“In a Premier League race it’s never over until it’s over. At one stage it was an 11 point gap and now it’s down to four points, so that is nerve-wracking for the players. As we would say, it’s squeaky bum time. It could be that they’re on a downward spiral. As big as the characters are in that dressing room, I still think there will be a spell where they might get nervy if Tottenham keep going as they are.”
The Blues seemingly had a fifth Premier League crown sewn up by Easter, but two defeats in April have left them looking over their shoulder at a hard-chasing Spurs, who also happen to be their FA Cup semi-final opponents this weekend at Wembley. Wright-Phillips insists that experience will now be critical as the pressure mounts, although it’s perhaps telling that Chelsea’s most seasoned leader, John Terry, has seen his role greatly diminished this term.
What did the Pheonix Rising star make of this week’s announcement that Terry would be leaving Stamford Bridge this summer?
“I saw it on the news over here, just flashed across the bottom of the screen. I didn’t see it coming. Twenty two years he has stayed there – pretty much his whole life – and I would have thought they’d be more for him, like a testimonial or something. I really think though that he will stay in England. He’s played a bit this year and that shows he’s still got a lot to give in the Premier League. Hopefully Chelsea win the league because that would be a huge achievement to sign out on.”
Looking further down the line the player, popularly nicknamed ‘Sweep’ by adoring fans, definitely sees a managerial challenge awaiting his long-time friend.
“He could definitely be a manager because of his character in the dressing room, and the way he spoke to players like myself to help deal with things when it got tough. We always looked at his football and sometimes he would have a go at us, because he knew what we were capable of and what we could give to the team. Some could take that. Some couldn’t. He has all those instincts in him to be a manager.”
The imminent departure of Terry from West London is not the only high-profile exit expected this summer, with Manchester City legend Yaya Toure also rumoured to be seeking new employers. Does Wright-Phillips see the imposing midfielder joining him in the MLS perhaps?
“As an ex Manchester City player and a supporter I’d love for a talent like that to stay, but if you want to play more football sometimes you have to move on. As for where he might move on to, that’s a hard one because there are so many things that now open to you in football. There are so many different places he could go to and enjoy his football, but he’s still got a good few years left in him. He could stay in the Premier League but it depends on if a club is willing to pay what he gets. Talent wise he’s still got it all.”
It’s little surprise to learn that the 35 year old remains a Citizen after nine happy years over two different spells at the club where his status is forever secured as a terrace idol. How does he view their season, considering the incredible expectation and hype that surrounded Pep Guardiola’s appointment last year?
“Pep has seen a difference to how it’s like playing consistently in the Premier League to Spain. No matter how good your team is, every other team will cause you a problem, but I think he’s slowly getting to grips with that. We haven’t seen the best yet because he’s had injuries and it has taken time to get the team playing his way. It’s a building process.”
“When you’re not winning every game obviously that puts doubt into the system but the players are getting to grips with that now. They’re going to be a lot better with it next year.”
One player who has already showed a marked improvement is Raheem Sterling, a flying winger who in many ways can be seen as a successor to Wright-Phillips for both club and country. After a difficult period that led to the 22 year old clearly losing his confidence and form he is now reinvigorated under Pep, and showing his doubters precisely why City paid such a handsome fee for his talents. Wright-Phillips believes that fee lies at the root of Sterling’s recent woes.
“The criticism was harsh on him because the price tag was out of his hands. So he’s had to just put his head down and play and for the most part he’s done that. He’s scored goals and created goals, and he’s working hard. For me it was all about the price tag and that’s unfair.”
“He is capable of going all of the way and especially under a manager like Pep. We’ve seen that with the wingers he has produced and managed. He could be a big threat not only for City but for England as well.”
As indeed Wright-Phillips was, in over 200 appearances for the Blues and 36 times for England, during an exhilarating and impressive career. Would he have liked to have played under the Spanish grandmaster himself?
“As a player I’d have definitely loved to have played under Pep. He likes attacking, working hard, and pressing from the front and that’s the stuff I like. I enjoy watching the football he produces because it’s all about flair and keeping the ball.”
Instead he played under another formidably talented coach in Jose Mourinho, and next week the self-appointed ‘Special One’ takes his side across town for a mother of all derbies. Wright-Phillips is delighted that his former gaffer is now taking on the club closest to his heart.
“It’s going to be a tough challenge but it’s nice that Jose has gone to United, because derby days might now go back to when there was a lot of aggression and everyone wanted to win to get one over on the other. I hope it goes back to that because I used to love playing against the Reds. Scoring against them just made it even better.”
On which note talk naturally leads to the all-time leading goal-scorer in this famous fixture, and the third expected big departure from the Premier League this summer. Wright-Phillips however brushes aside any suggestion of China or the MLS for United’s record-breaking striker.
“Wayne Rooney has still got so much more to give and he could still do an outstanding job in the Premier League. It depends on the player and where his head is at right now.”
SHAUN WRIGHT-PHILLIPS QUICKFIRE QUESTIONS
Score prediction for Chelsea v Tottenham?
Chelsea win 2-1
Score prediction for Manchester City v Arsenal?
2-0 to Man City
Who will win Champions League?
Juventus. If not then Atletico Madrid
Who will win the Premier League Golden Boot?
Sanchez just keeps scoring but that’s hard. I’m going to have to get back to you on that one.