstly I’d like to say I’m gutted about Callum’s injury to his Achilles and I hope that he has a speedy recovery, as I know those injuries can be tough. I personally wish that they both, particularly Loft, played a lot more. He proved his abilities in the World Cup – every time he came on the pitch in the World Cup, England seemed to play a lot better.
Every time he has come on for Chelsea, he seems to play really well. I think he’s earned the respect and the right to play more often. I saw that the fans were booing Sarri when he was taken off in the Europa League, which just shows how much the fans are backing him and I’m backing him 100% as well, I believe in every ability that he has.
As a winger, how much of a pleasure would it have been playing with a striker like Giroud?
I think that Chelsea actually missed him this year, and that he would have been a key player if Chelsea had given him a run of games, because he holds the ball up so well, he gets goals and he brings the wingers in to play. He allows the wingers more space and time to get in behind so the attacks all link up and they’ll miss him massively if he leaves as well. He will be a tough player to replace, even with the fact that he didn’t play that much this year, he’s a hard guy to replace and I don’t think Arsenal have recovered without him. Obviously Lacazette and Aubameyang are so good and they score the goals, but Arsenal are being let down by their defence unfortunately.
Do you think Hazard should leave for Real Madrid?
It’s a hard one because Chelsea is an amazing club, the fan-case is amazing and the owners are amazing as well – everything about the club is amazing but it’s a hard one for him. You have to ask yourself how far do you want to go in your career, what do you want to achieve and that will make his decision.
Hopefully Chelsea can go out and win the Champions League again, win titles again, but if they can’t then what does Hazard want? Does he want to win these things or does he want to be Chelsea’s main player – that’s a question that only he can answer.
How much of an impact will the transfer ban have on Chelsea being able to catch Liverpool and Man City next year?
I don’t think it will hinder them because they have enough players in their squad now, and they have enough players on loan, which are clearly of a Premier League standard so they can call them back. So I don’t think the ban will hinder them that much – we’re forgetting that they have something like 40 players out on loan.
Of course not all of them are worthy of a place in the Chelsea side, but there’s a lot of people with the potential and this could be the start of somebody’s career by bringing them back and giving them a run in the team, and maybe even the next England superstar, or French or Belgian superstar on our hands.
How do you assess Sarri’s first season, and do you think that Chelsea should stick with him?
Unless you’re one of the new managers like a Pep or a Mourinho when they first showed up, or even Nuno Espirito Santo from Wolves, there are very few people who come to the Premier League and take it by storm in their first season. Not many people come in and do really well.
I don’t agree with some of Sarri’s decisions, but Chelsea always fight through things to do well and they’ve finished in a Champions League position which nobody saw coming.
What’s your prediction for the FA Cup Final?
I think Chelsea will win the Europa League final. I’ll be supporting Chelsea, and I’ll definitely be sending my dad some banter if Chelsea pick the trophy up. I don’t know if he’d do the same to me, but I’ll definitely be calling him out!
Do you think that England can win the Nations League this summer?
Yep, it’s funny with England – we’ve never not had the players, but we just never seem to get to the final hurdle for some reason. Even now, the potential of the squad is unbelievable and they can win it. The current squad is definitely good enough to win it and I think Southgate has done a tremendous job with them, and he has utilised the young talents coming through very well.
Do you think that Southgate has got the fans behind England again?
100% Southgate has got the fans behind England again, and what he’s done so well is that if players are playing well and they deserve to play, they’re given that chance and they’re given that start whereas previously it wouldn‘t be like that.
No matter how well you played, you knew that you were on the bench or you were just in the squad whereas now, it’s keeping the competition so high in the England squad because people know that if you’re playing well in the league and say scoring goals, you’re likely to get the same chance to do that for England, so no-one’s position is safe as such. You have to keep performing which is always good in the game.
How did you find your experience of playing in the MLS?
It was amazing with the Red Bulls and Phoenix Rising, and no regrets. It was an amazing experience. We got to win the shield with the Red Bulls in my first year, and most of all I got to play with my brother. I also got to play with Didier, Jordan Stewart and Peter Ramage again, which was pretty cool.
What are your thoughts on everything that Bradley ahs achieved in the MLS?
For some people it came as a surprise how well Bradley has done, but it wasn’t to me. I’ve seen him do it from being a kid in Sunday League and he just never got given a fair crack of the whip in England.
He had to take the hard route and he took a gamble coming to America because he didn’t know how it was going to turn out, but he got given a chance for once, and he showed people what he has always been capable of. He scored when he did get the chance at City, he did the same thing at Charlton and then things just go badly for some reason. But he’s come here and they’ve taken him in like a son so it’s great to see.
You both come across as having been very hard-working professionals. Has that been important to both of you?
That’s just how our mum and dad brought us up – you don’t get anything for free in any world or any job, and the least that you can do whether you have a bad day or not, is to at least work hard and that’s just how we grew up. I don’t think that will ever change and it’s exactly the same thing that I tell my son – you’re not always going to play well, but you can always work hard.
How do you rate the Red Bulls’ chance in the MLS Cup this season?
It’s the only thing that I don’t really get about the league – to win the league, you have to be consistently good all the time, but for some reason the MLS Cup out-weighs the league and you only really need to win four games. So some teams may play averagely and save their energy to make sure they’re in the playoffs and they’re all fresh for the MLS Cup, so it’s a bit bizarre.
I think that it should be a separate cup to the league like in England, or it should be an added thing and shouldn’t be the main reward, as it takes away from the league, which then means nothing. All anybody cares about is just the MLS Cup, which is just four games. I get it with some sports, but what made them think that it would work in football.
What are your thoughts on the prospects for the MLS? Do you see it expanding or more players from the foreign leagues coming in?
It has definitely grown and got better, but it’s still a long way to go. The competition in the league needs to be tougher with the consequence of relegation. It’s pointless if we just get paid to stay bottom all the time. Some people are just happy losing and that mind frame needs to change, and competition would change that straight away.
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