The Big Interview: Phillips - Fans still thank me for that Blues winner!
There couldn't have been a bigger gulf in emotions for Kevin Phillips in the span of just over twelve months.
On joining Villa in June 2005 he was as excited as a kid in a sweet shop. On leaving Villa in August 2006 he felt frustration at not showing the fans his very best.
Those initial few months were a happy time for the goal-getting striking ace.
Chased by boss David O'Leary after Southampton's relegation from the Premier League, Phillips finally put pen to paper on a deal.
Phillips had long been linked with a move to B6 and it finally materialised as part of a big transfer turnover - the great eight - that summer. Incoming were also Aaron Hughes from Newcastle, Patrik Berger from Portsmouth, Stuart Taylor from Arsenal, Milan Baros from Liverpool, Wilfred Bouma from PSV Eindhoven, Eirik Bakke from Leeds and James Milner from Newcastle.
Phillips certainly felt the feelgood factor in and around Villa Park.
"I was delighted. I had been linked with Villa before. I believe John Gregory had put a significant bid in for me when he was in charge," said Phillips.
"So there's always been that link to go there. When Southampton went down and I had a chance to stay in the Premier League and go to a club like Villa, a huge club, it was a no-brainer really. I was absolutely delighted to join the football club.
"I was massively excited. It was a new challenge for me. I came from a team that had gone down so there were lows but quickly you felt the highs at Villa as part of a new breed of players coming in.
"There was a rebuild at the time. I was looking forward to playing alongside Milan when he joined. He'd been a sensation in the previous European Championships.
"We had some great pros already at the club, too. Look at what Gareth Barry has gone on to do.
"He had a quiet time just before I joined. He'd gone off the radar a bit. His career had gone quiet. But from the moment I started playing at Villa, he began building his reputation up again. He's gone on to establish himself as a regular England international. He was a good, quality player.
"There was Steven Davis, who was coming through. He was a talent and he's gone on to do well for himself.
"Playing with Patrik Berger was great. I remember watching him banging in the goals for Liverpool on the television in the preceding years. All of a sudden I'm rooming with him and playing with him. That was great.
"Olof Mellberg was a stalwart centre-half. He was a great character too.
"Gary Cahill was coming through and you could certainly tell he was going to be a good player. There was young Luke Moore too. He had a lot of potential.
"It was fantastic. I was 31 at the time. To get the chance to play at a club of Villa's esteem at that age, I was really excited by it."
Ultimately, a series of niggling injuries curtailed his involvement with the first team to just twenty-two starts and five goals that term.
But, the strange thing is he gave claret and blue supporters one of their biggest highlights of the last ten years.
Phillips smashed home the winner in the derby against Birmingham City at St Andrew's in October 2005, giving Villa, in the process, their first win over the deadly rivals in the Premier League years.
It's a moment he remembers well.
"Every time I see Villa fans around and about, they always remind me of that goal.
"I think I realised the huge significance of it for the first time on the team bus going back. Lee Hendrie was on the phone to Paul Merson and Merse was trying to get me out on the sauce that night.
"He told me: "You're a legend now for the Villa. What you've done at St Andrew's will be remembered by Villa fans for a long, long time."
"When Henders put the phone down, I thought 'blimey, it must be a big goal.'
"Ever the professional, I turned down the request so I could concentrate on the next game. Maybe I should have gone out?
"I still get fans reminding me of it. Even though I played for Villa's deadliest rivals in the years after, the claret and blue supporters are still nice to me. I think if I hadn't scored that goal, I'd get plenty of stick.
"But in general they are good to me. That goal is all they ever mention to me!"
It was obviously his most important goal in the eyes of the Villa fans. But it doesn't rank as his favourite goal for the club.
That came on his debut against Bolton, one of four scored in the opening nine minutes of the Villa Park fixture.
"I got off to the perfect start. It was absolutely brilliant scoring on my home debut in front of the Holte End.
"It was ridiculous really. What a game! I remember talking to the groundsman on the Friday and he said: "If you score in front of the Holte End, you'll remember it for a long time." He was spot on.
"Hughsie put the cross over, the goalkeeper misjudged it and, to be fair, the ball just hit me on the head and went in the goal. To get off to that start was amazing. It was a crazy nine minutes with those four goals."
Phillips admits that hindsight is a wonderful thing. He looks back sentimentally and nostalgically wishes he'd been given the chance to form a blistering partnership with Milan Baros. He also regrets leaving Villa after that first season, even if new manager at the time, Martin O'Neill, made it clear he wouldn't be a regular starter.
"I knew I had plenty of goals in me if I could keep myself fit," continued Phillips. "I feel Milan and I could have forged a really good partnership.
"He had pace going in behind. I came in, linked and got in the box. It could have really worked.
"But when you get over 30 and get injuries, it takes you longer to come back and get your match fitness.It did hinder me a lot.
"But I should have maybe held on for that second year. Martin made it pretty clear to me that I wasn't in his plans. It left me with no option but to move on.
"But with hindsight looking back, Villa had a lot of injuries that season.
"I remember Gavin McCann telling me later that Martin had wished he'd never let me leave so quickly. They needed players at that point in time soon after I left.
"It was clear I could pick up my wages and sit on the bench but that wasn't in my nature. I wanted to play regularly and contribute because I felt I could still do it on the pitch.
"I was on my way to have talks with Sunderland but on the way up, Bryan Robson got in touch. We called in there on the way.
"I didn't really want to move the family having just relocated to the Midlands. I didn't really want to go back to my old club where I had done so well previously. I never thought it would be the same.
"I could have stayed but I decided to leave and joined West Brom. I made the decision.
"I look back and part of me wishes I'd stayed and fought for my place. But when the manager tells you you're not in his plans it's time to move on.
"Also, I wouldn't have had those two fantastic years at West Brom. That time I had at the Hawthorns were two of my best - in terms of pure football. What we achieved in terms of promotion, play-off final, cup semi-final, it was fantastic. I had great times there."
Of course the next two weekends have great significance for Super Kev, with three of his former clubs locking horns in quick succession.
Villa face Southampton on Saturday before Villa take on the Baggies at the Hawthorns the following weekend.
Phillips admits he'll be following proceedings very closely.
"I am delighted that my three ex-clubs are in the Premier League," continued Phillips. "I had two really good years at Southampton. I know we got relegated in the end but I had a good time there.
"Southampton played a big part in my career. I was there for two years as an apprentice, two years before that as an associated schoolboy and two years as a pro. So six years out of my life were tied to the Saints.
"Although they give me stick when I go down there now, I had a fond time there.
"It's great to see them in the Premier League because their supporters are excellent.
"I am pretty sure they'd want to be further up the league as would Villa but both teams have young, exciting talent. I am pretty sure both will be fine this season.
"I take my hat off to Paul Lambert at Villa for doing what he's doing. He's clearly a brave person.
"But it's a transitional period. I think Paul is good. He's not afraid to put young players in and give them their chance. Fair play to him.
"What he did at Norwich was excellent. It's a transitional period for Villa. You have to give him time.
"If they can stay up this season - and I'm sure they will - I think he will get it right over the coming years and Villa will be a force to be reckoned with again. I hope they are. Knowing the Villa fans, they deserve it."
As a striker, Phillips loves to watch fab forwards doing their thing in front of goal and it's fair to say he's impressed with Villa's deadly duo of Christian Benteke and Gabby Agbonlahor.
Agbonlahor, of course, made his senior debut for Villa when Phillips was in claret and blue, scoring at Goodison Park in March 2006 at the tender age of 19.
Phillips is thrilled to see how he'd developed.
"My first impression of Gabby was that he had talent but he was very raw," said Phillips. "He obviously needed to learn.
"But when he's on his game now, he's unplayable because his pace and power is outstanding. You could see that as a young kid coming through.
"No-one was surprised when he broke in and took his chance. He is a confident lad in the dressing room. But in reality I don't think he realises how good he is.
"Christian is a big powerful centre-forward. He's a real handful and he certainly knows where the goal is. He's learning still.
"The good thing for me from the start of the season up to now, he's clearly taken things on board in training in terms of his own game.
"He's a good player. I would have loved to have had a crack of playing alongside him. He sets people up and he knows how to score goals.
"He must be doing something right if he's keeping the likes of Darren Bent out of the side. He's been fantastic at scoring goals throughout his career."
Make sure you're there to back the lads against Southampton.
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