THIS time next week, Sunderland legend Kevin Phillips will be plotting the downfall of his former employers.
But the Leicester City coach told GRAEME ANDERSON that won’t alter his abiding affection for the club where he made his name.
“I’M looking forward to it,” beams Kevin Phillips anticipating the visit of Sunderland to Leicester City next week.
“I always got a bit of a special feeling when I was up against Sunderland as a player and it’s the same now I’m a coach.
“It’s surprising really.
“When you’ve travelled as much as I did as a player, you’re always bumping into your old clubs, so you get used to it!
“But Sunderland is different – I still get a buzz.”
Goal machine Phillips played for nine league clubs in a career which spanned 20 years – an astonishing achievement for an outfield player.
There were plenty of highlights along the way at Watford, Southampton, Aston Villa, West Brom, Birmingham City, Blackpool, Crystal Palace and Leicester City.
And it’s probably fair to say there are not many pubs across the length of England where there wouldn’t be some grateful supporter ready to offer him a pint if he walked in.
But it is the memory of those six goal-laden seasons he enjoyed at Sunderland which endures most, both in the public mind and his own.
And it is a link he continues to actively foster to this day.
Last month, he joined the Sunderland Former Players’ Association, which keeps ex-players in touch and does good work in the community.
Previously, he agreed to become an ambassador for the SAFC Foundation.
And next month he is in South Tyneside giving a talk-in organised by Northern League club South Shields.
“I can’t get away from the place, can I?” he jokes, but he admits he loves to come back to his former stamping ground and is proud still to be wanted.
“It was such an important part of my life,” explains Phillips. “Sunderland is where I made my name in football.
“It is where I broke into the Premier League, where I won the European Golden Shoe, where I was called up for England.
“And they were great times too, because, as well as my career being on the up, the club itself was on the up too.
“We won a lot of games, scored a lot of goals and the support we got was fantastic.”
Phillips – who joined Len Shackleton and Gary Rowell as the only post-war players to notch a century of goals for the club during his stint from 1997-2003– has watched Sunderland’s fortunes from afar since leaving just over a decade ago.
And he sees the Black Cats as a template for Leicester City to follow in the way the Wearsiders have managed to doggedly retain their Premier League status since winning promotion in 2007.
“It takes a long time to establish yourself in the Premier League, but Sunderland have done that and that’s what we’re aiming to do at Leicester City,” added Phillips.
“That first season is always the most difficult, but if you survive after coming straight up, then you can look to build on it.”
It remains one of the biggest challenges in football, though.
And the Premier League table currently shows the three sides promoted from the Championship last season occupying the three relegation slots.
“It has been a learning curve for us at Leicester, but I don’t think we’re that far off,” the 41-year-old mused.
“We’re third bottom, but we’re level on points with Crystal Palace and we’re only a couple of wins away from the top half of the table.
“We’ve beaten Manchester United in a famous game for us and we’ve beaten Stoke City too, so we’ve shown that, on our day, we can handle different types of opposition.
“We’ve just got to learn to do that more consistently because you don’t get much time in the Premier League.
“It hasn’t been an easy start for us, but I don’t think we’ve done too badly and what we’ve got to do now is to do well against the teams in and around us in the bottom half of the table.
“Take three points from Manchester United and you’ve just taken three points – take points from the teams around you and they’re like six-pointers.
“Three of our next four games will be against Sunderland, QPR and Aston Villa and we’ve got to look to maximise the number of points we take from those games – starting with Sunderland next weekend.
“On the day, I’ll be hoping for nothing but a Leicester City win – we need it.
“And Leicester’s a good club with a good set of lads and coaching staff doing everything they can to keep the club in the top flight.
“I’m enjoying the coaching side of things and I want to be part of the set-up which keeps the club in the Premier League.
“But I always keep an eye out for Sunderland and I want them to do well – I want the club to be as successful as possible.
“In an ideal world, Leicester City v Sunderland will be a Premier League fixture again next season.”
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