With the season’s second-half curtain raising English Premier League fixtures due next week, AmericanGambler.com spoke to our friend, former Manchester City and Chelsea flying winger Shaun Wright-Phillips. Ahead of the EPL betting start in the USA. Check NJ betting apps and get bet365 NJ bonus or see Betrivers odds on EPL matches.
The speedster analysed the incredible work that Lampard has done at Chelsea, and that they are ready to compete with Liverpool once more and why former team-mate Sergio Aguero could only really be replaced by Robert Lewandowski. Wright-Phillips also spoke with clarity and elegance on why there is still evident discrimination within football, citing the lack of opportunity for two England greats; John Barnes and Paul Ince.
Born and raised as a London boy, what team did you support when you were growing up?
While my dad was at Palace, I looked into Palace, but I grew up following Arsenal. I wouldn't say I supported them, but that was the team that I always looked at and always wanted to watch as I was growing up, so you could say I supported Arsenal.
Was it your dream to play for Arsenal at one point then?
I think that once my dad went there, it is something that would have been a nice story for that to happen, but I think everyone knows what football is like; you don't really get that many options.
Did you train with Arsenal before you went to Man City?
No, I was at Nottingham Forest and I pretty much got released and within 48 hours I was offered a trial at Man City, so I went there for about a week and had two games to play within it, and straight after that I basically signed.
Who was your footballing idol when you were growing up?
There were a few of them, because when I was growing up I like to dribble even when I was playing up front, but then obviously the highest became a problem, so they moved me back into midfield and then I got moved to right wing. So when I was growing up the players that I looked at and loved Anders Limpar, Marc Overmars, Ryan Giggs, David Ginola and Gerogri Kinkladze whenever I could get to see him. They were my sort of typical players that I loved watching and tried to learn from. Obviously not play like them, but to try and take bits and bobs from them to improve my game.
You’ve played for two of the Premier League’s most successful clubs, as well as playing for England at a time when there were too many talented players to count on both hands. If you had to put a 5 a-side team together with the players that you’ve played with, who would make the team?
Ouch! I'd have to say Petr Cech in goal. I think I would go with Ricardo Carvalho as a centre-back, David Silva has to go in there – I didn't get to play with him much but I got to train with him a lot, and I think I would go with Joe Cole and also Didier Drogba. They could play on small pitches, big pictures. There are a lot of players but I think those 5 players with dominate any five a-side team.
Is Joe Cole one of the most underrated players of your generation?
I wouldn't say that he was underrated in that way, but people didn't give him the credit that he deserved. Some of the things that he did and was capable of were unreal, and to top it off he was a nice lad, a nice person both on and off the pitch. He was very humble, and he was just great to play with and be around whilst I was at Chelsea.
There’s been a debate on Gerrard v Lampard raging for years. Obviously you played in a Premier League winning side with Lampard and Gerrard at international level. If you could pick one, who would it be and why?
I think for me I would have to say Steven Gerrard. That's no disrespect to Lamps, because everyone knows that Lamps was an amazing player. It was so hard to put your finger on with Gerrard, but it just seems like he had something different. 4-4-2 what's a big formation at that time for me, until Jose Mourinho came around and started playing a 4-2-3-1, and Gerrard was your perfect number 8 in a 4-4-2 – he did everything. You just always knew that something was going to happen defensively or in attack, and his talent and technique were unreal.
You played with a lot of true leaders throughout your career, and the one that springs to mind is former England and Chelsea captain John Terry. Did any single player have a particularly large impact on your career through their leadership and captaincy qualities?
I think for me, I was lucky to have a few good captains. Although some of the teams may not have been as good or were in bad situations, every time I was at a team we always had a good captain who always fought for the team, which was the main thing for me. Sometimes as a player you do get down in the dumps, and to have that captain who can put an arm around you and fights for your cause is nice to see and it also reflects on a lot of the other players as well.
Did you play with Vincent Kompany at the beginning of his City career? Could you tell he was going to grow into the City captain he became?
Yes I did, and of course once he had settled once he had settled into his position. He will tell you that he wanted to play centre midfield, which didn't quite work out, from which he went back to centre-back just made that role his own. You could just see him becoming the leader that he became. And if a defender played in the midfield, you can tell that he's going to be good with his feet, and to have that in the bag nowadays is a blessing.
You played under Jose Mourinho, who seems to have somewhat of a ‘marmite’ reputation from players talking about playing for him. How did you find playing under him?
I loved every minute of playing under Mourinho. It was a completely new experience to me having left City at the time, and to step into that situation and that big picture, we just made it feel like I was at home. He got me. He knew how things were, he knew if I wasn't happy he would come and speak to me, and he will always let me know what was going on. Not once did I not feel a part of that family, and that was down to him and his coaches. I really enjoyed it and I don't have a single bad word to say about him.
Mourinho sounds like he was in the Fergie mould, and how Fergie looked after the young United players coming through?
I don't think he was as strict as him because we used to hear stories about Fergie from across the block when I was at City! He had that similar mould, and he believed in his team and believed in the squad, which you need from a manager because everyone knows that sometimes you are not going to play a lot, but you need to be ready when you are chosen to play.
People talk about Mourinho being boring and defensive. You played in a Chelsea team that set the record for goals scored in 2004/05. Was the portrayal of Jose wrong, although it was a defensive master class, it seems as though the team’s first thought was about attacking?
He wasn't defensive minded, he built a team to attack but at the same time we had to be able to defend. There are certain teams that you would come up against that you know would have the ball and you have to be able to play certain styles of football to combat that. Our strategy was keep the ball when we have it, attack when we have the ball, but when we haven't got the ball we stay solid as one unit because clearly it is harder for them to score. I don't think that's being boring, I think that's just being clever. You can't just press individually, or keep pressing for 90 minutes, because somebody will slip up and gaps will appear. For a team to attack and defend when they haven't got the ball, I don't think there's anything wrong with it. You can defend a bit higher up the pitch, but it worked for us at Chelsea. We all bought into what he was trying to do, and I think that is what it was a matter of.
When Mourinho left, Avram Grant came in and gave you fewer opportunities than Jose. From a mind-set perspective, how hard was it mentally to be left out of a Champions League final squad?
To be honest with you, it was very hard to take, but my mum bought me up in a way that there was no I in team, so as much as I was down, I was happy that my team was there. I wanted to support them as though I were playing, and that's all that I tried to focus on that day, but of course it burned me a lot.
A lot of players will have been affected in their mind-set by the break that we have had through the Coronavirus. How will that break have affected players mentally?
It could work both ways for me. You will have players who are excited and can't wait to get back, and hit the ground running. And then you could have a player who still has thoughts of the coronavirus in the back of his mind, which may cause him a problem on the pitch. Given how big the Premier League is, is I don't think that is going to happen to anybody, and everybody will be looking forward to the gains starting again and getting active. Even though it is going to be strange for them with no crowd, I think they're looking forward to getting back on the pitch, scoring and creating goals.
Chelsea have secured the services of Timo Werner for next year; how exciting a prospect will he be?
I think Lamps has done tremendously there, he's a great player. He is hungry for goals and it gives Lamps the option there, and with Ziyech in there, Chelsea's front three is looking very strong. As you can see, he's having a nice mix of maturity and young talent, and it's very hard to go wrong with that.
Have you seen much of Hakim Ziyech? What does he bring to Chelsea?
He brings that attacking Flair, he scores goals and he creates goals. We have seen him do it in the Champions League, and now other wingers and other midfielders have to up their game because there is a lot of competition there. Having a lot of players on top of their game can only be a good thing for Lamps for and for Chelsea.
Lampard seems to be close to finishing the jigsaw with the last pieces of the puzzle; do you expect them back challenging for titles in the next 2/3 years again?
Yes, definitely. I think next year if you gets the players that he wants and get his team exactly as he wants it, then 100%. They still challenging for the Champions League spots now, so it's only one step further forward, and that is challenging against Man City and Liverpool, who have run away with it this year.
Liverpool are just a level above everyone at the moment. What does anybody do to catch them at the moment?
I think that what Liverpool did really well this year, was that when they had to win, they did win. And when City had to win games to stay with them, they either drew them or lost them, which saw the gap just get bigger and bigger. I think this year is going to be a completely different year, and I heard that Liverpool actually wanted Werner but that upstairs didn't allow it. So if teams keep improving, and Liverpool are not improving then that big gap will naturally get smaller.
If I re-wind 11 years back to City against Arsenal, you had quite the day scoring and grabbing an assist in a 4-2 win against the Gunners. You set up Adebayor with a wonderful cross for his header. What did you think when you saw him start celebrating? Did you have any idea that he was about to knee slide in front of the Arsenal end?
To be fair no I didn't know, and I didn't know what was going through his head! We tried to run and celebrate with him, but as soon as I saw him go past the half-way line, there was no stopping him, and I thought you can run down there on your own! I'm saving my energy! Massive and he was at full tilt as well. That was just his passion, and I don't think he meant anything by it to the Arsenal fans, but it was just his passion and he deserved it at the time.
What was said about the celebration by the boys in the dressing room after?
We were just laughing at him, saying ‘ where did you get that energy from?!'. He had just burst into the box on the counter attack for the cross initially, and then just ran in the other direction. We were just laughing!
Did City v Arsenal provide an added incentive for you given the family ties to Arsenal?
Yes, but it was more of an incentive because when I was coming through at city at Maine Road, every time I came on we were already 4 or 5 nil down, and it was getting to that point where we thought we just have to change this. But then after the draw at Highbury, we realise that things were changing slowly, and we kind of just went from there when I came back.
Where do you think next week’s game will be won and lost?
I think that for City it will be won in attack. I don't think the score line will be that high, as Arteta has done a great job since he has come in. Closing up shop, they have been defending very well, and I haven't seen Arsenal defend as well as they have under Arteta for a while. But at the same time, Arteta will want to get one over his old boss. It's tight enough to be an interesting game, because Arteta knows him and Pep knows Arteta, so it's going to be an interesting game of chess.
City have signed countless players since the take-over; is Sergio Aguero the most pivotal of all of those signings?
Yes I would definitely 100% have to say Serge. Not many foreign players come in and hit the ground running as well as he has done, and consistently done it for 8 or 9 years. With injuries as well. He's never really had a season without a few weeks out, he has been out through injuries and he still always races for the Golden Boot. He shows up in all of the big games. I think that he is definitely the most pivotal man.
How will City eventually replace Aguero, when that time comes?
I had this conversation with my mate to the other day, and we both thought ‘ who can you actually sign to replace him?'. There are a lot of great strikers out there, yeah but are they going to come in and do what he has done for the last 10 years? Gabriel Jesus knows how to play his role and how to score the goals, so at the moment he is the natural replacement, and he knows the City way. But for somebody to come in and fill those big shoes, it's a lot of pressure. Maybe Lewandowski but he is getting on now.
Was there ever an influence on your decision to not go into coaching due to the inequality of opportunity?
No, because I haven't decided if I want to be a coach or not yet, I haven't taken my badges to have that option. But it (the racism) is definitely there, and we think we know the reasons, but at the end of the day they have been a lot of black coaches you have tried their hand. John Barnes was one of them, tried time and time again. Paul Ince tried time and time again at a decent level, and they all got shut down, and I know that there are many, many more of those cases. It's disheartening. Especially for a kid coming through, to be able to learn from John Barnes and Paul Ince who were two of England's greats, it's a bit sad.
I am a BLACK MAN!…. I build…. I don’t tear down other BLACK MEN! …. I have felt the pain of being torn down and I have decided I will be deliberate about building others! If I didn’t tag you, please don’t be… https://t.co/KskliOZPjy— Shaun W-Phillips (@swp29) June 5, 2020
Does that discrimination against black coaches still exist in EPL?
I do believe that discrimination is still there. Are there's no reason why they shouldn't be given a fair chance. They have done all of the badges that they are meant to do, do and I don't know what the problem is.
What needs to change in football to get rid of racism? Or is it not football and it comes down to a bigger government picture?
It's in both. There is no ‘it's not football', or it has to start from the government. The government doesn't control football, so in aspects of giving black cultures the chance to be successful cultures, is down to football itself. There is no reason for them to not give them that opportunity.
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