Welcome back to the latest series of articles from Last Word on Football. This time we look back on the footballers who many class as Premier League Legends. These players were superstars in their time, and left their mark on the league, engraving their names in its illustrious history. Many of these greats inspired their teams to glory. The Premier League prides itself on its high quality and excitement you can’t find anywhere else in Europe.
Today we look at a player who was a late bloomer, he signed his first professional contract just three months shy of his 22nd birthday. However, his prolonged football career outside of the professional game helped mould him into such a special player. It strengthened his love for football and made him a character on and off the pitch. These characteristics helped create a prolific frontman, with bags of flair and charisma.
He always knew how to find the back of the net. ‘Wrighty’ was a scorer of great and a variety of goals. He was an entertainer, who had an infectious personality which is why he was loved at every club he played for across his 15-year professional career.
Introducing, Premier League Legend – Ian Wright
Where It All Began: Crystal Palace
The pacey forward was a raw talent, who had nurtured his skills on the streets of South London. Having played amateur and semi-professional football for most of his teenage years, it appeared time was of the essence for Ian Wright.
He finally got his big break with a move to Crystal Palace in 1985. Ian Wright quickly became a cult hero, after making an immediate impact. In his second season with the Eagles, he was instrumental in bringing them up to the topflight. Wright scored 33 goals in that season.
He went on to get an England call-up whilst at Palace and scored a total of 117 goals over 6 seasons for the South London side. His prolific goalscoring form attracted interest from a vast range of clubs…
His Dream Move to Arsenal
In September 1991 Ian Wright joined Arsenal for a club-record fee of £2.5 million. At the time, Arsenal were reigning champions and had an abundance of attacking talent. This transfer surprised many; despite his prolific spell at Palace, many wondered if it was a step too high for the England international.
However, he quickly silenced his doubters. ‘Wrighty’ bagged a hat trick in his League debut away at Southampton and he quickly made Highbury his home.
He finished his first season at the Gunners with the golden boot. Wright secured the accolade on the final day of the season with a pulsating hat trick, something Arsenal fans had become accustomed to.
The Arsenal legend was loving life, playing alongside his boyhood friend, the late David Rocastle. After such a tough ride to professional football, he was living his dream. It wasn’t long before he became a household name and a fan favourite at Highbury.
Ian Wright was a great Goalscorer, but more incredibly, he was a scorer of great goals. His goalscoring archive is sensational and extremely diverse. He made football look easy. A defender’s nightmare, he left the best of goalkeepers helpless.
Capable of everything, from tap-ins to screamers, he did it all. Renowned for his pace, and his love of a long-range chipped effort, he is now widely considered one of Arsenal’s greatest ever players, and one of the best strikers ever to grace the Premier League.
In 213 Premier League appearances, Ian Wright scored 113 goals, as well as providing 22 assists, displaying he was more than just a Goalscorer, he was a tremendous footballer, with lots to his game. The Arsenal Legend is a member of the Premier League 100 Club, with a number of other top goalscorers.
However, what’s so special and unique about ‘Wrighty’s’ record, was the nature of his team. Unlike his predecessors Nicolas Anelka and Thierry Henry, who were a part of exciting and expansive, free-flowing Arsenal sides, Ian Wright played in the era of ‘One-Nil to the Arsenal’.
The North London side during his period were renowned for their defensive robustness. They were not the attacking force they became when Arsene Wenger arrived in 1996.
This makes Ian Wright’s record so special. Playing in front of a midfield with industrial players rather than creators, he still managed to find the net so frequently.
Many others in the PL 100 Club played in dominating and free-flowing attacking sides. Ian Wright’s intelligent movement and committed character meant regardless of the team he was in, the goals found him, he was a natural goalscorer.
His Connection With Dennis Bergkamp
With Ian Wright already so prolific in a hardworking and defence-minded side, it was no surprise that when he was eventually partnered with one of the greatest minds in football, he became even more spectacular. The Dutchman’s arrival in 1995 reignited Ian Wright, the two were a match made in heaven.
His goalscoring instinct and clever forward play was taken to new levels. He was partnered with someone equally as magic as him. One could argue that maybe Wright was unlucky to not have played with Bergkamp for longer. This partnership developed towards the backend of his prime. It was not as long-lasting as many would have wanted.
After two seasons together, Wright, as a result of his age, was losing his explosive speed. The connection, although it was great, was short-lived.
Character and Temperament
There were times in his career (particularly at Arsenal) where Wright’s temper got the better of him. It even got to the point where he needed therapy. Ian Wright himself described the fact that he ‘was doing so well and that’s dangerous to the point you become obnoxious’.
This even spilt on to the field at times. For example, despite scoring in every round of the Cup Winners Cup, he missed the final through suspension. Wright was a maverick on the pitch, and his pace and skill resulted in him being targeted my defenders, who would try anything in their attempts to halt him.
He regularly lashed out and retaliated, and never shirked a tackle, he tiptoed the line of the law, and his eruptive temper occasionally got him into trouble.
However, he was also an entertainer, someone fans of all clubs could appreciate, his energy was infectious. Players he played with can not speak highly enough of him, he was a joker in the changing room and someone who loved every minute of being a footballer. As well as this, he had his fair share of crazy goal celebrations – a great footballing enigma.
During his legendary spell at Arsenal, Ian Wright won the Premier League, both domestic trophies and was also successful in Europe, winning the Cup Winners Cup.
Having joined Arsenal when they were reigning Champions, it may come as a shock that he didn’t actually get his hands on his own league winners medal until his final season, after spending seven years at the club. Aged 34, he missed the majority of the league winning season through injury.
However, he managed to make an impact in steering the Gunner’s to their first league title under Wenger. Also, he managed to secure the status of Arsenal record goalscorer, after eclipsing the 178 mark of former Arsenal man Cliff Bastin. Ian Wright is Arsenal’s second-highest goalscorer in their history.
Ian Wright was Arsenal’s top scorer in six straight seasons after joining the club. In four of these seasons, he scored over 30 goals, he was a goalscoring menace. He was also named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year twice, just another example of the many individual awards he won throughout his career.
‘Wrighty’ also was rewarded with 33 caps for England, in which he scored nine goals for the Three Lions.
Later Career and Retirement
After leaving Arsenal as a Premier League Champion in 1998, Ian Wright enjoyed spells at West Ham United, Nottingham Forest, and Celtic, before ending his career at Burnley in 2000. Over his career he played 581 league games, scoring a remarkable 387 goals.
He has since had a short coaching spell at MK Dons. It appears he is not looking to pursue a career in coaching, but he is still heavily involved in football. Ian Wright is a regular on MOTD and active across all football media. A true lover of football, who has and continues to inspire many.