Kevin Phillips: Family guy likes to be beside the sea – despite the drive
Still scoring for fun at Blackpool (even with the daily commute starting at 6.30am) and thinking of becoming a manager but wife and kids always come first, he tells Tim Rich
Wednesday 05 October 2011
Amid all the mud that has been flung into the scarred face of Carlos Tevez one fact has been buried. What made him so unhappy in Manchester was that he was separated from his daughters. It was this that fed many of the frustrations that in part led to his fatal outburst in Munich.
In his memorable denunciation of Tevez on Sky Television, Graeme Souness said he epitomised everything that is wrong with the modern game. There are not many who behave as badly as Tevez but most players have families to consider. There are school runs, there are birthday parties, there are futures to plan and for Kevin Phillips there is the long commute that he is willing to do as it allows him to be with his family.
Phillips lives not far from Coventry but plays his football for Blackpool. At 6.30am he leaves home for the journey to the club's training ground at Squires Gate that lasts as long as the average match. For company along the M6 he has TalkSport.
Squires Gate is homely and a little worn around the edges. The bench where Phillips has his massage as we talk is missing a good deal of its vinyl. His manager, Ian Holloway, hands out cups of tea after signing autographs at the door.
It seems strange to think that one of the most remarkable campaigns of any promoted club was plotted here. Blackpool scored as many goals as Tottenham, won as many away games as Manchester United and were relegated.
Last Saturday, Phillips brought his family to watch him play. The two girls and two boys – Millie (13), Toby and Tia (nine) and Alfie (five) – had experienced Blackpool's Pleasure Beach but not yet Bloomfield Road. Phillips no longer spends time before games watching videos of himself scoring to keep his confidence high, as he did at Sunderland, but he thought he was due a goal. He wasn't but Blackpool crushed Bristol City 5-0.
"The family have supported me in everything," he said. "I was very close to going back to Sunderland a few years ago but I sat them down and chatted with them about it and it became a family decision.
"The kids didn't want to move school again and even now I commute as much as I can because we'll be based in the Midlands for the rest of our lives." The four children all have their birthdays between November and December – "vast expense" Phillips smiles.
"They are all keen on sport. Toby was at Birmingham Academy and I thought there was too much pressure on an eight-year-old. He just wanted to play football but there were too many tactics, too much coaching and it got to the point where he was making excuses, telling me his foot hurt, just so he wouldn't go, so I took him out. I just wanted him to play for a Sunday team, where he simply enjoys his football and he absolutely loves it. I told him, if he were good enough, he'd be picked up anyway.
"The girls have both got horses. A year and a half ago we moved to a place which had some stables attached and they have a pony each. I said they could have them but they have to muck them out and pick the poo from the field."
A great day out for Phillips' family was a disastrous one for Keith Millen's. On Monday Millen became the second manager in the Championship to lose his job and, unlike the first, he did not have Steve McClaren's pay-offs from England and Wolfsburg to cushion the blow of severing ties with Bristol City that have endured a dozen years. The life expectancy of a manager in the Championship is notoriously short.
"The closer I come to the end of my career, the more it appeals to me," said Phillips. "I mentioned it to my wife, Julie, the other night and she said: 'Do you really want all that hassle?' I said: 'I think I do' because it is in me. People might tell me I'm mad to think of doing it, but until I sample it I can't know.
"Working with the manager here has given me a new lease of life. I have learnt an awful lot about football in the few months I have been at Blackpool. He is very intelligent tactically. There is no question you can throw at him that he doesn't know about the game. I have been a professional footballer for 18 years and he has pointed out things I had never considered."
What most attracted Phillips to Holloway when he left Birmingham was not just his passion for the game but that he didn't mention his age. Phillips is 37 and the Professional Footballers' Association has a pension scheme that pays out at 35. There were futures to consider and Phillips could have gone into broadcasting full time with Sky.
"The first game I covered was a live commentary of Sunderland playing Blackburn at Ewood Park," he said. "I was horrendously nervous, especially because nothing very much happened. There will come a time when I'll have to hack off someone I know. I phoned Niall Quinn [his strike partner at Sunderland] and he said that if someone came up to me I should tell them I loved the game and that I had to call it as I saw it."
So how would he analyse Birmingham's relegation? "Everyone blames the Carling Cup but our form wasn't great going into the final," he said. "Everyone raised their game for the cup and the closer we got the harder we played. But I'd experienced relegation with Sunderland and Southampton so I knew the signs. I remember talking to some close friends long before we went down and saying: 'If we don't pull our finger out, we are going to be in trouble.'
"But I was listening to an analysis on TalkSport that said if [wrong] decisions had not gone against both clubs, Birmingham and Blackpool would have survived. Only stats, but it shows you how close it was.
"But coming to Blackpool was the right decision. I like to think I have repaid them so far. We played Crystal Palace three or four weeks ago and we were walking down past the back of the kitchens and a chef shouted: 'Oi, Phillips. Good player,' and as I was walking away he said: 'Got no pace, though.'
"I have never had electric pace. I have just had that knack for being in the right place at the right time. I like to think I use my brain a bit more."
At Sunderland he was in the right place very often. The Golden Boot is given to the leading striker in Europe, measured in goals scored. Kevin Phillips is the only Englishman to have held something that Eusebio, Gerd Müller and the current holder, Cristiano Ronaldo, have won twice.
"I think Wayne Rooney will go close to winning it, if he keeps scoring the way he is," he said. "Some people might think it is not a great achievement because I did it at Sunderland and, had it been at Chelsea or Manchester United, I'd be held in higher esteem. I think it is a better achievement to have done it at Sunderland. It sits very proudly on my mantelpiece."
In the 1999-2000 season he scored 30 times in the Premier League. That summer he was part of the England party Kevin Keegan took to the European Championship. He was in the form of his life and played not a single minute of a brief campaign that was noted for English supporters rioting in the old industrial city of Charleroi, card schools and race nights at the FA's base at the Hotel du Golf in Spa and two Keeganesque 3-2 defeats that saw England eliminated.
"I think I deserved more than eight caps," Phillips said. "But I was competing with some top-quality strikers such as Alan Shearer, Michael Owen, Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham and Robbie Fowler.
"There are not that many great English strikers around now. Wayne Rooney is the obvious exception and then there's Darren Bent, but there are not the six out-and-out top goalscorers there were 10 years ago. But I've got no complaints. I am not a bitter man."
Goals for fun...
65 games, 25 goals
238 games, 117 goals
72 games, 27 goals
Aston Villa (2005-06)
27 games, 5 goals
West Bromwich Albion (2006-08)
82 games, 46 goals
Birmingham City (2008-11)
82 games, 22 goals
10 games, 5 goals
European Golden Boot (Top scorer)
Kevin Phillips (Sunderland) 99-00
Henrik Larsson (Celtic) 00-01
Mario Jardel (Sporting) 01-02
Roy Makaay (Deportivo) 02-/03
Thierry Henry (Arsenal) 03-04
Henry (Arsenal) and Diego Forlan (Villarreal) 04-05
Luca Toni (Fiorentina) 05-06
Francesco Totti (Roma) 2006-07
Cristiano Ronaldo (Man Utd) 07-08
Forlan (Atletico Madrid) 08-09
Lionel Messi (Barcelona) 09-10
Ronaldo (Real Madrid) 10-11
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