Our host Ed Baxter joins MLS player Bradley Wright-Phillips for episode 10 of the Jacuzzi® performance podcast. Bradley is an English footballer who recently moved across the pond to play for LAFC and has quickly garnered himself a reputation as a key player in their squad and fantastic goal-scorer.
In this episode Ed dives deep into Bradley’s world of being an English footballer in America, keeping momentum at the highest levels of elite performance and his passion for Grime music…
Welcome back to the Jacuzzi Performance Podcast. I’m Ed Baxter, and today I’m joined by the guy who’s taking the US football scene by storm – Bradley Wright-Phillips. How you doing, man?
What’s up man, how are you? I’m good.
Yeah very good, thank you. First of all, congratulations on your latest win: two goals, five minutes – is that right?
That was the game before. Unfortunately, we lost last night – but yeah, we can talk about that game [laughs].
Yeah so you were 6-0 over Vancouver Whitecaps, sorry, two games ago – so the season’s going pretty well then?
It’s up and down I think, you know. For the ability we’ve got in our team, we should be doing a bit better, but it’s just been a bit tough. It’s not been consistent, but we’ve got a good squad, good players, I think we’ll turn it around. I’m sure we will.
So you’ve recently been named Player of the Week in the MLS, and I guess with a league that’s getting more and more firepower all the time, more big players coming in, that’s pretty cool?
Yeah yeah, it’s nice. You know last season I felt like I was written off, so it’s good to come back and get Player of the Week and a couple of goals.
So what do you think it was about last season that wasn’t quite hitting it right for you?
I’ve just had a bad injury and it went on, you know. I wanted to be on the bench and when I would come off the bench, I wasn’t myself, and I’ve done myself no favours – but it’s more just injuries, it wasn’t to do with anything else.
You see a lot of football teams with some amazing players in the team, but if you’re not feeling quite right it’s tough isn’t it?
Yeah it can be tough. I’ve been places where it’s been kind of tough like that, but I’ve also been places – and this is one of them – where the dressing room is good, the changing room’s good, the vibe is good, the people are good. That helps me personally a lot on the field. When I’m happy going to training every day, everything else kind of follows along.
I think everyone I’ve spoken to, whether they’re in a sport or whatever it is they do, when they love it and it’s their passion, it helps them tenfold. Whether it’s about performance or performing in your job, if you love it, you just fly above the rest.
We say that, but I think everyone that plays football, I would say 95% love it, but it’s not the only thing they’re doing in life. People have got families, people have got things – so there’s ups and downs that happen and sometimes you can just lose your way a little bit, and it can relate to bad form.
As a fan watching football you never really get to see what goes on in the changing room at half time. Say you’ve got a game that’s really going badly, how do you react to that in the changing rooms?
First of all, when I get in I kind of re-evaluate my performance in the first half; what I think I’ve done okay, what I think I’ve done bad, and I will try and go out in the second half with those things in my mind. You know, if it was bad, I try and get rid of those kinds of thoughts and see what I could do to change it, and if it was good, it’s just reminding yourself more of the same – and normally that’s where the coaches and the manager will get involved and start telling the team as a whole what they need. The senior players, if they see something, telling the team what we need as a whole and just, yeah, trying to rectify certain things in the second half.
Would you say you’re one of those more experienced guys now, that has to show young guys coming into the team, ‘look this is how we’ve got to behave, this is how we’ve got to attack’?
I’m supposed to given my age, but sometimes I’m guilty of being very critical of myself, so I forget that I’m in a team here and have to remind myself, ‘let’s try and help other players – especially the younger ones’. But sometimes I’m good at it. Sometimes I’ll get involved and say what I see or try and help someone if they need a little boost. It’s something I’m still working on. I don’t have much time left, but it’s something I’m working on.
How have you been finding playing games behind closed doors?
Growing up as a kid who wanted to play football, that’s why I wanted to play; I wanted to score and celebrate with the crowd. That is literally why I wanted to play football, I wanted to celebrate with the crowd. Also, when you’re playing at home it’s an advantage when you have your fans, especially the LAFC fans that we have. I’ve never been lucky enough to play in front of them but I’ve seen it with my own eyes how good they can be, and how much of a help they can be when things aren’t going too well – and yeah, me personally, I miss it.
How do you think you’ve managed to perform so well this season so far, despite not having the crowds present and missing this massive part of the game?
I think, honestly, it’s my injury last year and – it’s going to sound cliche – but just trying to shut up some haters. That’s what it’s come down to. You know what, I’m lying, I think coming into this team, it’s helped me a lot because they play football the right way. They’ve got a lot of good players and it’s enjoyable to come and train every day, every day we’re playing football, every day we’re passing out from the back – it’s just fun to be around. This is a nice atmosphere to be around so, I’d say those two things; shutting up the haters and then being in a team where I feel like I have to prove myself every day.
I know a lot of people like that underdog feeling, that you can’t just start sleeping. You have to keep that hunger.
Yeah, I’m not good when I’m getting credit, or when I think I’m doing well. I always tend to mess up, so I kind of like when I’m not sure if I’m going to start. It’s gonna sound weird, but every time my contracts are running out or I don’t have long left, I seem to do well, so I kind of like staying on the edge of those things, I don’t like getting too comfortable.
You said you’ve got a few people that were doubting you – was that last year when you had that injury?
Yeah, it was the injury and my age combined. I think being injured and then me turning 35 at the time, not playing many games – it’s just, you know, everyone thought it was probably my time to hang up my boots, or I’m past the time where I could score goals week in week out. I’m obviously not going to score every week, but I didn’t think I was finished.
Often when people are fuelled by wanting to prove people right, it can sometimes go awry, but you strike me as the kind of guy who loves that pressure and that fight.
Yeah, you know what it’s funny. I don’t – the feeling of pressure – it’s not like I enjoy it, but I just always tend to do better under pressure.
I love it when people respond to claims that they’re too old, injured or it’s their time to go by just doing what they do best.
Do you know what, my story since I’ve been in the MLS, it’s kind of been like that. When I first got here it was just ‘Shaun’s brother, the rubbish brother’ – could be true, could be true – and then you know, I scored some goals, and it was like ‘Thierry’s left, he won’t score’. Then I scored more goals and then it was another thing. Then I got injured and it was like ‘he’s finished’, and it’s just always been something that’s followed me here – after every season, there’s something. I think when I look at it now it must have helped me a little bit.
Do you feel a lot pressure from your dad, from the career he had? Is that something that affected you at any point?
Yeah I used to, although at the time I didn’t know. I think I had an interview maybe a year ago or something, I can’t remember who I was speaking to, but I touched on it a little bit. At the time I didn’t know if I had felt the pressure or I was too proud to admit that it was the pressure for me, but I definitely did feel it. I just felt like if I’d done something well, I was supposed to do that… and if I’ve done something bad, it was the worst thing ever – either ‘he’s rubbish’ or if I’ve done something good it’s ‘yeah well he should do that’. It isn’t all just down to people saying that. Sometimes my form hasn’t been great, but I just think people have been quick to write me off all the time. Because my dad scored a lot of goals, I felt pressure as a striker to live up to that, but as soon as I stopped thinking about what he’d done and just try and write my own story, things all worked out.
When you’re really over-critical of yourself as well as naturally feeling a lot of pressure, that’s when it gets really tough isn’t it?
I’ve been in that place. There have been years in my career that even when I’m scoring regularly, I don’t even sit to enjoy the goal, it’s almost like ‘phew’, you know? Like a relief, then I’m thinking about the next game – ‘oh man I gotta keep this ratio now’ – and it’s not fun. As soon as I let that, I had to try and let those things go and then I started enjoying and not thinking about the next game. Honestly, I’d be thinking about the next game during the game I just scored in, like ‘that means I need to score next game now so I can keep this going’, and it wasn’t fun. That’s why, if you look back on some of my interviews, I hate just being known as a goal scorer and I don’t know if that’s just like insecurities or just not wanting that over my name so I have to think about that anymore. I don’t like being known just as that because I used to put so much pressure on myself to find anything in it.
You said the biggest thing that you love about the game is the fans, and it’s celebrating and enjoying that moment, does that often take it away from that moment?
Yeah it has before – again, if you look back at some of my goals, you won’t see me celebrating. It’s almost like I’ve wound myself up so much the night before or the week leading up that I forget. But even nowadays, you can’t even run into the crowd anyway, but yeah sometimes you will see it was more of a relief, because I just didn’t want criticism. I would criticise myself, but I didn’t want criticism from people. Like goal ratio and scoring goals – there was just too much on my mind. Even when I would score it wouldn’t be fun.
Would you say that’s got easier over the years, as you’re getting older and a little further through your career than when you were, say, 20-25 years old?
Yeah 100%, it’s more when I came over here as well. The last few years I’ve been more relaxed. I think I’ve done well enough. To be happy with myself I don’t really care what anyone else thinks, you know, if I’d stop playing tomorrow I’ll be happy with myself and what I’ve done, the ups and downs, so I’m kind of thinking more like that now.
What do you think the main differences are between the US and UK football?
It’s tough, I get asked this all the time and I ask myself sometimes, it’s hard to come up with a decent answer. I think I’ll tell you what I found difficult. I was just like any European; I was ignorant to the league, I thought it was just terrible. Even if you go on the MLS page now on Instagram you look at the comments and it will just be Europeans saying how bad the league is. I was one of those people that didn’t watch it and just assumed, you know what I mean? ‘England is the best, everything else is rubbish’, that’s what I was like. So when I come over here it surprised me. The standard of the league, the players they had, the players that I play against week-in week-out were very good players – nothing different to players I played against in England, in the championship, or League One, you know. I won’t say Premier League because that’s a different level. The weather is difficult to deal with too.
I didn’t think about that.
The weather is really hard to deal with. There’s some games that are in ridiculous heat, and you have to put on good performances. I think the travelling is hard too.
What’s the furthest game you’d have to travel to then?
When I was at Red Bulls we’d travel to Vancouver, that was six hours, maybe. Even LA to New York is five, I’d say. The time difference is a lot.
Over here in the UK you never think that’s a factor you’ve got to play in – but that’s a massive thing isn’t it, jet lag and time difference?
You get off the plane, time difference, and then you’re expected to win. You know, these things are not easy. It’s tough.
Another point on the differences between Europe and here is that because of the relegation zone every battle is a bit harder, every duel. There are some teams out here I think, and I don’t think this is just football – even in American football – there’s no relegation so some teams out here literally don’t care until it’s playoff time. I don’t think you get that as much in the MLS, but I do think certain players or certain teams will be a bit more relaxed because they think ‘you know what, if it doesn’t work out this season we go again next season’. In England you don’t get to do that and around the world you don’t get to do that, it’s now or in the lower leagues, with less money, and it’s as simple as that.
You see more and more UK players going over to US like you said you did. What do you think it is that attracts people over at the minute?
I think it’s just that they’ve seen a few people go and do well. I think they are starting to realise that the league isn’t as terrible as people make out. You can come over here, live a good life and play a great standard of football, so it’s a no-brainer – for me anyways – if you’re cool with leaving your family.
Was that a good thing for you to be shocked with how good the league was compared to what you thought?
Yeah it was, and you know what made me take that serious, it was Thierry, Thierry told me. Because when I got to Red Bull he was there, and I remember being confused ‘cause when I got to Red Bull they had Tim Cahill, Thierry Henry, Peguy Luyindula – and I was like ‘how do you guys not win every week’? At this time, honestly I didn’t know about, you know, this team Salt Lake, and I knew Galaxy had some good players, like they had Robbie Keane, but I couldn’t understand how Red Bull didn’t win every week when I wasn’t allowed to play yet. And he was like ‘don’t get ahead of yourself, it’s not easy here. You know, it’s not easy to win games, these guys are not as bad as people think’ – so that kind of woke me up. If he’s saying that, then I’ve got no right to be thinking like that.
Do you think a lot footballers get led astray by the lifestyle side of things? Is that more in the US or UK?
Footballers in England are more of a thing, you know, they’re more recognisable, they’re loved more. You go somewhere, you walk into clubs, you get attention. There’s a lot of distractions for footballers in England. I think over here yeah you can go and have a good time, but for me it was just more about my family life and going to training. That’s what I tried to do.
What do you listen to before games?
I try to listen to old-school grime, I’m talking like 2002 – or maybe a little later, 2002-2003 – ‘cause I like to try and bring myself back to the beginning, to when I was in the academy and where I worked my way up from. They remind me of those days when I was either back home in London or just moved to Manchester – it gives me like a hungry feeling, you know?
So before we kind of finish off these podcasts usually I like to ask for some top tips from you, so can you give us first of all a top tip for any young football players in the world?
I would say, again it’s going to be cliché, but it’s, I can only say from my mistakes: know the job you’re in and just focus on that, you know, everything else will come later. Money, parties, whatever you think is important at the time, it isn’t – just work on your craft and don’t stop until you get where you need, where you wanna be.
Can you give us one tip for people who might be going from the UK over to the US to play football?
I would say for players not getting a chance in England or in Europe anywhere, come over here – the league is good, it’s a good standard of football, and you can make a name for yourself, it’s a young league, you know. I’m not the best player in the world and I feel like now I left I’m a household name so, if you’re struggling to get into like a Championship side or League One or something, and you think that you’re good enough, try and work something out so you can come over here, because there’s great opportunities.