City, who had been monitoring Shaun’s brother, promptly snapped up the young winger, along with Bradley as the siblings began life at the newly-formed Manchester City Academy.
A City scout would later recall it was Bradley Wright-Phillips who City really wanted, and if Shaun came as part of the package, so much the better.
Joe Royle returned to the club in 1998 and after his first training session at Platt Lane, he commented to the Academy staff that “the little fella was terrific” – Shaun had already caught the manager’s eye aged only 16 and his path began in earnest.
It was Royle that drip-fed Shaun into his team, giving him the odd outing here and there, often as sub before bringing him more and more into the first team picture. In doing so, he became the first graduate of the Manchester City Academy.
It was clear he was a special talent and when Royle was sacked in May 2001, Kevin Keegan said that he thought Shaun would one day play for England – and he made sure he was a regular fixture in his teams from day one.
In fact, he was arguably the first name on the team sheet with his infectious enthusiasm, energy and speed providing an additional spark to Keegan’s already talented, attack-minded side.
Having made a large number of starts without scoring, it was typical that Shaun would find finally find the net away from Maine Road – but he went one better than that by scoring in a game where, officially, there no City fans at all – at Millwall – who had banned the travelling support in response to City’s decision to ban Millwall fans from Maine Road following previous crowd disturbances.
Shaun’s goal that night was a cracker, cutting inside of a challenge on a counter-attack before scoring what proved to be the winning goal in a 3-2 win.
After that, he only ever seemed to score spectacular goals – and plenty of them. The fans adored him for his never-say-die-attitude and, of course, because he was a player who could lift the crowd with a surge down the wing or a well-timed tackle to help his defence out.
‘Wrighty’ was never one to lie on the floor injured after a challenge – it wasn’t his style. He’d get up, hobble around and then play on. During a live match on one occasion, his dad, former Arsenal and England legend Ian Wright was one of the pundits and watched a replay of an horrific challenge on his son where his knee almost bent inwards, and casually said: “Oh, he’ll be okay, his legs are made of rubber!”
By the 2002/03 season, Shaun Wright-Phillips was perhaps the most important player in the City team. The following year he was he beating heart the City team. He was the driving force and creative outlet for the majority of attacks and he plundered goals from all angles and distances, but more often than not, they were 25-yard plus sizzlers. He had become a huge crowd favourite.
It was no surprise to the City faithful, when he finally made his England debut, that he marked it with a trademark run and low drive across the keeper into the bottom corner to mark his first appearance with a goal against Ukraine.
Tottenham were the first London club to make an offer – a derisory £7m – and unfortunately, it was just the beginning of a transfer tug-of-war in the capital. Wright-Phillips’ stock continued to rise with stunning goals against Arsenal, Aston Villa, and Southampton proving he was the hottest young talent around.
With the rumours refusing to go away, he signed a new four-year deal at the start of the 2004/05 season and stated he would be happy if he never left the club. He played his part to the full but didn’t quite sparkle as he had in previous years – a fact backed by his failure to win the City supporters’ Player of the Year award that he waltzed off with such ease in previous years.
During the summer the speculation transfer saga continued a bid of £20m from Chelsea rejected by City, but it seemed to only delay the inevitable and increased bid of £21m was finally accepted.
As far as City were concerned, they’d done right by the player and the supporters, despite crippling debts at the time and had Shaun decided to stay, that would have been that.. The likeable kid from London, rejected for being too small yet salvaged from the scrapheap by City and nurtured into one of Europe’s most exciting players had gone to rub shoulders with some of the cream of world football.
He won the Premier League and FA Cup with Chelsea and played 125 games for the West London side during three years, but it was never quite the same for him in his home city, so when the chance to re-join City just before the 2008 transfer window closed, he grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
It was a move that came out of the blue and was greeted with something close to hysteria when he agreed to re-sign for the Club. It was the return of the prodigal son and costing less than half the transfer fee he’d left for, it was a genuine bargain.
He made his second City debut away to Sunderland and scored twice in a 3-0 victory. He was back home where he belonged and he would play his part in City’s gradual renaissance, making a further 94 appearances to bring his total up to 275 in total during a combined decade of service.
With playing time limited towards the end of his second spell, Shaun joined QPR and played in the 2012 clash that saw City claim the Premier League title and each time he returned, even when he had played for Chelsea, he was always warmly welcomed and after a standing ovation greeted him towards the end of the 2014/15 campaign, he said after the game that he always felt he was “coming home” whenever he played at the Etihad.