The last Englishman to win the Golden Boot and one of three 40-year-olds to play in Premier League, will play final game for Leicester on Saturday
Kevin Phillips has not done badly for someone deemed too small to be a striker before failing to make the grade as a right-back at Southampton.
An interlude stacking shelves in a Dixons warehouse followed but, during his days as an apprentice at The Dell, Phillips cleaned Alan Shearer's boots – as well as the toilets – little knowing that both of them were destined to become north-east football icons. Or that he would one day claim Europe's Golden Shoe award as well as the Premier League's Golden Boot.
Throw in the day that Howard Wilkinson, briefly his manager at Sunderland, joked that a striker then enduring a rare goal drought was "more golden welly than golden boot" and Phillips' career can appear a case of confounding the doubters.
In reality it has been built on inexorable reliability – spiced by goals. Forwards rarely play beyond their mid-thirties so for Phillips to have delayed retirement until 40 – he will be 41 in July – is testament to both his indefatigable knack of being in the right place at the right time and sheer bloody-minded determination.
The Leicester striker announced his decision on Monday and he will make his final appearance for Nigel Pearson's promoted Championship side at home to Doncaster on Saturday, bringing a 20-year career to an end.
After leaving Southampton he drifted into non-league football with Baldock Town in his native Hertfordshire, combining proving he could play up front after all with working for Dixons, before joining Watford in 1994 and Sunderland three years later.
Phillips will be forever grateful to Glenn Roeder, then Watford's manager, who raised eyebrows when he signed the striker from Baldock. "Glenn gave me a chance when no one else would," he has said. "I certainly owe him a drink."
Back in 1997 his knowledge of the north-east was so sparse that the striker's new team-mates fell about laughing when Sunderland trained on the beach and the new boy revealed he had not realised that his new home was by the sea.
Little did he know that stint on Wearside would change his life. During six years there Phillips would celebrate promotion to the Premier League, earn the first of eight England caps and become the only Englishman to win the European golden shoe, in recognition of his scoring 30 goals during the 1999-2000 season. He also claimed the Premier League's Golden Boot and remains the last English player to have won it.
In tandem with Niall Quinn, he was heavily responsible for the two seventh-placed finishes Sunderland enjoyed under Peter Reid,famously and earned a kiss from Brian Clough after becoming the first striker to score 30 goals in a season for Sunderland since Clough in 1961-2.
Spells with Southampton – as a striker this time – Aston Villa, West Bromwich, Birmingham, Blackpool, Crystal Palace – where he scored an extra-time, play-off final penalty to take Ian Holloway's team back to the Premier League last summer – and Leicester followed.
Having made 11 appearances under Pearson since moving to the east Midlands in January, the father of four has decided that after an "amazing" two decades spent terrorising defenders, enough is enough. Unwilling to turn his back on football, Phillips has accepted an offer from Leicester's manager to join the club's coaching staff. "After scoring the winner to get Crystal Palace promoted at the end of last season there were a few voices in the back of my head saying 'maybe I should retire now'," he said. "But I decided to continue for another season for the chance to play in the Premier League as a 40-year-old.
"I managed to do that earlier in this campaign – joining an exclusive group of three other players who have played in the Premier League as 40-year-olds – but, after a lot of consideration, I think the time has come to retire. I just feel now, with sore ankles and the way my body is, it's not going to get any easier.
"All my family will be at the King Power Stadium this weekend and it's going to be emotional. However, although it's going to be a strange feeling leaving the pitch for the final time as a player, now's the right time."