It takes a combination of mental and physical strength to play professional football for 14 years. Rob Tanner gets some of the secrets of longevity from Birmingham City’s Kevin Phillips.
Not a lot riles Kevin Phillips. The Birmingham City striker is as cool, calm and collected off the field as he is in front of goal. He never flaps or gets flustered by any question and calculates his response thoughtfully. However, mention age and players being over the hill and watch him rear up like a threatened bear.
The 35-year-old striker is often referred to as a veteran, but although he has confirmed he is considering calling time on his glittering career at the end of next season, he insists he still has plenty of football in him between now and then.
Anyone who suggests to Phillips that he is past it is dicing with death, but it is newspaper reports that Michael Owen’s England career is over at the age of 28, having been left out of Fabio Capello’s squad for the World Cup qualifier against Kazakhstan, that have really got Phillips’ blood boiling.
“That really does annoy me,” Phillips said. “As soon as you get to 30 people think you are finished. To me, it is just a number. At 28, Owen is in his prime. To suggest his England career is over is just rubbish.
“If I was in his situation, I would be disappointed. He has scored goals in a struggling Newcastle United team. That says a lot for the player and his mental strength, having come back from injuries. He has done really well but Capello wants to do it his way, so who are we to argue?”
Like Owen, Phillips has had to contend with serious injuries as well as advancing years but the Blues star says Owen has become a better player for the experience.
“He has been forced to adapt his gamee because of injury and it works,” he said. “I have seen him playing for Newcastle and he has dropped deep, got the ball, turned, played people in, got into the box and scored goals.
“I think you can become a better player doing that. He still has pace, that eye for goal, that sharp turn, so to suggest he is finished is just nonsense.
“A lot of players have to adapt their style of play as they get older. As soon as you get to 30 people start to think you have lost your pace and your motivation but I feel that as I have got older, I have got better; not quicker over the ground, but I am sharper in my mind.”
His own international experience was all too brief but Phillips’ eight England caps are the highlight of his career. Having scored more than 200 league goals for six clubs, including Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion, he has a lot to look back on with pride.
“I am well satisfied with how my career has gone,” he said. “The highlight obviously has been playing for England. I wish I had been given a bit more of a chance, a run of games but unfortunately, in international football you don’t really get that. But I have enjoyed my career and when it is over, I can look back with some fond memories.”
Phillips’ longevity is down pto his professionalism but he admits keeping himself fit hasn’t been a chore, it has been enjoyable.
“I have always looked after myself,” he said. “I think having a family made me realise that I needed to play as long as possible so I can make the family secure.
“When I finish playing, I want a comfortable life because you are a long time retired. You still have to provide for your family. I just felt it was important to look after myself and I enjoy it too. Yes, I do like to go out and have a beer but only at the right time. I think it is more important to watch what you eat and I certainly do that. It helps that I actually like healthy food. A lot of players when they eat healthy food don’t enjoy it, but I do.”
As for what lies in store, Phillips insists he is not considering swapping the six-yard box for a manager’s technical area.
“I am not sure what I am going to do when I finish,” Phillips confessed. “I know I don’t want to stay in the game as a coach or manager. I would like to work in the media side and do some television or radio, just to keep my hand in.
“I will see how I feel at the end of this season and the start of next and I will decide if I call it a day at the end of next year or not.”
Meanwhile, Phillips admits he has plenty of work ahead of him to establish himself in the starting line-up and to help Blues get back to the Premier League at the first time of asking. He is the club’s top scorer with four goals, despite starting half the games on the bench, as Blues sit top of the table.
“I am a bit frustrated because when I came to Birmingham, I thought I would play a bit more than I have so far but I can’t complain,” he said.
“I think I am only playing at the moment at 75 per cent match fitness and that is purely because I haven’t played many games. At my age, I need to play for or five games on the bounce to get match-fit.
“We haven’t played well at all as a team and last Saturday [the 1-0 win over Queens Park Rangers nine days ago], was one of our best performances, at home at least.
“ I can only think of maybe Cardiff and Bristol City away as being better; the first halves in those games were probably our best performances of the season so far.
“We can only get better and we are there to be shot at now. I would take 1-0 wins between now and the end of the season and win the league.”