Premier League Career: Ipswich Town (1995, 2000-2001), Arsenal (2001-2002), Everton (2002-2006)
In total, Richard Wright made 111 Premier League appearances and won the league title with Arsenal in 2001-2002. However, he only retired from the game in 2016, nearly a decade after his last appearance in the Premier League with Everton. A former England international, Wright seemed more than happy to fulfil the back-up goalkeeper role which considering his rapid rise through the ranks at Ipswich Town, is a sad indictment of his career.
Born not far away from Portman Road, Wright served his apprenticeship with the Tractor Boys and signed a professional contract in January 1995. Four months later, he was thrust into the Premier League limelight for the first time, making his debut as a 17-year-old in a 2-0 victory over Coventry City. By then, Ipswich’s relegation to Division One had already been confirmed but it was a good opportunity for Richard to get a brief experience of top-flight football. George Burley kept him in-goal for their final two Premier League games that season which ended in defeats at home to Everton and away to Sheffield Wednesday.
He remained Ipswich’s first-choice goalkeeper throughout the next five campaigns as they toiled away in the second-tier, often being the bridesmaids but never the brides in the play-offs. In 2000, they finally cracked it and the play-off final win over Barnsley was an eventful afternoon for Wright. He conceded a penalty for fouling Craig Hignett but would save the resultant spot-kick from Darren Barnard. Later, he would play a part in Richard Naylor giving Ipswich the lead which they would hold onto, eventually prevailing 4-2.
In total, Wright played 240 times for Ipswich’s first-team and was one of their leading stars in their return to the Premier League which saw the club finished an unexpected fifth in the table and earn qualification for the UEFA Cup. That was despite being involved in an unfortunate collision with Aston Villa’s Luc Nilis during a match in September 2000 which would see the Belgian never play professional football again.
It was in this period that he won both his senior international caps for England, playing in friendlies against Malta and Netherlands. He went to the 2000 European Championships, serving as the expected third-choice position behind more experienced keepers David Seaman and Nigel Martyn.
He would become club teammates with Seaman just one year later when he decided to make the bold move to Arsenal for £2 million. Arsene Wenger saw him as the man who could be Seaman’s long-term successor, even if that meant taking some short-term pain of giving up regular first-team football. He effectively replaced Alex Manninger in this role. He made 12 Premier League appearances, enough for him to win a title winners’ medal but by the end of the season, he had slipped to third-choice behind youth product Stuart Taylor after some error-strewn displays. He managed to punch the ball into his own net during a home loss to Charlton Athletic in November 2001 and was even subbed at half-time of another dismal showing away to Deportivo La Coruna in the UEFA Champions League.
When Seaman signed a contract extension, Wright knew he needed to leave a difficult season at Highbury behind him and joined Everton for £3.5 million in the summer of 2002. His debut was not good, making another blunder to allow Les Ferdinand of Tottenham Hotspur to score in the 2-2 draw between the sides. However, he redeemed himself a week later, saving Kevin Phillips’ penalty to earn Everton all three points away at Sunderland. He played 33 times and helped the Toffees finish seventh in the final standings.
David Moyes brought Nigel Martyn in as goalkeeping cover in 2003 but when Richard needed knee surgery after a match against Newcastle United in September, he would miss the rest of the campaign. In truth, he would rarely figure again in the Premier League. Martyn put in some inspirational individual displays so even when Wright was fit to return, Moyes stuck with Martyn as his first-choice goalkeeper. He would play just 24 more times in the league for Everton and any further action was restricted to appearances in cup football.
His last outing in the Premier League came in November 2006, conceding three goals in a 3-0 loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford. Released at the end of the season, he only enjoyed one more campaign as a goalkeeper playing regular football and that was back with Ipswich Town in 2008-2009. Wright became a back-up for the likes of Sheffield United, Southampton and Preston North End. He would actually spend four years on the books of Manchester City but never played a first-team match for the Citizens. At the age of 38, he called time on his career in May 2016.