The Kevin Phillips interview: Legendary striker on Sunderland, and how Jermain Defoe's Wearside feats compare to his
Kevin Phillips does not even have to be prompted to talk about Jermain Defoe.
Great goalscorers recognise great goalscorers.
The Stadium of Light, certainly, has seen few better. What they may not have had in size, they more than made up for in instinct, class and hunger for goals.
That last quality has become something of a cliche, but spend time with either, and goals are never far from the tip of the tongue. Poacher’s goals, wonder goals. Any goal.
There are no memories clearer than two volleys, 16 years apart, from 25 yards to the top corner in front of the South Stand. Phillips v Chelsea, Defoe v Newcastle.
Phillips is back on Wearside promoting the SAFC Fans Museum, which will pay homage to the Red and White greats of days gone by. He is the first ambassador of a project that has been warmly received, and who better to celebrate than Sunderland’s heritage than not just their post-war record goalscorer, but the scorer of some of their most memorable, precious goals.
He has come from Derby, where he works as a first-team coach. Part of his remit has been to work on his team’s attacking threat. It is when asked how he might look to get Defoe’s shot-shy Sunderland team-mates firing that his admiration for Defoe shines through.
“What you have to do in training every day is show them clips of what they’re good at, try and fill them with confidence and keep working on their good things in training,” said Phillips.
“The person that epitomises that is Jermain Defoe, even though he is in a team that is bottom of the Premier League.
“He’s still scoring, still believing in his own ability, and that’s what the other players have to aspire to.
“They have to look at the senior players that are doing it and try to relate to it.”
Phillips was impressed to hear Defoe say that he still had the England flag on his boots.
That self-confidence, determination, is perhaps a trait he recognises, something he is perhaps trying to instill in the players he works with now.
So how do their feats on the Stadium of Light turf compare?
“It’s very similar, isn’t it,” said Phillips, 43. “Obviously he hasn’t scored as many as me because he hasn’t been here as long – I expect him to score a few more between now and the end of the season.
“He’s never given up, has he?
“He’s always believed that he would get another crack and that’s why he kept the England crest on his boots, so certainly he deserves his opportunity.
“He shows that it doesn’t matter how old you are, you’ll get an opportunity.
“There’s a goalscorer and there’s not many of them around, is there?
“I hope he gets an opportunity in England’s next match and scores.
“He’s kept himself fit which is the main thing, because if he did get injured you would have to worry about Sunderland.”
The final word, on an uncertain few months ahead for the club where Phillips played his best football.
He has always been a keen observer of events on Wearside, and, like most, fears this could one great escape too far.
Hope, for Phillips, comes from what he has seen at this stage from Sunderland in previous seasons.
“They’re having a tough time at the moment,” he said.
“Unfortunately, it has been like that for the last two of three seasons.
“I just hope that this isn’t the season it does bite them in the backside and they get relegated.
“They’re cut adrift at the bottom at the moment, but the history has shown and suggests that, when they’ve been up against it at the end of the season, they’ve dug the results out and got over the line.”
Yesterday was an evening for reflection, a nod to history and what is hopefully an exciting new venture for Sunderland fans in the Monkwearmouth Station Museum.
A time to remember, amid the gloom and the struggle, the luck and joy to have watched these two greats.
The art of scoring goals, rarely better perfected than by these two.