Premier League Legends: Kevin Phillips

Kevin Phillips

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. Players who wowed the crowd, frustrated the opposition, scored great goals and inspired their team to glory.

Today, we look at a striker who was prolific at every club he played for and is the only Englishman to win the European Golden Shoe. His CV also includes promotion to the Premier League with four different clubs, and his form and goalscoring ability from any angle or range should have produced more than the eight international caps it did.

Kevin Phillips: A Premier League Legend

Early Career at Southampton, Baldock Town and Watford

Kevin Phillips began his career at Southampton as a trainee. Having been deemed too small to be a striker, he was moved to right-back and was ultimately released. A spell at non-league Baldock Town saw him scouted by Watford. He would score 25 goals for the Hornets before his big chance came along.

Move to Sunderland

Phillips’ move to Sunderland for a bargain £325,000 saw the striker have the best years of his career. His first two seasons at the club were played in the Championship. However, Phillips showed what could be expected when he finally reached England’s top flight. In his first season, he became the first Sunderland player to score more than 30 goals in a season since the great Brian Clough in the early 1960s. He beat Clough by one goal, finishing on 35.

The following season, Phillips helped the Black Cats back to the Premier League. Even though he was missing for four months through injury, he was lethal when fit, scoring 25 goals.

It was also during these first two seasons that he formed and developed his most successful strike partnership, one that would stoke fear into many Premier League defences. Phillips and Niall Quinn became Sunderland’s very own little and large and would last until Quinn’s retirement.

Kevin Phillips: Premier League Hotshot

Upon arriving in the top flight, some believed that Phillips would struggle against better defences, despite scoring 60 goals in the previous two seasons. Former England and Manchester City striker Rodney Marsh predicted that Phillips would “struggle to score six goals”.

Phillips proved Marsh and any other doubter wrong. The Premier League new boy, alongside Niall Quinn and the rest of the determined Sunderland squad, produced some spectacular displays. At one point, around Christmas, the Black Cats sat at the top of the league. From tap-ins to spectacular long-range efforts, Phillps was an outstanding success.

European Golden Shoe and Premier League Golden Boot Winner

England has produced many great strikers throughout the years; however, only one has ever been the continent’s best goalscorer across a season. His name? Kevin Phillips. Not only did he win the coveted European Golden Shoe with his 30 goals, but also the Premier League Golden Boot. The only other Englishman to win the golden boot since is Harry Kane.

During the 1999/2000 season, Kevin Phillips was without a doubt the finest striker in Europe. Sunderland finished seventh that season, narrowly missing out on a European place.

Kevin Phillips and England

Having scored 30 league goals and won both the Golden Shoe and Golden Boot, it came as a surprise to many that Phillips did not get the international recognition his form deserved. Only eight caps came the striker’s way. For many strikers, a tally of 30 top-flight goals and 90 in three seasons would see them become a regular for the national team.

England boss Kevin Keegan did take Phillips to Euro 2000; however, Keegan left Europe’s best goalscorer on the bench as England struggled. The Three Lions exited the competition at the group stage and Phillips, an unused substitute, was left wondering what he had to do.

Moves to Southampton and Aston Villa

Phillips spent six seasons at Sunderland, scoring 130 goals. With the Black Cats struggling, he moved on, returning to the club where he was once a trainee. Southampton signed Phillips for a bargain £3.25 million in the summer of 2003. The goals still flowed, and Phillips scored 13 as the Saints finished in mid-table. The striker would score 13 again the following season but with Southampton going through various managers, they struggled and were relegated.

Following relegation, Aston Villa gave Phillips a route to stay in the Premier League, signing the now experienced top-flight striker for just £1 million. His time at Villa Park would be short and frustrating. After scoring on his debut, illness and injuries meant a run in the first-team proved difficult. Phillips would end the season with just five goals.

Later Years and Still Making an Impact

Following a move to Villa’s midland’s rivals West Bromwich Albion, Phillips found fitness and returned to his goalscoring best. Even though the striker was back in the Championship, he was back doing what he did best. Forty-six goals in two seasons helped the Baggies back to the Premier League. With his contract expiring, West Brom offered Phillips a new one-year deal to join them in the top-flight. He rejected the offer in favour of a two-year contract with Birmingham City.

It took just one season for the prolific marksman to help City return to the Premier League. Now 36, Phillips was reduced to a squad player. However, he still managed eight goals. Spells at Blackpool, Crystal Palace, where he would score an extra-time penalty to win the Championship play-off final, and Leicester City followed. Kevin Phillips retired on the last day of the 2012/13 season. He finished having scored 282 goals in all competitions and a hero to many who saw him play.

Life after Playing

Since retiring, Phillips has held coaching spells at Leicester, Derby County and Stoke City. He has made no secret of his desire to become a manager and has been linked with a return to Sunderland several times. When asked about the manager’s job at Sunderland in the past, Phillips said: “I’m not going to stand here and lie to you. Every time I’ve been asked when the job comes up and I’ve been linked, of course I’m interested. I’d be daft not to [be interested].”

“I’ve always said that I’d love to have a crack at management and I’d love to go back to the club. If it happens now great, if it doesn’t maybe somewhere down the line it will.”


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