Leeds midfielder Kalvin Phillips ‘never expected’ to play for England

Phillips starred for England on the run to the EURO 2020 final

Dan Austin
Friday 10 September 2021 14:50
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<p>Kalvin Phillips played a key role for England during Euro 2020 (Mike Egerton/PA)</p>

Kalvin Phillips played a key role for England during Euro 2020 (Mike Egerton/PA)

Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips has revealed that he never expected to play for England in his football career.

The 25-year-old was recently voted England’s player of the year despite only earning his first call-up last August, an honour which he never anticipated achieving.

Phillips joined his hometown club as a youth player in 2010, making his debut four years later, and says the arrival of maverick coach Marcelo Bielsa in 2018 altered his playing style significantly and ultimately made him a better player; one capable of starring for his country on the biggest stage.

“At first I was shocked,” Phillips told the i newspaper.

“I knew Bielsa was a big name, a massive manager, and I was never going to say no to him when he asked me to do it. The first six months were really hard. I love to fly into a tackle but I didn’t really know how to defend one v one,” he recalls.

Bielsa took Leeds desperately close to promotion in that first season before succeeding the second time around, with Phillips’ playing a crucial role anchoring the midfield while making 37 Championship appearances. Plenty, including Gareth Southgate, took notice of his form in that campaign, and the England boss brought him into the national squad before Phillips had played any Premier League football.

As a youth player Phillips believed he could make it as a professional but was “maybe not good enough to play for England.” Ultimately he was proven spectacularly wrong when Southgate made the decision to bring him into the Three Lions fold, in a decision which shocked many, including Phillips himself.

“When I got the call I never really expected it or thought it would happen and then when it did happen I just knew that, with what I’ve done throughout previous seasons and throughout my life, I’ve been a kid working to this certain moment and it’s actually come. I was very happy.”

Phillips played all but 25 minutes of England’s run to the final Euro 2020 on home soil and starred with strong performances against the likes of Germany and Denmark, leading to him receiving the player of the year accolade which is voted for by supporters.

On the honour of playing for his country, Phillips simply says: “Playing for England is another level.”

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