The former England winger opens up about this £21million move, his son D’Margio’s debut for Stoke and what makes Cole Palmer so special in an exclusive interview
Wright-Phillips was about to play for Manchester City in a pre-season game, but as the club’s financial situation unraveled behind the scenes, a £21m bid from Chelsea offered salvation from the impending meltdown. Not that he knew before a transfer that was like a ‘bolt from the blue’.
For Shaun Wright-Phillips, the clash between his two former clubs keeps bringing him back to a cab ride that changed the course of his career.
“When you’re a little kid – especially when you’re happy – you just think you’re going to play somewhere forever, but unfortunately it wasn’t supposed to be,” he says I ahead of Chelsea’s visit to the Etihad this weekend.
“Later I found out that they had to sell me or that I was in serious financial difficulties. It was a pre-season game under Stuart Pearce and some of the older players said to me, ‘It’s not safe for you to play in this game’.
“By the end of the game the deal was done and a car was waiting for me in front of the stadium. It just happened very quickly and it was emotional, I couldn’t say goodbye to anyone. It just said “go”. It was a shock. I was in tears in the back seat of that car.”
Jose Mourinho and Chelsea fans ultimately proved welcoming as he justified the price. “Chelsea taught me to be a different player,” he says. “I didn’t have to hug the touchline anymore, I didn’t have to be the player who took on the man and had to create something all the time.”
17 years later, the transformation at Manchester City has been stunning. No longer the feeder club, they are now the dominant side in the country and have no side to relinquish that title despite Liverpool and Chelsea hot on their heels in the early part of the campaign.
After a Christmas in which they proved unrivaled, Pep Guardiola’s powerhouse – who plays without a recognized striker for most of the season – welcomes Chelsea with almost complete control of the title race. If the Blues – without Edouard Mendy, Ben Chilwell and Reece James – win at the Etihad, it’s difficult to imagine them overtaking the reigning champions.
“It’s an exciting game but Chelsea probably need to win it sooner,” concludes Wright-Phillips.
“You can’t really imagine Man City going on a two-loss four-draw streak. You will always put profits in there. If they lose points, they still feel comfortable at the top.
“Liverpool without Salah and Mane means the gap to Manchester City is even bigger in terms of quality. They are overwhelming favorites now.”
Part of the intrigue is whether Guardiola will mess with his own instincts and give Cole Palmer an opportunity to build on a sensational performance in Swindon last weekend.
Wright-Phillips, himself a young rookie who grew out of the club’s youth system, sees a kindred spirit in the effervescent Palmer. The England Under-21 international capped a brilliant performance with a memorable slogan – ‘Prem Soon Come’ – and there’s a feeling he’s reaching the point where he could influence Premier League games.
“He’s ready,” Wright-Phillips says firmly. “He has everything you need to play in a game like this, certainly in terms of talent. He is fearless and doesn’t care who he meets.
“His mindset is ‘Cole Palmer will do what Cole Palmer can do.’ At the same time, Pep has always been protective of his young players, so you never know exactly what he’s going to do.
“At the level that Manchester City are competing at, you can only be there with that belief and that little arrogance that you can control a game, no matter the size of the stage.
“That also applies to the young players. I’m really excited about Cole.”
Wright-Phillips pursues a career as a professional and follows in father Ian’s footsteps. But son D’Margio, who made his FA Cup debut with Stoke City on Sunday aged 20, continues the family legacy.
“It was amazing and emotional to see him make his debut. I was so proud of him and he did so well,” he says.
“My father is the emotional one, I’m the calm and easy-going one – or at least I try to be. My son knows what he wants, he wants to play in the Premier League and knows what is important.
“I keep telling him, ‘You’re in a position now where you can do it.’ It’s really exciting.”