The salary is not quite the six-figure sum advertised in some quarters – he will actually earn no more than £85,000 a week – but Wayne Bridge insisted yesterday it was his frustrations with Luiz Felipe Scolari, more than the money on offer at Eastlands, which persuaded him to join Manchester City
"I had opportunities to play at Chelsea and I thought I played well but at this moment in time, I thought no matter how I played I was never going to establish myself there," Bridge reflected. "I don't know [why it never worked out]. Maybe [Scolari] thinks that Ashley [Cole] is better than me."
Most would agree with that last statement but Bridge, for one, seems to believe it is open to some question. "I wouldn't come out and say I'm better than Ashley Cole, but I like to think I'm up there with him and I like to think that the players that I trained with think that I'm just as good as him as well," he said. He harbours thoughts of challenging his former team-mate for an England position now that first team football will come his way at Eastlands. "England was at the back of the mind, but I was thinking more about playing here first and playing football," said a player capped 32 times by his country.
Some might scoff at the financial enticements for players who arrive at City but Bridge, a £12m acquisition, was badly in need of new territory when Hughes came calling. A clue that he has languished far too long in west London came from Hughes' talk yesterday of their time playing together. "I've watched his progress from the time we played alongside each other and seen him develop," Hughes said.
The City manager's claim that Bridge is "one of the top left-backs not only in this country but in Europe as well" will raise some eyebrows, considering how little football he has actually played – 87 league games in six years at Chelsea. But the qualities Hughes spoke of in Bridge – "determination and drive to show people exactly what he can do week in, week out" – are certainly what the City manager needs for a club two points above the relegation zone.
Hughes may take comfort from the fact that they have some serious history together where successful relegation fights are concerned, though he will hope for better beginnings with the 28-year-old than they enjoyed at Southampton. The City manager was in the Saints side in which Bridge made his debut in the 1998-99 season, a 2-1 defeat against Liverpool at The Dell, and they both featured in the club's run of seven defeats in eight that autumn. It was 24 October before they played in a winning side, at home to Coventry, though it ended up being the year of the club's miraculous great escape. Bridge only really flourished after Hughes had gone. He was Saints' player of the year in the 2000-01 season, by which time Hughes had arrived at Blackburn, via a brief stint at Everton.
Bridge is clearly not banking on a swift ride to the top 10 as City seek to strengthen. "It's just progression here," he said. "I don't think it's going to be a rapid progression but it's a progression that's going to happen. From speaking to the gaffer and everyone around the club, they're looking to bring players in and it's exciting times. I'm just the start of it."
Bridge has been carrying a hamstring strain but said he is fit to play at Portsmouth tomorrow. Hughes was reserving judgment on that issue yesterday.Reuse content