Shaun Wright-Phillips: 'I try not to think about it when Capello and Baldini are in the stands'
With Tuesday's squad announcement looming, England hopefuls have one last chance to impress. Shaun Wright-Phillips talks Robin Scott-Elliot through the tension of the final weekend
Saturday 08 May 2010
The DVD box set is still sealed. If all goes according to plan it will remain so until the start of next month and get its first airing in Phokeng, the small South African town that will be England's base for the World Cup finals.
Band of Brothers, the US television saga of American paratroopers battling their way from D-Day to VE Day, is Shaun Wright-Phillips' speculative choice of viewing, and he is keen to get hold of Pacific, Steven Spielberg's latest epic war series, too. Because in an ideal world Wright-Phillips will be away from home until the second week of July. "I'm saving them," he says. "In case I go..."
Wright-Phillips spins a miniature football around in his hands, studies it for a moment. "It is something I have always wanted since I was a kid," he says, contemplating playing in the finals. "Being in a position to play in it – and obviously, after missing out on it last time..."
Four years ago Wright-Phillips was in the same situation as he is this morning; a squad contender, but far from a sure thing. For the finals in Germany it was a young winger who had played a dashing if ultimately fruitless role in the race for a Champions League spot who was preferred for the England squad. For Aaron Lennon in 2006 read Adam Johnson today – a City team-mate, just to complicate the emotions. And then, of course, there is Lennon again (fitness permitting) and Theo Walcott, and then there's James Milner, with his ability to play so many different roles, which may also sway Fabio Capello's final thoughts.
On Tuesday Capello will name his 30-strong squad for South Africa. Wright-Phillips has every reason to feel confident about that particular deadline. Three weeks later, after two friendlies and a training camp in Austria that will seem to stretch for an eternity for those on the margins, seven of them will be sent home. If Capello takes two right-wingers, as is expected – well, Wright-Phillips knows what he has to do to win the vote that counts.
tomorrow manchester city play their final game of the season at West Ham, and sitting up in the West Stand at Upton Park will be Franco Baldini, Capello's right-hand man. The manager will be a few miles to the north at the Emirates, the pair's focus firmly on the fringes of their squad. Zamora or Cole? Upson or a Campbell gamble? Scott Parker as a condender to replace the injured Gareth Barry? And, to round off election week, which right-winger is fit for purpose?
"You try not to think about it and just concentrate on what you are doing," says Wright-Phillips. The concern for him is that he has not completed a full 90 minutes in the Premier League since City beat Chelsea at the start of December, as the arrival of Johnson and Roberto Mancini has combined to relegate him to a series of cameos. He played 19 minutes against Tottenham on Wednesday and 13 last Saturday against Aston Villa – but he did create the third goal that clinched the latter contest, with a jinking run at speed that left Carlos Cuellar bamboozled and on his backside. He has been a squad regular under Capello, scoring against Egypt in the last game, but again he came off the bench, as he did for most of his contributions in qualifying.
The similarities with four years ago might disturb some, but Wright-Phillips is, at least on the surface, a phlegmatic character, seemingly very different to his father. Ian Wright never made the finals, injury in 1998 denying him a certain place. "He tries to tell me to just concentrate on playing my game for now," says Wright-Phillips. "When the day comes, if I don't get picked we will talk more."
It was Paul Gascoigne in 1998 who produced the most infamous reaction to being told he was free to plan his summer holidays, taking his frustrations out on a hotel room in La Manga. In 2006, Wright-Phillips received a telephone call. He admits he was hurt but, unlike many players whose reaction is then to get away from it all, he sat in front of his television to watch events unfold in Germany.
"You have friends you want to support – you want to play for your country so why shouldn't you support them? I'm as much a fan as a player," he says. "It is part of football, the ups and the downs. It is the way you deal with it that matters. You have to find the best reaction. You have to be mentally strong. Once you become mentally strong you are all right. You have to always believe in your own talent – then you do all right."
We are sitting side by side on a sofa in a dressing room in Salford, in the television studios where The Royle Family was shot. It was Joe Royle (no relation) who gave Wright-Phillips his debut for City as a 17-year-old, sending him off the bench in a League Cup tie at Turf Moor to replace Terry Cooke and play alongside the likes of Richard Jobson and Jamie Pollock; a different world. He became a favourite at Maine Road and remains a firm one at Eastlands, despite the infrequency of his outings and concern for his future at a club that means much to him – "It's still more-or-less City".
His england debut, off the bench of course, came six years ago and he marked it with a goal: a will o'the wisp run from inside his own half topped off by a cute angled finish. "That's what you are in the game for," says Wright-Phillips, "moments like that. Representing your country is special. Everybody is depending on you, hoping you do well."
Over his time at City, Chelsea and on national duty, Wright-Phillips has experienced an international spread of managers, a smorgasbord as Sven Goran Eriksson, who gave him his England debut, might have it. "It helps you learn different cultures and styles of play," he says. "You learn a lot more across the tactical side of things. If you are willing to learn you can add more things to your game and become a better player – put more into your game."
He still cites his time at Stamford Bridge under Jose Mourinho as the most enlightening. "It was the way he conducted training – short, sharp, hard work. You're putting it in because you are enjoying yourself. A lot of people liked that." Was he an inspiration? "Yes, yes he was."
Capello's way has gone down well too, his simple division of labours appealing after previous regimes. "Every time you get a new manager it's different," says Wright-Phillips, who has actually started three of the last four England games. "If you [he nods my way] took over, your training and your schedules would be different and for a player it is about adapting to that, to the new way of doing things. The way he [Capello] does things, most of the lads took to that straight away. He's got us more together – we do everything together, eat together, socialise together. And it's all about punctuality, which is a good thing in my eyes because everybody gets into a routine and routines stick."
But it's not all about dos and don'ts under the Italian. "I find him a really nice person," says Wright-Phillips. "When you are around him a bit more, he's got a funny streak. But it is work at the end of the day. When it's work, it's work and when it's time to play, he plays. If it's not the right time, it's not the right time."
For Wright-Phillips, time is running out. He is 28 and for the type of player he is, one for whom pace is a key ingredient, this is likely to be a final chance to make the greatest stage of all. The schedule runs like this; there's Upton Park this afternoon then, if he makes the 30 on Tuesday, the training camp in Austria – the same venue Capello used while in charge of Real Madrid – and the two friendlies, against Mexico at Wembley and then against Japan in Graz. That comes on 30 May; a day later and it's D-Day.
"Whenever you meet up as a squad there is competition because everyone wants to start. I will go with the same attitude I have always done and we will see what happens. I've never experienced something like this before. I have played in qualifiers but never got in the 30-man squad. They will tell us while we are there who has made it. Fingers crossed..."
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Thirty Lions: England's likely provisional squad
By Sam Wallace
*David James, Rob Green, Joe Hart, Paul Robinson.
Rob Green is the man in possession of the gloves, but David James has the international experience, and Joe Hart is in the best form. Picking England's goalkeeper will be one of Fabio Capello's hardest decisions, and also one of the most important. Paul Robinson, though in decent form, can expect to be cut.
*Glen Johnson, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Ledley King, Matthew Upson, Ashley Cole, Jamie Carragher, Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka, Michael Dawson.
Ashley Cole's return to fitness is a blessing for Capello, especially with Wayne Bridge excusing himself. The possibility of Jamie Carragher coming out of retirement is also timely given the injuries which have afflicted so many of England's central defenders, and the lack of cover at right-back. With Ledley King also in line to return Phil Jagielka and Michael Dawson are likely to miss out when Capello has to trim his provisional squad to 23.
*Aaron Lennon, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, James Milner, Michael Carrick, Tom Huddlestone, Scott Parker, Shaun Wright-Phillips.
With Gareth Barry and David Beckham injured, vacancies are appearing but Aaron Lennon is back and Tom Huddlestone emerging at the right time. Scott Parker and Shaun Wright-Phillips will only go if there are further injuries.
*Adam Johnson, Theo Walcott, Wayne Rooney, Emile Heskey, Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch, Carlton Cole, Bobby Zamora.
There is always a player who comes with a late run and this time it could be Adam Johnson, for his versatility and his ability – shown since his move to Eastlands – to handle a step up in class. In the centre Bobby Zamora is in the best form, but is uncapped and troubled by an Achilles injury. Carlton Cole has had a difficult season and lacks experience. Which means they stay at home while Emile Heskey gets the vote as Wayne Rooney's foil.
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