With Advent now under way and the countdown to Christmas now on, Typical City is looking at an incident, player or match specific to the club that corresponds with each date. In today’s edition, Richard Burns remembers thinks back to when Shaun Wright-Phillips returned, taking on the number 8 shirt…
Shaun Wright-Phillips was, for a while, a sensational footballer. When Manchester City were an average Premier League team, and when they were a poor one, SWP was a phenomenon. From 1999 to 2005, the man in the number 29 shirt was adored by the Maine Road/Etihad Stadium fan base.
After really coming to the fore in Kevin Keegan’s City side, he was built up to be an England star for years to come. In the summer of 2005, with Stuart Pearce at the City helm, it was reported that the sought-after winger had told the club that he wanted to move to Chelsea. The deal was done for £21m. Whilst the club’s supporters were gutted to see their hero leave, the truth is that the sale was crucial in keeping City financially stable(ish).
He has since told our own David Mooney, in an interview for the Bluemoon Podcast, that he cried upon leaving City. His love for the club was clear and the fans never forgot the contribution their academy product had made.
After enduring three difficult seasons at Chelsea, Wright-Phillips fell out of favour with their new manager Luiz Felipe Scolari and City, now managed by Mark Hughes, spotted an opportunity to bring back their former star. The return of a still-loved idol was met with excitement by City fans that had fond memories of an electric, jet-heeled winger who, on his day, could roast any full back.
That City pulled off the deal for £8.5m ensured it was relatively risk-free. For the buzz it created amongst the supporters, as well as the dynamic it added to the team, it was a good bit of business. As the song went, “We sold him for £20 million, bought him back for just £9 million, stupid Chelsea b*stards.” Whilst it was a song that lacked a nuanced understanding of economics, it was an amusing and fitting chant for the returning star.
Taking the number eight shirt once adorned by Colin Bell (and, less illustriously, Joey Barton), everything was in place for SWP to pick up where he left off. His return debut was the stuff of dreams.
The date was 31st August, 2008 and the Blues were away at Sunderland. In a fantastic 3-0 win against Roy Keane’s side (a man who is always fun to beat), Shauny bagged himself two goals. It was fairytale stuff, if you can just suspend disbelief long enough to think a fairytale could ever be set in Sunderland.
There were points throughout his second coming where SWP was reminiscent of the young man who’d lit up the Etihad before packing his (presumably quite small) suitcase for the bright lights of a London-based substitutes bench. Those moments were relatively fleeting, but you still got that buzz of excitement when you saw him drop his shoulder and charge down the wing.
In truth, the return never quite lived up to the billing, but one needn’t dwell on the negatives; his story doesn’t deserve an unhappy ending. Shauny Wright-Wright-Wright will forever be fondly remembered by Blues who watched him grow into a footballer good enough to command a fee high enough to save the club.
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Written by Richard Burns