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Bridge: In profile

8 June 2013

Left-back's career so far...

Before last season, Wayne Bridge had not played a minute of league football outside the top flight; having come through the Saints’ Academy ranks, his first team debut came in August 1998 with Southampton in the Premier League, less than a fortnight after his 18th birthday.

He soon became a permanent fixture in the Saints’ starting line-up and he scored his first professional goal with a well-hit free kick in a 2-0 home win over Wimbledon on the final day of the 1999-2000 season. 

The following year, an ever-present Bridge was named as Player of the Season in a Southampton side that had achieved a top half Premier League finish. So consistent was he, as part of the Saints’ back four, he played in 113 consecutive league games for the St Mary’s side, making Premier League history that has only been beaten by one other outfield player since – Chelsea’s Frank Lampard. Bridge didn’t miss a single minute of the 10,160 he totted up during that run.

Already a seasoned under-21 international, Sven-Göran Eriksson handed the 21-year-old left-back a senior cap against Holland in February 2002 – a 1-1 draw in Amsterdam. And, after a series of excellent performances for his country, he was included in England’s World Cup squad that flew out to Japan that summer. Bridge came off the bench for Michael Owen in that famous 1-0 win against Argentina and also featured in the goalless draw with Nigeria that eased England through the group stages.

Back on home soil, his last Southampton appearance was to come in an FA Cup Final at the Millennium Stadium against Arsenal in 2003. Two months later he was snapped up by Chelsea for a fee of around £7million, with Graeme Le Saux going the other way as part of the deal.

Perhaps the highlight of his first season at Stamford Bridge came in a Champions League quarter-final in the form of a stunning 88th minute winner at Arsenal – a strike that set up a meeting between Claudio Ranieri’s men and Monaco in the last four of the European Cup.

That summer, Bridge also scored his first and only England goal in a 6-1 friendly win over an Iceland side that included former Royals centre back Ivar Ingimarsson. He was also named in the squad for his country’s Euro 2004 campaign.

He helped Chelsea win the Premier League title with 15 appearances in the league in 2004/5, but competition for places came in the form of William Gallas, Asier del Horno and then Ashley Cole at Stamford Bridge and he left on loan to impress during six months at Fulham in 2006. Those displays earned Bridge his plane ticket to Germany for the World Cup. He was also an unused substitute in an England B friendly against Belarus at Madejski Stadium, just before Eriksson’s senior side flew out for the 2006 Finals.

Under Jose Mourinho, he helped the Blues achieve the cup double in 2007, playing in a 2-1 win over Arsenal at the Millennium Stadium to win the Carling Cup in February, and then earning a clean sheet in a 1-0 FA Cup Final victory against Manchester United in May. That season he also made his only previous Madejski Stadium appearance, in a 1-0 win for Mourinho’s men back in October 2006.

The following season he featured in his third cup final in just over a year, losing the Carling Cup Final this time against Spurs – and, in the same competition in 2008, he was handed the captain’s armband for Chelsea’s tie against Burnley.

In January 2009, Bridge was signed by Manchester City for a reported eight-figure sum and he kept a clean sheet on debut in a 1-0 win over Wigan Athletic. Taking the number 3 shirt, he made a total of 58 appearances for City but also enjoyed loan spells at West Ham and Sunderland before linking up with Brighton for a season-long return to the south coast.

It was a campaign that, in his own words, ‘revitalised’ his career. Bridge scored three times, in big wins over Barnsley, Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich, and made 37 league starts as the Amex Stadium outfit finished just four points behind the automatic promotion places. Play-off defeat to Crystal Palace brought Bridge’s stay at Brighton to an end one game early and, with his contract due to expire at City, Nigel Adkins has acted fast to add the left-back to his Royals ranks.

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