Football: Wright finds it is good to talk

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The Independent Online
Ian Wright yesterday admitted he had intended to hurt Peter Schmeichel at Highbury this year, but was having counselling in an attempt to stop himself doing something similar again.

Wright becomes the fourth England player undergoing counselling after Paul Merson, Tony Adams and Paul Gascoigne. He yesterday celebrated his first England goal in England - against South Africa on Saturday - by putting his newly focused playing persona down to counselling. He added that he was looking forward to returning to Poland on Saturday. Four years ago he scored his first international goal there to earn England a draw.

Meanwhile his close friend Paul Ince, who was called a headless chicken by Graham Taylor after his display in Poland that day, appears, like Paul Gascoigne, to be winning his battle against injury.

While fatherhood and a move to Italy has calmed Ince, Wright needed professional help. "It's not hypnosis, just someone I can talk to," he said: "In the last few games I have benefited from it. I don't want people to think I am talking about it because I want sympathy, everything I am doing is for the longevity of my career. I want to finish without controversy, I have got tired of it.

"Why can't I deal with anger the way someone like Dennis Bergkamp can? Maybe it is in his nature, but anyone should be able to deal with it. This lady has shown I can channel my aggression in a good way and still smile.

"What started me changing was the sending off at Nottingham Forest. I'm so embarrassed by it now. As much as people say Nicola Jerkan [who Wright ran into after being fouled by him] rolled over, it was a stupid act of petulance by me. I cost the team the game. I was in a good vein of scoring but after that the whole season went sour."

Then there was the Schmeichel incident. "I didn't catch him but if I had done it would not have been nice," Wright said. "I do like to pride myself on never maliciously hurting someone, but that was a challenge where I could have hurt the guy. I maliciously went in for the ball hard. I am glad Pete is all right. I'm glad it didn't harm him for the championship. I've got no personal grievance with him, but when I'm on the pitch I'm a different animal and I'm trying to tame that animal.

"I wish I had started my career earlier. The discipline of maybe being in football when I was younger might have been good for me, having to do things like cleaning boots and toilets. There is still a lot of the Sunday footballer in me. I am sure people look at some of the things I do and think: 'That's ridiculous, that's Sunday morning stuff.'

"I used to dislike people who criticised me, but now I am trying to accept it more and create less. If it is justified, I deserve a hammering. I am tired of that, tired of going to see the FA. I want people to remember me for my goals."

The timing and nature of Wright's confession should save him another trip to Lancaster Gate over the Schmeichel incident, although few will be convinced about the conversion until he has a trouble-free season. He has, however, the mental toughness and intelligence to change.

"Things are going to be different now," he added. "This new approach is going to be for the rest of my life. The important thing is to be honest about it. It is like admitting you're an alcoholic. I can't keep saying I'm being picked on. I have to ask why. I am going to a counsellor because things are happening to me on and off the pitch that make me realise how lucky I am and I don't want to finish up with people disliking me. The Manchester United fans on Saturday could easily have given me a hard time, but they didn't and I appreciate that."

Wright is likely to be on the bench on Saturday, as he was for England's last visit. Ince, after training yesterday, should be playing - and hopefully playing more sensibly than four years ago, when a needless foul earned a booking that put him out of the fateful defeat in Norway a few days later.

"He is a different player now," Glenn Hoddle, the England manager, said. "He is still tenacious and aggressive, but he is calmer. Going to Italy has added something to his game." Gascoigne also looks likely to play after doing light training yesterday.