Kevin Phillips is the definition of a journeyman – he’s played for 9 clubs over 22 seasons. This unpredictable run continued in the best way possible for the 39 year old last week, when he scored the winning strike in the richest game in football. Whether he returns for another crack at the top flight next season or not, Phillips should be remembered as an English football legend, and a true role model.
His career began at non-league Baldock Town where he originally played right-back, having played there at Southampton’s youth academy. His first transfer came when Division One Watford bought for him just £15,000. At Vicarage Road he went on to score 24 league goals in three seasons despite missing almost all of 1996 because of an ankle ligament injury. Before the 1997-98 season, Phillips was sold to Sunderland. The bargain £325,000 move would result in the most fruitful period of his career.
Phillips was the Premier League top scorer in the 1999–2000 season with 30 goals for Sunderland
In his first year with the Division One Black Cats, he netted 35 times in all competitions. In an injury hit second season, he still managed to score 25 times as Sunderland were promoted to the Premier League. Before the 1999-2000 season, pundit Rodney Marsh famously predicted Phillips would “struggle to get six goals” in his first year of top-flight football. In the end, Phillips netted 30 league goals, seven ahead of the next highest scorer – Alan Shearer. He also won the European Golden Shoe that year for the most league goals of any player on the continent. Other winners of the award include Eusebio, Ian Rush, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, while Phillips remains the only Englishmen ever to receive the honour. The phrase ‘Rodney you plonker’ springs to mind.
He was never ever able to repeat that season’s amazing form while at Sunderland, but he did spend three more seasons in the top flight with the North-East club, netting a further 40 times. For the 2003/04 season, he made just about the longest transfer possible in English football, moving to South coast side Southampton. In two seasons with the Saints, he scored a solid 26 goals in all competitions. For 2005/06 season he was loaned to Aston Villa and endured arguably the worst year of his career, finding the net just 5 times.
At 33, many people thought we had seen the last of Kevin Phillip’s glory days, but he played brilliantly for another Birmingham club, West Brom, in the Championship. Two seasons with the Baggies saw him score a total of 46 goals. He then controversially moved across town to Birmingham City where he had a strong first season, but was underwhelming upon his return to the Premier League.
Now 38, Phillips was again widely written off, but last season made a triumphant comeback with Blackpool in the Championship, scoring 16 league goals in 41 appearances. He started this year with the Lancashire club, before being loaned to Crystal Palace in January, where he’s scored an impressive 7 goals in 16 games, all while living in hotels away from his family according to manager Ian Hollloway.
Kevin Phillips hopes to remain at Selhurst Park next season
Wherever he has played, Phillips has been a prolific cup scorer, despite never having won or even appeared in a final of a major tournament. His 20 goals in the FA Cup are more than Premier League striking legends such as Matt Le Tissier, Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Wayne Rooney and Gianfranco Zola. He has also scored 9 goals in the League Cup in his career.
Phillips is an old-school striker trying to cut it in a new and changing football world. He isn’t freakishly quick, he isn’t overly strong, he doesn’t score that many long range stunners, and he rarely nets with his head. When you think of today’s best front men – Messi, Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic, etc – Phillips reminds you of none of them. He’s a consistent finisher though, a throwback who simply finds ways to score. Over the last 22 years, he has constantly performed in a variety of places against players blessed with more natural athleticism and talent. And that is why youngsters everywhere can learn a lot from Kevin.