Premier League Career: Norwich City (1992-1994), Blackburn Rovers (1994-1999), Chelsea (1999-2000), Birmingham City (2006), Aston Villa (2006-2007)
Chris Sutton was once the most expensive player in British football when Blackburn Rovers paid Norwich City £5 million in the summer of 1994. It was money well spent by Kenny Dalglish. Sutton paired up with Alan Shearer and they formed one of the deadliest strike partnerships the Premier League has ever seen. The original ‘SAS’ combination scored 49 league goals as Blackburn ended their 81-year drought and became champions of England.
Sutton’s playing career lasted 16 years. A title winner at Blackburn, he also enjoyed immense success in Scottish football with Celtic but also had a difficult season in London with Chelsea and his international career was unnecessarily short due to his differences with Glenn Hoddle.
Chris began his career in Norfolk with Norwich City. He was initially a centre-back and would often play there when emergency measures were called for by any of the managers he worked under. It was Dave Stringer who would convert him into the deadly forward that he would become. He made his professional debut in 1991 against Queens Park Rangers and started to make a regular contribution to the first-team setup a year later.
In the first Premier League season, Sutton was still at Norwich and played in both defensive and attacking roles for Mike Walker. He scored eight times as the Canaries finished a fabulous and unexpected third in the final table, despite ending with a negative goal difference tally. He also bagged his first career hat-trick with a treble in a 4-2 victory over outgoing champions Leeds United in April 1993.
It was the 1993-1994 season that really saw Sutton’s star begin to rise and therefore, his valuation in the transfer market too. He scored 25 Premier League goals – only outscored by Andy Cole of Newcastle United and Blackburn’s main marksman, Shearer. He was part of the Norwich side that dumped Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich out of the UEFA Cup but league form regressed when Walker left his role as team manager to take the job at Everton. With a willing owner in Robert Chase who was keen to cash in, Sutton was set to leave for pastures new in the summer of 1994.
Norwich valued Sutton at £5 million and two clubs, Blackburn and Arsenal agreed to meet the valuation put on him. In July 1994, he met both teams for talks and elected to choose Blackburn as his next destination, despite a transgression in Norwich’s nightclub district which saw him arrested.
He settled quickly, forming a great partnership with Shearer and the pair even shared the Carling Player of the Month award for November 1994. He scored a hat-trick at home to Coventry City, twice in a narrow triumph over Liverpool FC and the winning goal at Chelsea as Rovers went up another level in their quest to win their first league championship since 1914. Sutton scored 15 league goals and was the perfect foil for Shearer, who would win the Golden Boot for the first time in his career. On the final day, Blackburn went to Anfield needing to beat Liverpool FC to be certain of the title. They lost 2-1 but Manchester United failed to beat West Ham at Upton Park, so the championship was Blackburn’s.
The 1995-1996 campaign was not so positive for both parties. Injuries restricted Sutton to just 13 appearances and even in these games; he failed to score a single league goal. This gave Mike Newell the chance to establish a partnership with Shearer but both left in the summer of 1996, leaving Sutton to become Blackburn’s main man.
The heady days of title wins in 1995 were now a distant memory for the Lancastrians. He was Blackburn’s top scorer in 1996-1997 but he sparked controversy in April 1997 at Highbury against Arsenal. In the dying stages of the match, Arsenal were 1-0 ahead and the ball was kicked out of play by them to allow treatment to an injured Stephen Hughes. The sporting rule is for the ball to be returned to the team that had possession unchallenged but Sutton elected to chase the ball immediately when play restarted and won his team a corner. Blackburn scored from the resulting set-piece to earn a 1-1 draw and the home faithful and Arsenal team were livid. Sutton refused to apologise for his actions.
In 1997-1998, he scored 18 times and finished joint-winner of the Golden Boot, along with Coventry City’s Dion Dublin and Michael Owen of Liverpool FC. This is something he has cheekily reminded people in an advert for BT Sport’s Score service in recent months.
His form for Blackburn that season earned him his one and only international cap from England, coming off the bench in an international friendly against Cameroon in November 1997. Three months later, he was asked to play for an England B team which he plainly refused. He fell out over this issue with Hoddle and his Three Lions career was over before it hardly begun.
In 1999, Blackburn were relegated to Division One, just four short seasons after becoming champions of England. Sutton was sold to Chelsea that summer for £10 million but endured a horrid campaign with the west Londoners. He scored just once in the Premier League – a header in the 5-0 rout of Manchester United in October as he struggled to fit into their style of play. He didn’t even make the squad for their FA Cup final win over Aston Villa and was sold that summer to Celtic. Chelsea had to accept a £4 million loss just to get rid of Sutton from their wage bill.
Chris enjoyed a wonderful six seasons at Parkhead, forming another prolific partnership, this time with the Super Swede, Henrik Larsson. He was voted SPFA Player of the Year in 2004, scored 63 times in 130 appearances for Celtic and won eight major honours, including four league championships. He was also part of the Bhoys team that reached the 2003 UEFA Cup final before losing in extra-time to Jose Mourinho’s FC Porto in Seville.
In January 2006, he returned to English football with Birmingham City on a short-term contract. Injuries restricted him to just 11 appearances and one goal which came in defeat to bitter rivals Aston Villa in the Second City Derby. He would join Villa in October 2006 following Birmingham’s relegation, linking up briefly with Martin O’Neill, who had inspired some great performances from him at Celtic. He scored a winning goal at Goodison Park against Everton but suffered blurred vision in a match against Manchester United on 23rd December. He missed the entire second half of the campaign and after seeing consultants about the issue, he retired in July 2007. He had one season in management with Lincoln City but left in 2010 for personal reasons. He now works as a television pundit for BT Sport and also is often part of the commentary team on BBC Radio Five Live.
Often outspoken as a pundit, Chris Sutton certainly draws interest with his opinions and he certainly had defences concerned throughout a successful playing career which saw him become a league champion in both England and Scotland.