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 By David Mooney

Shaun Wright-Phillips was Manchester City's sole shining light a decade ago

Four minutes from the end of Manchester City's remarkably comfortable win over QPR on Sunday, the entire Etihad stadium rose to its feet to applaud an oncoming player. Yun Suk-Young was replaced by former City star Shaun Wright-Phillips and there was a show of respect for the winger, as there had been earlier in the game for Richard Dunne, to mark just how much the fans remember his efforts while playing at Eastlands.

That team also included Joey Barton, although he's since become something of a pantomime villain. That's likely to do with the number of indiscretions to his name at City, including his acrimonious departure after an incident with Ousmane Dabo, and then his attempts to "take some of them with [him]" as he went berserk in that game in 2012.

The thing is, those City fans that applauded Wright-Phillips onto the turf on Sunday were pleased to see him back. He epitomised everything supporters love to see, back when he was one of the club's only shining lights. Throughout the end of the Kevin Keegan era and the start of the Stuart Pearce reign, there wasn't a lot for those in the stands to cheer.

FA Cup exits, relegation battles, European near-misses; all of these came and went and the pitch was filled with mediocrity. Except on the right flank, where an academy product could beat three or four players and smash an effort into the top corner from range. In one moment, he could inject some energy into a dour performance and give the dwindling atmosphere a buzz. He was going to be an England regular, too.

As was the way for City back then, they were a selling club, although they have since benefited from the flip side of that coin. If there was a player performing well who was "too good" for them, then a decent bid from a top side would no doubt result in a transfer.

That's exactly what happened. Pearce's side was desperate for investment, but the club had no money whatsoever and was actually close to going under. So when Chelsea bid £21 million for the England prospect in 2005, the manager's hands were tied and the offer was accepted. Even now, the money the club received for the winger is their highest, although it will soon be surpassed when the sale of Alvaro Negredo to Valencia is triggered at the end of the season.

The fans were devastated to see Wright-Phillips leave, and it only later emerged in an interview with the Blue Moon Podcast that he was just as upset to be on his way.

"I didn't actually have a choice," he said. "Everybody seemed to think it was something that I wanted to do, but I was happy playing for City. I didn't want to leave, but [staying] wasn't an option I had. City were in a bad situation and the money they were offered was hard for them to refuse.

"In the car on the way down I was crying because I didn't want to go."

Shaun Wright-Phillips applauds the Manchester City crowd as he receives an ovation while warming up at the Etihad.

That puts Wright-Phillips' remarks that re-signing for Mark Hughes' Manchester City was like "coming home" into more context, even if throughout his second spell it always felt for the fans like things were never quite the same. The time away had left him unable to be the influence he once was.

That's not to say he was poor when he came back, just that he never hit his previous heights. It was almost as if his move back to the north was what he needed to inject some life back into his career, much the same way he used to do to City's performances in 2003. He scored four times in three seasons at Chelsea, a tally he'd equalled in his sixth game after his return.

As much as Wright-Phillips was a crowd hero, he never really got to experience the good times he probably deserved with City. He played a bit part in the 2011 FA Cup-winning side, but had moved on by the time the title came to the Etihad the next season. By a bizarre quirk of fate, though, he was on the pitch when Roberto Mancini's side snatched the championship, playing for QPR that afternoon.

The applause reserved for those players who were loyal to the club and did their best to brighten up another gloomy day in Manchester will always remain strong. Although for Wright-Phillips, you can't help wondering whether things might have been different if he'd never been shown the door a decade ago.

David Mooney is ESPN FC's Manchester City blogger. Twitter: @DavidMooney

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