KEVIN PHILLIPS has expressed his “huge affection” for Sunderland after calling time on his 20-year playing career.
Phillips announced his retirement from football yesterday, and will make his final appearance when his Leicester City side play their final game of the Championship season against Doncaster Rovers on Saturday.
The 40-year-old, who was capped by England eight times, has played for nine professional clubs, but the most successful spell of his career came during the six years he spent on Wearside playing for Sunderland.
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He scored 116 goals in 211 league games for the Black Cats, helping the club achieve promotion in the 1998-99 season and becoming the only Englishman to lift the European Golden Boot in the following campaign.
“The club I’m sure most football fans associate me with is Sunderland,” said Phillips. “That was where I made my name and I've still got huge affection for that football club.
“Whenever I go back there, I'm always made to feel very welcome and I have to give them a huge thank you for their support.
“The Sunderland fans have been amazing to me when I've gone back to play against them or been at the Stadium of Light working for Sky, and I sincerely hope they stay in the Premier League this season.
“The six years I had up there were awesome. Obviously it ended in disappointment with relegation, but it was an amazing time, a lovely place to live and I met some great people. The North-East people in general are very humbling.”
Phillips joined Sunderland in a £325,000 move from Watford in July 1997, and went on to play for Southampton, Aston Villa, West Brom, Birmingham, Blackpool, Crystal Palace and Leicester after leaving the Stadium of Light.
Last season, he scored the winning goal in the Championship play-off final as Palace won promotion to the top-flight, but he moved to Leicester in January and has managed just two goals in 11 appearances for the Foxes.
He will bow out as Leicester lift the Championship title at the weekend, but will remain at the King Power Stadium in a coaching capacity next season.
“The manager at Leicester has offered me a position in the coaching staff, with a role with the first team for next season, which I'd like to pursue,” said Phillips. “That should mean that this summer I'll be just as busy, if not busier, than the actual players on the training field.
“I also want to continue my media career and take that to another level as well, so these are exciting times for me.
“You can't beat the buzz of match day, though - traveling to the ground, warming up on the pitch - that feeling is very special.
“Then, being a striker, there's nothing better than hitting the back of the net. I'd love to do that one last time on Saturday. But if it doesn't happen, then I've had many great memories during my career.”