Leeds

Kalvin Phillips on nearly missing Euro 2020, the best England youngsters and...Squid Game

Chris Deeley
Kalvin Phillips is ready for the Christmas season
Kalvin Phillips is ready for the Christmas season / JD Sports
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Kalvin Phillips isn’t thinking about being a hot property in English football.

The Leeds man shot from gifted Championship midfielder to England starter over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, helping his hometown club back to the Premier League after a 16-year absence and anchoring the Three Lions all the way to a European Championship final.

His first call-up came after the original date for Euro 2020, but the tournament's postponement gave him a debut Premier League season to stake his claim, which he did with gusto – but it all nearly fell apart when a tackle in Leeds' last game of the season resulted in a dislocated shoulder, and a painful trip to hospital.

Speaking to 90min this week, Phillips - who appears in the JD Sports Christmas ‘King of the Street’ ad campaign - said: "That's supposed to be a 3-4 week injury and I had to somehow get fit enough for the first game, which the fitness staff at Leeds and England made possible. It's probably the worst feeling I've ever felt, I had to drive all the way to Harrogate an hour away, just sat in the back of the car with my shoulder dislocated."

At 25, the Phillips is almost a senior player in a youthful Three Lions set-up, and was fulsome in his praise of the bumper crop of young players being produced of late; admitting that the thought of Jadon Sancho or Phil Foden running at him ('so quick on their feet!') is an alarming one, but stopping short of naming the very best of the youngsters.

Jadon Sancho, Eberechi Eze, Leah Williamson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Phillips are all looking fresh
Jadon Sancho, Eberechi Eze, Leah Williamson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Phillips are all looking fresh / JD Sports

"There's so many!" he said. "Obviously there's Foden, Jude Bellingham, Sancho, Bukayo Saka, and even in the Under-23s like Smith Rowe and Curtis Jones. I couldn't really name the best player, because they've all individually got different abilities and they bring different things to the team – I'm just grateful I'm playing with them and not against them."

The hard-running midfielder calls Marcelo Bielsa the most organised coach he's ever had, adding: "Marcelo is adamant in what he wants to do. He knows what works best for us as a team, and his attention to detail just puts him a level above.

"You know that you're going to get chances towards the end of the game because the other team will tire out. When it gets to Christmas time your legs could start to get a bit heavier, but after the manager being here for three or four years, I've got used to it, just running all day."

This year's Christmas will be a quiet one for Bielsa's charges, with a 12:30pm Boxing Day game at Anfield to look forward to. Phillips, for one, will be hoarding some leftovers when his family come over for Christmas dinner.

Like a lot of players, Phillips is a big trainer collector and is hoping for some more kicks under the tree on Christmas morning – rather than the skydiving experience his mum got him a few years ago, which the club (to his relief) gently asked him not to participate in.

More sedate methods of relaxing are the order of the day at Elland Road, including a good old-fashioned Netflix binge, which is how we take a diversion while he muses on how he and his teammates might get on if they were air-dropped into Squid Game.

"That's hard, because half the people who are in it are...well, the main character's best friend's a bit of a snake, isn't he? He does everything for himself. There's not really people like that in this team, who just do things for themselves.

"If someone had to be the main character...it'd probably be me. I'm not blowing my own trumpet! He's generous, helps a lot of people, like the old guy. I think I'd be probably the best. Or maybe Pat [Bamford], he's a good thinker, very smart."

Just six points outside the top half of the Premier League table as the festive season approaches, Phillips says that recent performances have made him confident that his side are getting back to the form they showed last season, explaining that everyone at the club was ready for a touch of 'second season syndrome'.

Calling it “just part of getting into the Premier League”, he cited Sheffield United's second-season relegation as an example of a team struggling the season after taking the top flight by storm – but insisted that he's only looking up the table.

Elland Road hasn't experienced a relegation since 2007. They're not getting ready for one now.


Watch Kalvin Phillips in the JD Sports Christmas campaign now, with JD exclusive product drops available online at jdsports.co.uk and in stores across the UK.

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