Ian Wright Speaks To Football FanCast
It’s often claimed that you should never meet your idols in the flesh, for they will fail to match their supernatural parody that you’ve carefully created in your own imagination.
However, I am happy to report my encounter with Ian Wright quickly abolished this time-honoured cliché within moments of greeting one another on the phone. The 48-year old still boasts the charming and endearing personality that makes him difficult to ignore and it’s fair to say that recent events have made him even more excitable than usual.
It soon becomes apparent that Wrighty has a new love in his life besides the beautiful game and it’s no surprise that it should involve breath-taking speed. The latest installment of Formula One has undoubtedly been the most exciting and unpredictable in recent history, with seven different winners standing on the podium during the opening seven races. We’ve witnessed high-octane, intense clashes coupled with the strategic, chess-like encounters that simmer under the surface before bursting into life. The similarities to Euro 2012 are staggering.
“It’s been an incredible start to say the least, we’ve had seven different race winners but I’m not entirely sure why to be honest. Perhaps all the new rule changes and regulations have bought everyone closer together and stopped Red Bull dominating like last year.”
The recent race weekend in Monaco may have struggled to capture the attention of even the most dedicated motorsport fanatic, but that didn’t stop Wrighty from selecting the race as his favourite fixture so far.
“That place (Monaco) is amazing, the barriers are so close together it feels like the walls are closing in. I think it’s always memorable because there are so few places to overtake and as soon as the drivers make a mistake, it’s game over. When I had the chance to drive round there it was very difficult, I couldn’t get the last corner right near the pit entrance. It was a pretty scary experience.”
The British duo over at Mclaren have endured contrasting fortunes this term, Lewis Hamilton currently tops the overall standings thanks to his recent victory in Canada whilst Jensen Button is languishing back in 8th place, behind the impressive pairing at Lotus.
“Both Mclaren drivers have only won one race each so it’s not all bad but Lewis has been more consistent. On his day Jensen is a formidable driver, he just needs the right set-up and a bit of luck, which has evaded him so far.”
Fellow British driver Paul Di Resta continues to impress at Force India with Formula One’s very own rumour mill continuously churning out stories of an imminent move to one of the sport’s leading constructors. Wrighty thinks that with a little guidance and the right car, he has the potential to join the likes of Jackie Stewart, Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill as a distinguished world champion.
“He seems like a very down to earth guy, which is important. He’s more than held his own so far and if he gets the right car and has a flawless season, there’s no reason why he can’t challenge at the top.”
After exhausting (excuse the pun) all of the current issues in Formula One, conversation moved swiftly onto Wright’s beloved Gunners. Manager Arsene Wenger appears keen to avoid the mistakes he made last season by dipping his toes into the transfer market nice and early.
“I think it’s important for Arsenal to compete with the best clubs for the best players, it’s no longer beneficial to wait around in the hope of picking up a few bargains. I’ve been impressed with the players Arsenal have been linked with (French internationals Olivier Giroud and Yann M’Vila) and I think the fans are as well”
One man already on his way to North London this summer is Lukas Podolski, a technically gifted striker who is more than capable of providing the finishing touches to Arsenal’s silky brand of football. The transfer was greeted with murmurs of discontent that perhaps the German forward was being lined up as a replacement for talisman Robin Van Persie, but Wrighty was quick to refute these claims.
“I don’t see him as a replacement, that would be too much of a burden on his shoulders. I don’t think he would have signed unless given the reassurances that he would be playing alongside world-class players and you can see with the way he plays for Germany that he can play just behind a lone striker (Mario Gomez).”
Wright can perhaps consider himself fortunate to have enjoyed a glittering career in professional football. After being shunned by both Southend United and Brighton during his teens, he was plucked from non-league footballs Dulwich Hamlet by Crystal Palace, just three months short of his 22nd birthday. With the recent fairytale story of Chris Smalling’s meteoric rise from the lower leagues, did Wrighty think more Premier League clubs should be casting their net deeper into the depths of English football?
“I think there’s certainly a pool of talent waiting to be discovered. However, it’s important that the players have the right mentality as well as raw talent. We’ve seen with the likes of Chris Smalling that it is possible to succeed at the highest level but teams are perhaps more likely to look at kids from youth academies”.
It’s somewhat depressing that my fellow generation of football fans can only picture Wrighty as one of Arsenal’s most lethal Gunners or perhaps even wearing his dressing gown in that ‘Chicken Tonight’ advert, for it was at Crystal Palace where he flourished during the early stages of his career.
The 1990 FA Cup Final will always be known as the day Crystal Palace came within a whisker of toppling the mighty Manchester United. Part of the prolific Wright/Bright partnership, Wright was not expected to feature after suffering a double leg fracture earlier in the season. However, with Palace trailing 2-1 in the dying stages of the game, Wright came off the bench to bag a brace that would earn the Eagles a thrilling 3-3 draw.
“It was one of the greatest days of my life and one that I’ll never forget. To come off the bench and score twice was a dream come true especially as it was doubtful whether I’d even be fit to play.”
Of course back then FA Cup finals were decided by a replay if the two teams couldn’t be separated and with the recent debate surrounding alternative methods to penalty shoot-outs, I wanted to gauge Wrighty’s opinion on settling games from 12 yards.
“Every game has to have a winner and penalties are a great way to decide that. They’re always an exciting and cagey affair, which is great for the neutrals. I don’t think we should be wasting our time looking to change that.”
As with my previous interview with Matt Le Tissier, I ended the conversation by asking who Wrighty thought would emerge victorious at Euro 2012.
“I think it’ll be Germany for sure, I picked them before the tournament began and they impressed me during their first game against Portugal. They play with a real togetherness and have continued to incorporate the youngsters that were so good at the World Cup.”
We can only hope England’s very own young guns can help inspire the country to success this time round.