These days the holy grail for Manchester City is arguably winning the Champions League for the first time in its history.
It’s a sign of the club’s remarkable development since the 2008 takeover by Emirati royal Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan’s investment company Abu Dhabi United Group that seven years ago City’s focus was very much on securing its first top-flight title in 44 years.
The 2011/2012 campaign was to deliver one of the most dramatic finishes to a Premier League season ever. For Shaun Wright-Phillips that day on May 13, 2012, remains etched in his memory.
You might think winning the Premier League title in 2006 with Chelsea would be at the top of Wright-Phillips’ moments as a professional football player. However, Queens Park Rangers’ defeat to City in 2012 might just surpass it.
Wright-Phillips was part of the QPR team that was dramatically defeated 3-2 by Man City on the final day of the season, handing them its first Premier League title and snatching it from its city rivals, Manchester United.
To be on the opposite team, trying to prevent the side he had come to love from making history, Wright-Phillips and Nedum Onuoha (also a former City player) experienced a “massive emotional rollercoaster.”
“We love Man City, and obviously we wanted Man City to win a title for the first time,” Wright-Phillips told CNN Sport’s Don Riddell.
“Actually being on the pitch to witness that was a bit strange because at the same time we were fighting for survival so we didn’t want to get relegated either.”
A long connection
Wright-Phillips joined Man City’s academy as a 17-year-old and played in the first team for nine seasons over two separate spells.
Such was the affinity he had with the club that when he did leave, the former England winger was overcome by emotion.
“When I actually left, all the way down (to London), I actually cried like a baby because I never ever wanted to leave. I just thought as a kid, I’m just going to play for City forever.”
Heading into the final game of the 2011-12 season, it wasn’t just Man City’s future that had yet to be decided.
QPR were at risk of relegation from the top flight of English football, battling with Bolton Wanderers for the final place in the league.
“We didn’t want to get relegated,” Wright-Phillips remembers. “That’s the best way to put it. I wanted to play in the Premier League again for another year.
“We had to play on the break, we had quick players in attack, the pitch was big, so we had to soak up as much pressures as physically possible to try and hit them on the break.”
A mix of emotions
On a gloriously sunny day in Manchester, Pablo Zabaleta put City 1-0 up, but Djibril Cisse equalized shortly after the break.
In a dramatic turn, QPR’s Joey Barton was then sent off, only for Jamie Mackie to put the London side 2-1 ahead. Wright-Phillips describes the feeling of going ahead as “awkward.”
“We were doing what we need to do but then at the same time we’re preventing the team that we support from doing something for the first time.”
With Man United winning in Sunderland and City losing, the title looked to be once again heading for the red half of the city.
But, in the most dramatic way possible, Edin Dzeko and then Sergio Aguero both astonishingly found the net in stoppage time to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
While the Etihad Stadium descended into bedlam, Wright-Phillips and his QPR teammates sank to the floor unsure of whether their future in the Premier League was secured — they were saved by Bolton’s draw with Stoke City.
“When (the final goal) went in, no one was happy because at that time we didn’t know whether we were still safe,” he said.
“We just knew Man City we’re going to win the title but then at the same time we couldn’t really celebrate for Man City because we might have been getting relegated so it would just have looked all sorts of wrong.”
Having moved to Manchester as a teenager, Wright-Phillips developed a strong connection with the club.
And although he ended up on the losing side that day, the sight of Man City winning its first title since 1968 was “indescribable.”
“It was amazing to see Man City after all, the last 10 years possibly of my career, what they’ve gone through, the swings and roundabouts and the highs and lows, especially for the fans to actually finally lift it,” he said.
“I literally just stayed in the tunnel where the coach is and the bus just literally had to wait for me and Nedum because we were trying to see everybody lift it because we just felt like we wanted to witness it and it was just nice to be a part of it.”