Kalvin Phillips has done himself and the city of Leeds proud

13 Jul 2021 09:15 am, by YorkshireSquare

When Marcelo Bielsa sat at home in Argentina analytically studying endless videos of Leeds United performances before he had even taken the head coach role at Elland Road there was something obvious that stood out to him, even if the rest of us had not seen before. In Kalvin Phillips, Bielsa thought saw a potentially world class defensive midfielder. He took him under his wing, made him his personal project and so his initially assessment of Phillips has been proved absolutely correct. From an average box to box Championship midfielder, Phillips has been transformed into one of the best holding players in the country, catching the eye of Gareth Southgate even whilst he was till plying his trade out of the top-flight of English football.

In August last year Phillips was called up to the England squad for the first time, still having never made a Premier League appearance, his debut came on 8th September 2020 against Denmark in the UEFA Nations League. Phillips became Leeds United's first England player since Alan Smith 16 years before. Holding players are not always appreciated by people who do not watch them week in week out. They do not see their work off the ball, how they break up play, set the tempo and dictate the game. But Marcelo Bielsa and Leeds United fans know how important the role is and they know how important Kalvin Phillips. It seemed Gareth Southgate also realised how important Phillips could be and as the tournament got closer it was clear Phillips would be in the squad.

Whilst Arsenal and Manchester United criticised Phillips for “only passing backwards”, Leeds and West Ham fans were busy debating whether Phillips or Declan Rice was the best English holding midfielder. But it was a debate we needn’t have had; Southgate clearly sees the ability of both players and perhaps still sees a bit of the old box to box midfielder in Phillips. And so Phillips lined-up alongside Rice in midfield against Croatia for England’s opening game of Euro 2020, the first Leeds United player to start for England in a major tournament since both Rio Ferdinand and Danny Mills against Brazil in the World Cup quarter final in 2002.

Rice and Phillips became the key partnership for Gareth Southgate’s team, shielding the back line helping the team to only concede two goals in the whole tournament. Let off the leash in the first game, Phillips showed his prowess going forward too, evading one defender he latched onto Kyle Walkers ball wide out right, before skipping past another then beathing another two with his perfectly timed pass for the Raheem Sterling to put away and give England the lead. Phillips became the first Leeds United player to assist a goal at Wembley since David Batty against Luxembourg in 1999 and the first to assist an England goal in a major tournament since Jack Charlton assisted Roger Hunt against France in the World Cup 1966 group stages.

Kalvin Phillips certainty proved any doubters wrong this tournament, earing praise from across the world. Mesut Özil tweeting “What a player Kalvin Phillips”, with Michael Ballack adding “Phillips [On Fire]” and former Dutch international and World Cup runner-up Nigel de Jong saying “Can we talk about the performance of Kalvin Phillips so far? Absolute beast on that midfield. Breaking plays up and linking between the lines. Baller.” Phillips ended the tournament having played all 7 games for England, totting up 665 minutes on the pitch. He made the most pressures (229) at the tournament and covered the second highest amount of ground, running a total of 83km. Only Jorginho covered more distance.

As if he hadn’t run enough already he was the first to run and comfort Bukayo Saka as he stood distraught in the penalty area as the jubilant Italian team swarmed around him. Even in his time of need his first thought was to console others, what a guy! But what a few years it has been for the Yorkshire Pirlo, first a Championship winners medal and now a European Championships runners-up medal. Despite the result on Sunday, Kalvin has done himself and the city of Leeds proud.

Stats from LUFC Stats and LUFC Data