‘When I burst onto the scene I didn’t reach my full potential – because I got too comfortable.’

Player To Player with Bradley Wright-Phillips

At only 19 years old, Bradley Wright-Phillips scored four minutes into his EPL debut and had the world at his feet. But just a few years later he was short on goals and confidence in the Championship. 

When Red Bull New York handed him a lifeline and a chance to revitalize his career in the MLS Wright-Phillips took the league by storm and went on to become Red Bull’s all time leading goal scorer.

In this episode of Player to Player Stevie sits down with Bradley Wright-Phillips to find out about the pressures of being born into a famous footballing family, and what the future holds (after lockdown) at LA FC.

With football literally in his blood, Wright-Phillips love of the game started early, and in the pre-internet days it was all about videos:

‘From a young age I remember being obsessed with football. I’d watch a VHS video of the1990 World Cup – it was Gasgoigne and Linekar and it had behind the scenes. And I’d watch it every day, I knew every word, I knew when Gasgoine was going to cry, I knew everything – I used to love it. I was obsessed!’ 

But soon real life became more interesting, when Wright-Phillips finally realized just what a world-class talent his father Ian Wright was:

‘I didn’t really know how much of a big deal he was. People would always bother me about him and a lot of the time I’d lie and say no he’s not my dad because it started getting annoying.  It wasn’t until I got a little bit older that I’d go and watch him. And when I heard thousands of fans singing his name I thought this is crazy […] When I saw him score and run into the crowd – I thought that was me from me – I had to play football.’  

Going through the ranks of youth football at Notts Forest and Man City, Wright-Phillips learned that having a famous father and talented older brother placed him under greater scrutiny than other players:

‘In the beginning it was more like – they do this, my dad plays, my brother plays – I’m going to play. I didn’t think too deeply about it – it was nothing. It was only when I started getting into the academy and playing reserve games that people started comparing. If I didn’t play well it would be like – he’s rubbish; if I played really well they’d be like – that what he’s supposed to do;  his brother’s this, his dad’s that. So when I started getting older and understanding more and trying to find my game that’s when I realized that there’s a bit of pressure in this you know?’  

After Bradley’s illustrious debut the Wright-Phillips brothers soon found themselves on different footballing  trajectories, and it took time for Bradley to find his feet – and his own game:

‘I did go through a stage of thinking about what my brother was doing – he was playing for England. So then I started to put a lot of pressure on myself, trying to do things I don’t usually do – not playing to my strengths and those things can sidetrack you […] It was when I got to America that I really decided to take my career into my own hands and just think about my own career and not what they say about my dad […] As soon as I just started thinking about me and just having fun and focusing on football things worked out for me.’ 

Reflecting on the challenges of his early professional career, Wright-Phillips believes he was hampered by his own relaxed attitude after such a bright start at Man City:

‘I’ve always been able to score goals and I just thought yeah I’ve made it – I thought I was going to be at Man City forever. I don’t remember working too much on my game – I did when Kevin Keegan was there, he used to take me and do some stuff. I thought I’d made it but I liked the wrong things in the game – I liked being recognized, I liked the money, and football almost came second and that was for a lot of years. At that time when I burst onto the scene I didn’t reach my full potential and I think that was because I got too comfortable.’ 

And when he got his chance in the MLS, the quality of one (super-star) teammate in particular spurred Wright-Phillips on to record-breaking form:

‘I think it was Johnny Steele that said to me if you get 15 goals in a season here that’s considered a lot […] I’m used to growing up in England where you see Alan Shearer scoring 30, Henry scoring 30, my dad scoring 20 odd, Andy Cole 30. So in my mind that was always like the benchmark – So I thought – ok if I get fit for this preseason I think I can get 20 odd goals. With Thierry Henry playing as the number 10 I’d have to be an idiot not to!’ 

Check out the full interview for more fascinating stories and insights including the Wright-Phillips brothers reunited in NYC, and how Bradley still feels let down by the circumstances surrounding his own departure from the club.

Edwin Tubb