It has been 16 years since a Leeds United player was capped by England, goalkeeper Paul Robinson on that event, but midfielder Kalvin Phillips might be about to end that drought.
The 24-year-old has been among the greatest beneficiaries of Marcelo Bielsa’s extreme, even maniacal, strategy at Elland Road and the clamour for the local lad done well to create Gareth Southgate’s squad for upcoming friendlies against Denmark and Italy is growing.
Phillips isn’t your average England candidate. He hasn’t represented the 3 Lions at youth level and just joined his hometown club as a teenager. Though he may not have left a career in professional soccer at all, had he listened to the advice of his college.
When encouraged to Leeds’ Thorp Arch training ground on day release from school, his mother has been sent a note in an effort to dissuade her son. “It said they expected I realised that not a lot of men and women make it as a professional footballer,” Phillips told the Yorkshire Evening Article.
However, Phillips defied the odds and maybe about to. Southgate has watched him a few times this year and, as demonstrated by choosing Mason Mount whilst on loan in Derby County last year, is not afraid of delving into the Championship when it comes to sourcing the best gift for England.
Nor are Several Premier League sides. Aston Villa made enquiries last summer but an agreement could not be reached. One supposes that no matter whether Leeds win promotion this season, Phillips is bound for the top flight after another major effort.
Originally deployed by Thomas Christiansen as a box-to-box midfielder at a 4-2-3-1 system in the first days of his United career, Phillips was remoulded to a deep-lying playmaker from the eccentric Bielsa. He’s thrived consequently, becoming one of the Championship’s most-talked-about players in the past 18 months while playing as the No.6 at a 4-1-4-1 shape.
But doing so in a side coached by the famously special Bielsa includes additional information and Phillips has found himself tasked with filling in at centre-back once the ideal moments arise in games.
He’s superb eyesight to see the game unfold around him, also, and this is exemplified best in his array of passing. No midfielder from the Championship has tried more long stretches (284) this year with his average of 9.74 (per 90) placing Phillips third one of his midfield peers.
Possession is at the centre of Bielsa’s tried-and-tested strategic regime and Phillips’ significance for this Leeds United side is summed up in the fact that he chooses 77.96 touches (per 90), fifth among all midfielders in the Championship.
He’s responsible for snuffing out resistance attacks and then getting Leeds playing, setting the tone and pace to get a side expected to win promotion back to the Premier League this season after 16 long years in the wilderness.
“He is a practical player who performs only,” Bielsa told the Yorkshire Evening Post in the very beginning of his Leeds revolution. “He is good from a defensive perspective, he has a very long pass and he’s a good orientation of this game.
“He is very good at getting the ball and placing it into a different space, a better distance. He is great when he has to pay the group when our full-backs go in assault. And when we’re outnumbered, he’s extremely good with his defending.”
Phillips takes an average set-piece, also, carving out more shooting opportunities from dead-ball scenarios (38) than any other midfielder in England’s second-tier this term.
His performances have attracted admiring glances from Wolverhampton Wanderers, Sheffield United and Burnley but it’s inevitable larger clubs will take a good look at the lynchpin of Leeds’ midfield if his screens continue and much more likely if an England cap materialises.
But better late, than not.