Wright-Phillips' fitness drive fuelled by World Cup dream

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The Independent Online

Shaun Wright-Phillips hopes to be back in action within a month after his recent cartilage operation, giving him plenty of time to force his way back into the England reckoning before the post-season tour to America.

Shaun Wright-Phillips hopes to be back in action within a month after his recent cartilage operation, giving him plenty of time to force his way back into the England reckoning before the post-season tour to America.

The Manchester City winger's performances have been so impressive over the last 18 months that many believe it is only a matter of time before he ousts the captain David Beckham from the England side. It is a situation the 23-year-old Londoner could hardly have expected to be in when he was dumped by Nottingham Forest in 1998 as the club believed he would never be big enough to cope with the rigours of top-flight football.

"I was only 16," said the 5ft 5in stepson of the former England striker Ian Wright. "They told me I was too small and not good enough. It was a tough thing to deal with and really hurt. But looking back, it probably made me a better player and more self-confident. It's like my driving force because now I want to be a player any manager would want in their team."

Wright-Phillips certainly achieved that aim with the former City manager Kevin Keegan, who went so far as to say that once the winger made the England team "no one would get him out again".

A poor performance against the Netherlands last month would probably have proved Keegan incorrect in his assertion this week even without the first major injury of Wright-Phillips' career. But the City player of the year, whom the club's chairman John Wardle has vowed to keep despite anticipated summer interest from Arsenal and Chelsea, insists that the current fitness concerns are not enough to dent his hopes of earning a place at next year's World Cup.

"If we could get to the World Cup and I could be in the squad, it would be a dream," he said. "But first things first, I need to get back playing. My treatment is going well and I can't wait to get involved again."

Though a target date has not yet been placed on Wright-Phillips' return to first-team duties, he hopes to be involved in the trip to Blackburn on 23 April, which would allow him to appear in the final four games of City's Premiership campaign. He will play no part in Saturday's trip to Charlton as Stuart Pearce takes charge for the second time since succeeding Keegan on 11 March.

Paul Bosvelt is expected to be involved even though the veteran Dutchman's future will not be determined until the summer. Bosvelt is hoping to be granted a one-year extension to his present deal, which expires at the end of the season.

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