For Shaun Wright-Phillips, the clash between his two former clubs always leads him back to a taxi ride that changed the course of his career.
Wright-Phillips was playing in a pre-season match for Manchester By but with the club’s financial situation clearing up behind the scenes, an offer of £ 21 million from Chelsea offered salvation from the impending meltdown. Not that he was aware prior to a transfer that was like a “slip from clear skies”.
“As a young child – especially when you’re happy – you just think you’ll be going to play somewhere forever, but unfortunately it was not,” he says. I ahead of Chelsea’s visit to the Etihad this weekend.
“I found out later that they had to sell me, otherwise they were in a lot of financial trouble. It was a pre-season match under Stuart Pearce, and a couple of the senior players said to me, ‘It’s not safe for you to play in this game “.
“By the end of the match, the deal was done and a car was waiting for me outside the stadium. It just happened really fast and it was emotional, I didn’t get to say goodbye to anyone. It was just ‘go’. It was a shock. I was in tears in the back of that car. “
Jose Mourinho and Chelsea fans ultimately proved accommodating as he justified the price tag. “Chelsea taught me to be a different player,” he says. “I did not have to hug the sideline, I did not have to be the player who took on the man and had to create all the time anymore.”
Fast forward 17 years and the transformation in Manchester City has been amazing. They are no longer the food club, now the country’s dominant side and without any side of relinquishing the title despite Liverpool and Chelsea hitting their heels in the first part of the campaign.
After a Christmas where they proved to be incomparable, Pep Guardiola’s powerhouse – playing without a recognized striker for most of the season – welcomes Chelsea in almost total control of the title race. Unless the Blues – cut off Edouard Mendy, Ben Chilwell and Reece James – winner at the Etihad, it’s hard to imagine them having to overtake the reigning champions.
“It’s an exciting match, but it’s Chelsea who are likely to win it more,” Wright-Phillips concluded.
“You can’t really see Man City go in a row losing two games and playing a draw four. They will always put victories in there. If they lose points, they will still be comfortable at the top.
“Liverpool without Salah and Mane means the distance is even greater for Manchester City in terms of quality. So they are overwhelming favorites now.”
Some of the intrigue comes in whether Guardiola will confuse his own instincts and hand Cole Palmer the opportunity to build on a sensational show at Swindon last weekend.
Wright-Phillips, himself a young tyro who emerged from the club’s youth system, sees a relative in the bubbly Palmer. The English under-21 national team player achieved a brilliant performance with a memorable slogan – ‘Prem soon come’ – and there is a feeling that he is on his way to the point where he can influence Premier League matches.
“He’s ready,” Wright-Phillips says definitively. “He has everything it takes to play in such a match, certainly in terms of talent. He is fearless and does not care who he meets.
“His mindframe is ‘Cole Palmer wants to do what Cole Palmer can do.'” At the same time, Pep has always protected his young players, so you never quite know what to do.
“The level at which Manchester City compete, the only way you can be a part of it, is to have the faith and the little bit of arrogance that you can control a match, no matter how big the stage is.
“It also applies to the young players. I’m really excited about Cole. ”
Wright-Phillips is building a career as an expert and following in Father Ian’s footsteps. But son D’Margio, who made his Stoke City debut in the FA Cup at the age of 20 on Sunday, continues the family legacy.
“It was amazing and emotional to see him make his debut. I was so proud of him and he did so well,” he says.
“My father is the emotional one, I am the calm and convinced – or at least I try to be. My son knows what he wants, he will one day be in the Premier League and knows what it takes.
“I keep telling him, ‘You’re in a position now where you can make this happen.’ It’s really exciting.”