IT has been an eventful week for Kevin Phillips.
Not only has the former Sunderland striker thrown his hat in the ring to return to the Stadium of Light as manager.
2 Kevin Phillips scooped the European Golden Shoe in 2000… the only Englishman to ever do soCredit: Getty Images – Getty
But he also received an apology from Arsene Wenger – for not taking him away from Wearside when he was a player.
It was 20 seasons ago that Phillips scored 30 goals in a campaign to win the Premier League’s Golden Boot and European Golden Shoe – still the only Englishman to have scooped that award.
He then stayed at Sunderland for another three years and won eight England caps in what he describes as a “frustrating” international career.
But Phillips has revealed how close he came to signing for his boyhood club Arsenal in 2001.
And he admits former Gunners boss Wenger has now acknowledged he made a mistake in instead buying the then 20-year-old Everton starlet Francis Jeffers, who flopped at Highbury.
Phillips, 46, told SunSport: “Arsene Wenger was keen to sign me.
“On Monday night, I was at a tribute dinner for him and when I saw him, he made a remark that maybe he should have gone for me instead of Francis Jeffers.
“It was a toss-up between me and Francis but because he was a bit younger, he opted for him.
“That would have been a dream come true, to play for my boyhood club.
“But at least he acknowledges now he perhaps should have gone for me – that makes me sleep easy at night!”
LITTLE OLD ME
Phillips is a modest man and was surprised to even get a mention on Monday at the Nordoff Robbins charity bash when Wenger won a ‘Legend of Football’ award.
But he has that Golden Boot on his mantlepiece as a permanent reminder of when he took the Premier League by storm at Sunderland.
Phillips smiled: “Geoff Shreeves was introducing everyone and I thought, ‘I won’t get an introduction here’.
“But he said, ‘‘We’ve got another Golden Boot winner here tonight’.
“There were some mega names there and little old me got my name mentioned.
“It’s little things like that when you think, ‘Blimey, it was some achievement’.
“I’m immensely proud. When you go home and see the Golden Boot sitting there on the mantlepiece – and I won the European Golden Shoe as well – it’s fantastic.”
Phillips went to Euro 2000 with England but did not play – and he never got an international goal.
He admitted: “It’s frustrating that I didn’t get more caps.
“If I was playing now, I’m sure I’d be well into double figures because there are not that many strikers around.
“But I was competing with six or seven top-class strikers in the Premier League at the time – Alan Shearer, Michael Owen, Andy Cole, Robbie Fowler, Chris Sutton, Emile Heskey.
“I actually did well to get eight caps!”
READY FOR MANAGEMENT
Phillips moved into coaching after he hung up his boots five years ago.
He has had stints with Leicester, Derby and Stoke, but he now feels ready for a crack at management.
And for Phillips, there would be nowhere better to start as a boss than Sunderland, who have a vacancy after they sacked Jack Ross on Tuesday.
The club’s record post-war goalscorer has revealed he has made contact with owner Stewart Donald to declare his interest in the role.
Phillips, who was speaking at a North East Legends Award night in honour of his ex-boss Peter Reid and Boro’s Bryan Robson, said: “I have reached out to the owner and put my hat in the ring.
“We’ll just see what happens in the next 24-48 hours.
“I’ve expressed to them that I am up here for the next three days, so I am around if they want to have a chat – as long as it doesn’t get in the way of my golf!
“People keep saying to me, ‘You were great here as a player, if it doesn’t work out as a manager, it might tarnish your reputation’.
“But you can’t go through life like that.
“I’m sure Frank Lampard didn’t think like that when he went in at Chelsea and look how it has worked out for him – he is doing a great job.
“So I’d love to have a conversation.”
Sunderland are sixth in League One and have approached some in-work managers, including Wycombe’s Gareth Ainsworth and Wigan’s Paul Cook.
But Phillips added: “I’ve been out of the game eight months now and I’m ready to go back.
“Of course, management is tough but I feel I have a lot to give and I certainly want a crack at it.
“I’ve watched Sunderland closely and there is not an awful lot wrong. Things just need tweaking a little bit.
“Maybe they just need someone in there who can relate to the players. Maybe they need to try a fresh approach.
“If I was to go into the club in any capacity, the relationship with the fans would be there straight away.
“But that counts for nothing. Ultimately, it’s about getting results.
2 Wenger opted to sign Francis Jeffers… who scored eight goals in 39 games for the GunnersCredit: Getty Images – Getty
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“There are definitely good players in there and it’s about finding a system and sticking with that.
“I had great times at Sunderland and we all hope and pray that the club gets back to those heights.
“But in the present, it’s about getting out of League One because the longer you stay in there, the harder it is to get out of.”