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Exclusive: Shaun Wright-Phillips on his career, returning to Man City, the MLS and more

Shaun Wright-Phillips enjoyed a successful career in football, spanning 18 years, playing for the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, New York Red Bulls and England. The winger won the Premier League, two FA Cups and the League Cup, and also represented the Three Lions at a World Cup.

During that time, Wright-Phillips became known as a tricky, direct and pacey winger and was often feared by opposing defenders. But how did he put himself in a position to achieve all of that and what did it take for him to make it as a professional footballer?

It’s no secret that making it in football is the dream of millions of kids around the world and it’s even less of a secret that it’s one of the most difficult industries to be successful in.

To make it, you need dedication, sacrifice, hard work and perseverance, and even then it still might not enough to earn a pro-contract. However, there is a new app that is designed to help footballers of all ages to gain an edge both on and off the pitch.

On The Ball is the world’s best football training platform and offers users of all ages and abilities access to tailored training programs created by Premier League players, to help teach real skills and training techniques. With over 1,000 training videos demonstrated by some of the biggest names in the game, users literally have everything they need in one place in order to improve their fitness, skills and technique whenever they need it.

Shaun Wright-Phillips is one of those big names and he sat down with us at Football FanCast to talk us through what inspired him to get involved in the platform and also to talk about his career as a professional footballer…

What made you want to get involved in On The Ball?

“The most important thing is it was something that I never had growing up.

“Me and my brother [Bradley Wright-Phillips] were basically very self-taught. We kicked around on the grass, we tested our skills on each other. We shot at goals in between two trees.

“So we didn’t have something like On The Ball to give us that extra learning before we got to where we were. So before we actually signed for our clubs you could pretty much say we were just raw talent.

“So this is more to give an opportunity for kids to be ready so that if they do get signed with somebody, they at least know the basics and the routines of what training is going to be like and the dedication need.”

What did you do to get an edge over your teammates when growing up?

“I was one of those that when training finished I’d always do extras, even up to when I retired I would always stay and do extra shooting and extra crossing.

“Growing up playing Sunday League, our training program was pretty much at a place called Moonshot in New Cross in South London, and we would just do a few laps around the athletics track and then play 11 v 11.

“There wasn’t really any guidance or certain ways to dribble as such. We just improvised in situations and never really had too many guidelines from the coaches. The coaches at the time were more like,’ I can see you guys want to play football, I’ll help out, I’ll sort the games, we’ll create a Sunday League team’ and in a way, it kept us off the streets.”

Do you think a more relaxed approach to coaching benefitted you?

“I think if the coaches had a way to learn how to train the kids properly and professionally, I think it would have made a difference not only to my career but a lot of other players because there were kids in the area that I grew up with that didn’t have the same self discipline as me, and I feel like the drills and certain aspects of training, create environments where you have to be disciplined.

“You can take that away from training and it makes you a better person, you respect certain situations better, you have discipline within yourself and you treat your body better because you know the load of work that you have to do when it comes to training.”

Why did it take a while for you to settle at Chelsea?

“I think there were a lot of factors at play. Obviously, the older I get the more I’m seeing and the more I’m realizing but in my first spell at City, the ball came to me very quickly and I was always that person who was going to make something out of nothing or get people off their seats.

“I was quite fearless. I didn’t think about it in my head. I was just like, ‘I’m going to beat you, I’m going to cross the ball and hopefully create a chance.’ That was my mindset and I think the difference was, when I went to Chelsea, I had to get used to the fact that it wasn’t just me that could do those things.

“I had to learn to be a bit more patient and then I noticed that times when I was getting the ball, I was trying to do everything too quickly instead of playing my way into the game. At Chelsea I had to take my time.

“I look back now I can say that is was the wrong approach. I just needed to just play the way I play.”

Was that a lesson you had to learn the hard way or did you get feedback from the manager and coaches?

“It was a bit of both. At that time I was a big signing and to be fair, I was becoming an adult and had been playing long enough to be able to solve that situation myself.

“Jose Mourinho and all the coaches, and especially the players and the fans, were amazing at the time for me. I never once felt like I shouldn’t be there, I never once felt like I wasn’t a part of the family.

“I think all that love from the players and especially the fans was something that helped me grow into Chelsea, otherwise it could have been a whole lot different.”

You returned to Man City just days before the takeover was announced – what was that like?

“I didn’t know anything about it! Because it was so close to the deadline, there wasn’t really time to decide whether I wanted to stay at Chelsea or not.

“I wanted to play more for England and I knew I had to play more regularly at that time because the likes of David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Aaron Lennon and Theo Walcott were all doing well at the time, so many wingers were doing well at the time in the Premier League and so I had to make a decision.

“If I had the chance I would have loved to have finished my full contract at Chelsea.

“But I always said when I left City, before I retire, I will come back one day and thankfully the opportunity came up. I had a call about them and Spurs and when City came up and I just jumped straight at the chance really, I didn’t even think about it.”

Did the mentality at Man City change as soon as the takeover went through?

“I think the mentality has always been the same.

“All the managers that have been there have always known how big City is as a club, and they’ve all had the dream of doing the things they’re doing now. Sadly, in the past they didn’t have the budget to do it.

“I think Mark Hughes set the pace. It was incredible to play under him, he came with entertaining football, we played well on the break.

“I think we were sitting fourth when he got the sack. We couldn’t believe it. But that’s football. When a lot of money comes into the game, a lot of things change.

“But as for them looking forward and changing, I think Man City always had the desire to be where they are now.”

What differences were there in Chelsea and Man City, two clubs you’ve played for that have had massive takeovers?

“From a mentality perspective, Chelsea’s success was instant and City’s was structurally built. From the facilities, the way they’ve bought players. I don’t think they have spent over £60million on a player. They’re more strategic.

“Whereas, when Chelsea were doing it, it was just instant and it worked, but it’s something that would never work again.

“It’s the same if you look at Liverpool where it has been structurally done and they never had a massive takeover. When Jurgen Klopp came in he brought little things in slowly and I think that is a route a lot of clubs will go down from now on if they ever have a takeover.

“Despite that, Chelsea and Man City both had the same aspirations. They both wanted to win titles and play in the Champions League.”

Were there any differences in training methods between the clubs and the national team?

“You could say it was relatively similar, but I  always noticed that whenever we were with England we never played the way we played in the Premier League, we played completely differently.

“I always used to think if a coach came in that just played the way the teams do in the Premier League, England would do well because it’s a system that everybody’s so used to playing in.

“Gareth Southgate has come in and pretty much done that and you can see everyone just seems comfortable with it. It’s entertaining to watch, just like if you were watching a Premier League match.

“I’m not saying they’re unbeatable or that they always play well, but it’s still entertaining to watch. That’s why everybody loves it at the moment.”

What was it like moving to the MLS after playing your entire career in England?

“It was a big change physically. American athletes are athletes!

“There wasn’t a tactical side to it, there wasn’t any slow build-up play or anything like that. It was just, you attack, I attack, and it’ll be like that for 90 minutes.

“When I signed for Red Bulls, I was under Jesse Marsch, Chris Armas, and Denis Hamlett, and they were great coaches, and I’ve worked under some good coaches.

“The philosophy they had, even in the New York humidity of 80%, was literally press for 90 minutes. You literally just aggressively pressed for 90 minutes.

“Don’t get me wrong, it works. But if you’ve got a team, for example, like Man City, or what Orlando did to us, and they beat the first press, you’re wide open. So there was never a backup plan. Managers in Europe, if it doesn’t work for the first 15 minutes, would change.

“Tactically they weren’t as sharp as clubs in Europe. It’s not because they weren’t good enough to change it, they just stayed the way it was in the MLS. For example, Jesse’s gone to Germany now and he’s doing amazingly well.”

Do you think the MLS is catching up with European football?

“No. If I’m being totally honest, I don’t think it will for a while because, in Europe, we’ve got a whole grassroots system.

“But in America, they miss like four to five years of being coached and learning what it takes to be a professional footballer. You either play in the second tier, which they call the USL, and then from that you jump straight to the MLS. There are no bridges, you’re jumping a lot of gaps to get to the MLS without actually being fine-tuned as a footballer first.”

Who was the best manager you played under?

“I’d definitely say Jose Mourinho was the best in my career. But Joe Royle was the most influential because at the time he brought me through,  I was only young and it was all new to me, coming from South London, and he believed in me.

“So he was a key manager in my whole career.”

Lastly, what do you think needs to happen with football during the current pandemic?

“I think they have to cancel it. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to be sat here watching the Premier League in lockdown. There’s nothing to do so I can see why people would want it on but it’s not worth people’s health – these players have all got families.

“I’d rather be bored now and be able to watch the Premier League next year with the Premier League’s greatest players in it rather than them risk it and God forbid anything bad happens. We need to put people’s health before money and TV.

“I would just null and void the season. Liverpool deserve to win the title but then if you give them the title, then you have to give them a bonus and where’s the Premier League making their money from now?

“Then if you give them the title, realistically you have to relegate the three teams. There are like three or four points between them down at the bottom, So then there’ll be an argument on that side. And then if you do that, then you’ve got to decide who’s getting promoted and who wins the play-offs without even going into it.

“So I think it’s a little bit more difficult than just giving Liverpool the title. I would just null and void it, even if they then gave Liverpool a 10/15 point headstart next year.

“But we need people to stop thinking about and just think about staying healthy.”

To be a better player or coach, improve your fitness and develop your ball skills with On The Ball, download the App on Apple and Google Play now!

Article title: Exclusive: Shaun Wright-Phillips on his career, returning to Man City, the MLS and more

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