The Football League is used to Ian Holloway making outrageous comments, indeed the Blackpool manager’s sharp tongue is well known across England, brought to light during the Tangerines’ Premiership campaign last year. However, Ollie has been making loud noises about one player in particular recently, one player that has caught the eye in spectacular fashion this year, lighting up Bloomfield Road with some dazzling displays on the wing.
That player is Matt Phillips, the 20-year-old who joined Blackpool from Wycombe Wanderers back in 2010 for an initial fee of £350,000. Despite making 27 appearances in the top flight, it’s fair to say Phillips didn’t exactly catch the eye, unlike some of his more experienced teammates, who earned themselves moves to other Premier League clubs once Blackpool were relegated. Holloway was keen for Phillips to nail down a starting spot, so he sent the player on loan to Sheffield United at the start of this season.
This seemed to kick start the youngster’s career, as Phillips impressed at Bramall Lane, scoring 5 goals in a mere 6 games for the Blades. A swift return to Bloomfield Road followed, as Blackpool were struggling to recapture their sparkling attacking form that saw them entertain the Premier League. He has been nothing short of sensational since moving back to the North West, bagging 10 goals in the 23 games he has featured in so far. Hat-tricks against Barnsley on Boxing Day and then against Fleetwood in the FA Cup has made other managers sit up and take notice, prompting Cardiff City to offer £800,000 for his services during January.
Holloway laughed off this bid however, stating “I think they were a little bit ambitious there, if he goes anywhere it’ll be one of the top five clubs in the country. He won’t have to wait for Cardiff to become that, so slightly ambitious, slightly outrageous.” His manager went further in his praise, stating that his winger had the potential to be better than former Tangerine superstar Charlie Adam, telling ESPN “People didn’t realise how good Charlie [Adam] was and I think this kid could be potentially better. He’s a good lad, he’s a good player and shows what he can do. We’ve got to get everything right around him for him to shine.”
If Phillips continues in such a rich vein of form, Holloway’s prediction of a move to a Top 5 club could well hold sway; indeed there are rumours that Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool are taking a close look with a view to a potential summer transfer. Phillips would do well to continue his career at Blackpool for the time being, indeed the club has proved an excellent stepping stone for others to develop their careers, the most notable example obviously being Adam moving to Liverpool. Other stars of the Premiership campaign got their moves as well though, David Vaughan moved onto to Sunderland and DJ Campbell went to QPR (though that switch hasn’t been quite as successful). The stage is set therefore for Phillips, he has attracted the attention and a great career is there for the taking, indeed the player looks ready to make the step up the Premiership immediately.
There have been talks of international call-ups as well. Craig Levein is set to offer Phillips the chance to take on Slovenia in a friendly on February 29, as the player would qualify for Scotland through his grandparents. This would represent a real coup for the Scottish camp, as Phillips has already appeared for England U20; indeed he lit up the recent clash with France with a superb performance. Holloway though has advised his young star to be patient though and wait for his England chance, stating the player has a great chance of earning international honours in the future for the country of his birth. Phillips is still undecided though and may want a taste of international football, especially given that he plays alongside fellow Scots at club level, such as former captain Barry Ferguson and Matt Gilks, who has been selected in previous Scotland squads.
Whatever Phillips’s decision, he can’t let it distract him from his club form. The way Blackpool are going at the moment, he could be set for a Premiership return with the Tangerines themselves, the club are flying currently and lie 5th in the division, firmly among the promotion contenders. It seems though, that in Phillips’s case, Ollie is talking some genuine sense, he really does have a gem on his hands. Don’t be surprised to see Phillips motoring down the wing in the Premiership next season…