Before Kalvin Phillips was a staple of a Premier League Leeds and capturing the heart of the nation alongside his midfield partner Declan Rice, he was a youngster trying his hardest to break through for the club he calls his own. Born in Leeds, the Yorkshire based midfielder hasn’t had these opportunities handed out to him. At the age of 14, he joined the Leeds United academy on his way to being a first team regular in the future. Through hard work and determination, alongside impressing with his obvious talents, he was gifted opportunities within the first team set-up under then Leeds manager Neil Redfearn.
A far-cry from the Leeds team of today – brimming with the Raphinha’s of the world – Phillips knows the club and understands Leeds even when things aren’t all smooth sailing. Having to take the rough with the smooth, it makes his successes today even more admirable and richly deserved. Phillips’ stock was only going to rise after a plucky debutant in 2015 turned first team regular by the 2017-18 season. Throughout, however, he reinforced his loyalties to his hometown club. A lack of on-field success might’ve seen Phillips look to move on, but he remained focussed in bringing better days back to Elland Road.
These better days for Leeds United coincided with me beginning university at Leeds around the same time and Bielsa becoming this enigmatic figure to bring past glories back. His first season under Bielsa saw his most glowing personal accolades, winning a place within the Championship Team Of The Season. Further, Bielsa’s tactical nous saw Phillips switch occasionally to centre-back. But his goalscoring ability cemented his position as the high energy, deep-lying midfielder prepared to give his all for the club he had been at since he was a boy. Frank Lampard might have intervened in the playoffs, but the upward trajectory for Bielsa’s men was evident. A year on from experiencing heartbreak in a city centre Sports Bar, becoming an adopted Leeds fan by proxy, Phillips and co had the collective success the city had been craving. Injured for the official confirmation of Leeds as Champions, his contribution to their title-winning season was not understated. Adorned with the new nickname ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’, it cannot be stressed the idolatry he was receiving from die-hard Leeds supporters. Combative yet highly skilful, every ounce of effort from Kalvin was put into seeing his boyhood dreams actualised. Now, with his own mural by the Leeds Docks, he has become an Elland Road icon.
Now, he could test himself on the big stage. Not floundering under heightened expectations, Kalvin and Leeds took to the Premier League like a duck to water and comfortably finished mid-table. A club rejuvenated and revitalised under a highly thought of Argentine, Phillips was a key ingredient to these glory days returning in abundance. Sticking with the club in dire times – a player when Leeds finished 15th and Antenucci was the main man – he fully deserves every achievement that comes his way. Seeing Phillips sing the National Anthem versus Croatia, and my attachment to Leeds as now a student of 3 years, it was like a proud Dad moment. Assisting Sterling for England’s only goal of that game, cutting through the Croats before putting it on a plate, Phillips was showing the nation why Yorkshire sees him as their answer to an Italian messiah. Now a comfortable starter under Southgate, the Leeds born midfielder has had a startling rise – keep in mind, he’s still only 25!
Phillips’ international achievements felt a fitting way to end my 3 year stint as a Leeds University student, joining the uni at the beginning of the Bielsa buzz and ending with Phillips as a key part to Bielsa’s triumphs, and further, a permanent fixture in England reaching their first tournament final since 1966. If England win the Euro’s, and that’s a big if against Italy, I can’t wait to return to my second home and celebrate another major landmark in Phillips’ already illustrious career!
By Kelan Sarson