- Ian Wright's goal-scoring record at Arsenal was impressive, with 128 league goals in 221 games over seven years.
- Wright's journey from non-league football to the Premier League is remarkable and was a turning point in his life.
- Although Sir Alex Ferguson didn't sign Wright, he made a funny exchange with him, highlighting Wright's talent and Ferguson's preference for cheap buys.
When it comes to the debate over the Premier League's greatest ever strikers, Arsenal legend Ian Wright probably doesn't get enough respect. Sometimes it's easy to forget just how good he was during the early-to-mid-1990s.
A consistent scorer for the Gunners, Wright netted an impressive 128 league goals in 221 games during his seven-year spell at Highbury. He was also a true entertainer and brought so much joy to the club's supporters. Scoring goals and winning matches for Arsenal clearly meant the world to him.
Only 22 players in history have scored more Premier League goals (113) than Wright, who won one league title, two FA Cups, the League Cup and the European Cup Winners' Cup with the north London outfit. It's important to note that his Premier League goals tally would be significantly higher if goals scored pre-1992 counted.
Wright's journey from non-league football to the Premier League makes his success story all the more remarkable. The 90s' version of Jamie Vardy, Wright played Sunday League football up until the age of 21 before being signed by semi-professional side Greenwich Borough. He was eventually spotted by Crystal Palace and the rest is history.
Wright has been very open about his difficult upbringing, culminating in being sentenced to two weeks in Chelmsford Prison in 1982 for non-payment of driving fines. It was a chastening experience for the aspiring footballer, who became determined to turn his life around. This proved to be the turning point in his story.
“I know a lot of people think of me as some happy-go-lucky guy,” the Match of the Day pundit during a moving interview with The Players' Tribune in 2018, per The Independent. “They see the gold tooth and the hat and think I must be joke joke, joke, joke. But, I’ll be honest with you, it’s been hard to earn this smile. For a large part of my life, I was angry. I was always angry.”
After exceeding all expectations during his playing career, Wright has since established his reputation as one of the most-loved personalities on British TV. Widely regarded as a national treasure, and deservedly so, you won't find many people with a bad word to say about Wrighty - perhaps with the exception of a few Tottenham fans.
One manager who must have been sorely tempted to sign Wright in the early-90s - especially after the livewire forward scored twice against his Manchester United team in the 1990 FA Cup final - is Sir Alex Ferguson. However, it was Arsenal who secured the striker's services for a £2.5 million fee in 1991.
Sir Alex Ferguson and Ian Wright's funny exchange
Fergie and Wright came face to face once again when United and Palace met in the 2016 FA Cup final, and there was a funny exchange between the pair prior to kick-off. Only Wrighty would dare to tell arguably the greatest football manager in history that he made a mistake not signing him.
"You should have signed me," Wright told Ferguson, who came back with the perfect response: "You were too f***ing dear!" Wright fell about laughing before the legendary manager added: "I like cheap buys!" Watch the funny clip below:
Ferguson did, however, point out that Rio Ferdinand cost £29 million to sign from Leeds United. The former England international became the world's most expensive defender in 2002. You have to say, though, that was money extremely well spent.
What would have happened if Man Utd sign Ian Wright?
While we'll never know for certain, if Man Utd had signed Wright instead of Arsenal in 1991 then it's likely that Ferguson's men would have beaten Leeds to the old First Division title that season. The Red Devils finished second in the table, four points behind the eventual champions, but Wright could have made all the difference.
The prolific striker beat Tottenham's Gary Lineker to the Golden Boot that season, scoring 29 goals. United's top scorer that campaign was Brian McClair, who finished with 11 fewer goals to his name.
But if United did sign Wright, there's every chance they wouldn't have then gone for Eric Cantona in 1992. Ferguson signed the enigmatic Frenchman from Leeds for just £1 million in November that year, and the iconic forward went on to establish his status as one of the Premier League's all-time greats during his spectacular five-year spell at Old Trafford.
If he could go back in time and sign Wright in 1991, but potentially miss out on signing Cantona one year later, would Ferguson do it? Almost certainly not. Few players - if any - were held in such high regard by Fergie as 'Le King'.
Many of Cantona's former United teammates have spoken about the soft spot that Ferguson, one of the game's most fearsome and intimidating characters, had for his No. 7. The letter he sent to Cantona after the striker's shock retirement in 1997 also spoke volumes.
Ferguson wrote: "I felt that I should write to you as a mark of respect and esteem in which I hold you. When we started training, I kept waiting for you to turn up as normal but I think that was in hope not realism and I knew in your eyes when we met at Mottram your time at Manchester United was over. Although, I still feel you should have taken both your Father’s and my advice and taken a holiday before making such a major decision."
The Scot added: "As I close this letter, I would like to hope that we will have a chat, a drink, or a meal together soon. I know the club has written to you about the forthcoming dinner and I hope you will manage it, but that is not the most important thing, for me it is to remind you how good a player you were for Manchester United and how grateful I am for the service you gave me. I will never forget that and hope you won’t either.
"You are always welcome here and if you just pop in unexpectedly for a cup of tea, no fanfare, just for a chat as friends, that would mean more to me than anything. Eric you know where I am if you need me and now that you are no longer one of my players, I hope that you know you have a friend. Good luck and God bless. Yours sincerely, Alex Ferguson."