Wright feels bright and breezy in his new world

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The Independent Online
After the redemption, the rejuvenation. Counselling has been the buzzword of the week but at Bisham Abbey yesterday Ian Wright demonstrated the value of positive thinking.

On Saturday Wright scored his 13th goal of the season to move to the top of the Premiership's goal charts; in Georgia next Saturday he could make his first England appearance for two years. On Sunday he was 33 - truly an icon for the spreading-waist generation.

"Not bad for an old 'un," he agreed after training. Wright put his revival down to more sleep (going to bed at 10.30 rather than falling asleep in front of the television after midnight), a better diet (no spreading waist for him), and Arsenal's new Gallic influence. Listening to him, though, his secret appeared to be pure desire.

"I feel I can do anything I want to do as long as my mind is right and I am feeling good about myself. There is no obstacle anyone can put in front of me that can make me not want to play football and play well. My mind is right now, I feel really positive."

The change of management has been instrumental in shaping Wright's new mood. "Everybody knows it was not the best relationship," Wright said of his dealings with the former Arsenal manager Bruce Rioch. "I got so down I didn't even want to go in to training and that has never happened to me in 10 years in the game. I didn't want to be in all that pettiness.

"There was tension, it is more relaxed now. There is a lot of banter now; before it was 'stop messing about, time for work'. Arsenal players know when to work.

"Arsene Wenger is very relaxed. He does not say much during a session. He leaves it to the end, or stops it and has a word. The old sergeant- major thing, the fear factor and frightening kids into playing is in the past. Managers like that are using methods from way before. The game has gone on.

"Arsene Wenger and Glenn Hoddle treat people like adults and that gets the best out of them. It doesn't need to be done with a whip and a chair. People want to do well anyway.

"Arsene Wenger emphasises one-touch play and getting in the last third quickly - but with quality. It really helps me, I get so many chances."

"Patrick Vieira is doing really well for me," added Wright of his young French team-mate. "It has been a long time since Arsenal had a midfield player who looks for the front man first and then looks for the options. Before, I would make a run and the pass would go to the side first, the emphasis was on keeping the ball. I would get frustrated."

Wright's England career is an example of what you can do with statistics. His detractors would point out that, if you take away the four goals against San Marino, he has scored once in 19 internationals. His supporters would note that 10 of those were as substitute, he has only played 90 minutes six times, and he has only played consecutive matches once.

He made his debut at 27 and thought his time had passed. "I was at Euro 96 in the summer doing radio and I saw it like a fan because I thought it was gone for me. It was unbelievable, I was so into it. Just seeing the boys coming out and warming up. To be back among it is so great.

"This means everything to me. It is the highest level you can play at. I feel better about it now, I always felt I wanted to do so well it was killing me. Now it's brilliant, it's a bonus, I wasn't expecting it.

"I felt the golden goal was made for me. I really wanted to be involved in that. I was so jealous of Oliver Bierhoff. To come on and score - it was my whole dream to do that and I was gutted. I would love to be having the season I am having now, then, to see if I could force my way into that squad."

Hoddle, who tried to sign Wright for Chelsea last year, said: "I've always said age doesn't matter. We had a cake for him on Sunday - except we could not get all the candles on - but he was still very sharp in training on Monday."

Wright himself underlined his eagerness. "I've been in football for 10 years and I am still enthusiastic about it. I feel I'm having a last blast."

Dominic Matteo was feeling less chirpy yesterday. When England take off from Luton Airport for Georgia this morning the Liverpool defender will be back at Melwood receiving treatment on his recurring knee injury. It also prevented him from training during his first international call-up last month. At 22, time is on his side but that will be of little consolation today.

n In the absence of Ben Thatcher, the Manchester United midfielder Nicky Butt will captain the England's Under-21 side in their European Championship qualifier against Georgia in Batumi on Friday afternoon.

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