Signed for a hefty £4.5 million in the summer of 2002 as David Moyes sought to address one of the club’s longest standing problems – the lack of a consistent goalkeeper since Neville Southall’s departure five years previous – Richard Wright seemed to fit many of the criteria needed to fill the hefty vacancy left by the great Welshman. A Premier League debutant at 17, he made his England debut five years later and subsequently become one of Arséne Wenger’s rare English signings at Arsenal.
In their way these last two factors should have been warning enough. When making his England debut, against Malta prior to the 2000 European Championship Finals, Wright conceded two penalties and scored an own goal. As for Wenger, the Arsenal manager simply doesn’t do English signings very well – something to which Francis Jeffers could certainly attest.
Yet after a nervy first few games at the start of the 2002/03 season, Wright seemed to settle down, despite the occasional howler. Indeed all the contradictions within Wright seemed to present themselves in only his second Everton game, away at Sunderland. In the first half he made an outstanding point blank save from Kevin Phillips; then in the second, he came for a cross shot, missed completely, and the ball sailed into the Everton net – only for the goal to be incorrectly disallowed for offside. Wright then gave away a ludicrous penalty for a foul on Niall Quinn – which he promptly saved!
As Everton finished the season in seventh place – despite occupying a higher league position for most of the campaign – Wright could reflect on an adequate first season. But his Goodison nightmare hadn’t yet begun. That summer he fell out of his parent’s loft and injured his shoulder in a freak accident, forcing Moyes to sign Nigel Martyn as cover. Martyn made the goalkeeper’s shirt his own over 2003/04 and thereafter Wright’s confidence seemed shot.
Unable to displace the older player, when Wright was drafted in – usually for cup games – the occasions resembled comedic interludes. With poor handling and questionable positioning Evertonians increasingly watched him through cracks between their fingers.
Brought in for the last game of the 2004/05 season, he vindicated Wenger’s decision to sell him by letting in seven. Wright’s response? ‘I enjoyed the Arsenal game. I know I conceded seven goals but I got a chance to make some saves and get involved.’ Warming up for an FA Cup tie at Chelsea the following January, he tripped over a ‘Not In Use’ sign warning away players: cue another lengthy spell on the sidelines.
With the arrival of Tim Howard in May 2006, Wright was – mercifully – only unleashed twice more in an Everton shirt before his release at the end of the 2006/07 season.