Why Kalvin Phillips was made for Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds United, according to his former coach
Kalvin Phillips was a keen runner long before he played under former Leeds United coach Marcelo Bielsa.
Phillips is often cited among the finest examples of players whose career has been transformed by the influence of the former United manager.
The Wortley-born player was a successful graduate of the Whites academy who was progressing steadily before the arrival of Bielsa turned him from talented youngster into the lynchpin of his boyhood club.
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The 26-year-old became one of the great engines of Bielsa's regime, which depended on high-energy performers to keep up the tenacious pressing which was its hallmark.
But hard running has always been a part of Phillips' footballing DNA, according to Ian Thackray, who coached the midfielder when he was a child.
“He was never a sprinter but if you turned up two days after the game, he’d still be there running up and down the pitch," Thackray explained.
"A lot of people think Bielsa made him, but he’s always been like that.”
The deployment of Phillips as a deep-lying midfielder was one of the Bielsa masterstrokes which defined the team who stormed to the 2019/2020 Championship title.
But Thackray says that Phillips was accustomed to operating in both boxes from an early age.
“He was always a central midfield player too, always sort of played number ten behind the striker but you couldn’t ask him to stay up the field, that was pointless,” said Thackray.
“He wanted to be the one heading it off the goal line and then scoring at the other end - very similar to how he plays now."
Since starring for England at Euro 2020 last summer, Phillips gained a reputation across English football for his aggressive defending and fearless approach to dispossessing opponents.
This, too, has long been a prized asset of Phillips' game, and an attribute that has frustrated his opponents for years.
“Eventually the teams around us got to know him and he’d get a few kicks," Thackray told England Football.
"But that was alright for us because if somebody upset him early doors, we knew we were winning the game - it would spur him on.
“He’s a player that can do everything and if he wants to tackle you, he’ll tackle you.
"It was his tackling that got him noticed by the Leeds scout.
"The tackle was perfect, then he dragged it back with his other foot and passed it 55 yards to the other side of the pitch."