They don’t make them quite like Kevin Phillips anymore. Whilst most strikers in the Premier League nowadays are equally defined by their strength, speed or aerial prowess, the 5 foot 7 former England international was a goalscorer – pure and simple.
There isn’t much room for such players today, amid the era of lone centre-forwards expected to bring midfielders into the game. But the sheer class of Phillips’ finishing extended his professional career to over 20 years, significantly beyond the usual expiration of strikers, retiring at the age of 40 after netting 282 times at club level.
No doubt, an exceptional tally, but it’s all the more impressive when further broken down. Phillips reached double figures in twelve of his 21 seasons as a professional, after making a name for himself at Baldock Town, and managed that feat for six of the nine clubs he represented, either in the Premier League or second tier.
Perhaps most memorably, Phillips won the illustrious European Golden Shoe in 1999/2000, his 30 Premier League strikes for Sunderland being the most goals of any player on the continent that season. Rather incredibly, he’s the only Englishman to ever lift the award in its 50-year history, keeping company with the likes of Marco van Basten, Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to name a few.
Yet Phillips never truly got the chance to transition his unquestionable finishing prowess to international level. The last of his eight England caps came 15 years ago today in 2002 against the Netherlands and just like the seven prior, the then-Sunderland star just couldn’t get on the scoresheet.
Fortunately, however, Phillips will get another chance to represent the Three Lions when he takes part in ICONS of Football 2017 this summer, as part of Lee Westwood’s England side, and will be keen to make up for lost time.
Nonetheless, Phillips is by no means the only centre-forward who never got the England opportunities domestic form justified – he, Andy Cole, Robbie Fowler and Les Ferdinand, four of the greatest goalscorers in Premier League history, claimed only 66 caps between them – but that shouldn’t take away from what was an incredibly unique career.
At the age of 38, twelve years after winning the Golden Shoe, Phillips scored the goals to put Blackpool into the Championship playoff final. Aged 39, he calmly converted the penalty that won Crystal Palace promotion to the Premier League. It’s hard to think of any player, at any level, who scored such important goals at that kind of age.
It highlighted the quality, ability and composure that Phillips always had, that England inexplicably overlooked and that Westwood will be hoping he can bring to at The Belfry this summer. If Phillips’ putting on the green is anything like his finishing in the penalty area, England could be onto a winner.