Phillips deal haunts Quinn
KEVIN PHILLIPS returns to the Stadium of Light with Birmingham City today, with his former strike partner Niall Quinn admitting Sunderland should never have turned down a £16m offer for him. Phillips hopes to play some part in what is likely to be his last playing appearance at the club where he became the record post-war goalscorer during six years on Wearside before he left for Southampton in August 2003. When he did depart he was sold for just £3.25m, a transfer that still rankles with Quinn. While most teams in the Premier League had considered making an offer, Sunderland chairman Bob Murray stood firm and knocked back a record-breaking offer from Aston Villa in fear it would infuriate supporters. In the end, however, Murray's decision backfired. He spent little money on improving the squad and was forced to sell Phillips on the cheap after the club's ignominious relegation in 2003. Quinn has the memory of those days fresh in his mind and, speaking as Murray's successor as chairman, he makes no secret of his belief Sunderland should have sold Phillips for the inflated fee when they had the chance. If he had been sold a year earlier there was a big offer, which they turned down, said Quinn. That added to this club's woes when they then paid too much money for other players (Tore Andre Flo and Marcus Stewart). There was a written letter from Doug Ellis (former Villa chairman) for £16m. That would have given him a price tag and probably more international matches if he scored a few more goals for Villa. It didn't happen, he stayed here, had a bad year or two in terms of the whole club and then he had to fight his way back through with Villa, Southampton, West Brom and Birmingham. Would I have sold him if I was chairman Yes. If you think £16m, if I didn't have Ellis Short. Bob Murray thought he was doing the right thing by the football club and the fans but I know the right thing to do is as soon as there is a whiff of £16m, get another one in for £8m. Then you have the best of both worlds. Phillips and Quinn have remained strong friends and the elder of the two remains full of admiration for a striker still scoring, despite having his 37th birthday in July. Back in February Phillips reminded the rest of the country of his ability to find the net when he emerged from the bench to score two late goals to defeat Wolves. He is a phenomenal sporting guy, said Quinn. I remember going golfing with him one time. He hadn't played in three years but still shot a 75 with a duff set of clubs. I played snooker with him and he gets a 50 break. He is a very special kind of fella. That Sunday (Birmingham v Wolves) when he took those two goals, everything came flooding back to me and I was as jealous as hell of him. I just thought you little s**t, I can't believe you are still there doing your job'. That summed Kevin up though. In many respects Phillips is not too dissimilar to Sunderland's latest poacher, Darren Bent. And when Quinn was asked if he would sell Bent in today's market for £16m the response was immediate: No, no, no Bent has already bagged 19 goals in his first season at Sunderland and is on course to become the first from the club to break the 20 barrier since Phillips ten years ago. In many respects Bent's ever-improving partnership with Kenwyne Jones bears similarities to Quinn and Phillips with the current marksman preferring to play alongside a target-man. Steve Bruce, responsible for signing Bent for £10m in the summer, has warmed to the modern day strikeforce. Kenwyne is different every day, he said. He has got fantastic ability. That somersault for a start, bloody hell, who at 6ft 5in can do a somersault It is getting it week in, week out with him. But in the last month, he has made a huge contribution. There is still an assumption that Jones could be sold in the summer if Liverpool revive their interest in a player rated at around £15m. Bruce, however, claims he will be under no pressure to reduce his squad. The one thing about the owner, Ellis Short, being here is that I am under no pressure to sell anyone, he said. He wants a team in the top ten. That is the remit of my contract over the next couple of years and then after that to get the team challenging in Europe, so I am under no pressure to sell. What I have learnt is that Bent enjoys playing alongside a big one. He enjoys being the second striker. He likes to play off the shoulder of someone. It does benefit him when he is playing off a big fella.
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