As Kalvin Phillips focuses on England Euro 2020 glory Leeds United chiefs must plot for one-club player status
The Euros have proved without doubt that baked into the heart of Andrea Radrizzani’s Leeds United vision should be a plan to ensure Kalvin Phillips retires as a one-club player.
Premier League performances that followed his Championship dominance were a strong enough hint but his displays against Croatia’s Luka Modrić and Germany’s Toni Kroos indicate firmly that Leeds have a player well capable of matching the club’s European ambitions, a player with the ability to not just take on but become the elite and a player with exactly the right character to handle what comes his way with a personality you’d want representing your brand.
Phillips’ swift, dramatic rise to international prominence, having not partaken whatsoever in the England youth system and remained under the radar as a second-tier player until 2020, hides the fact that he’s a player of significant experience now.
He passed the 200 senior appearance mark last season and all of his games, as a box-to-box midfielder or the defensive destroyer Marcelo Bielsa has moulded, have come at his boyhood club.
It all could have been so different, had his Granny Val and Victor Orta not teamed up to sway his mind back in the direction of staying at Elland Road when Aston Villa offered Premier League football, status and money in 2019 but, by staying put, he received all of that and more.
Phillips has made and will continue to make history at Leeds. It’s become his forte. The winner on the club’s centenary, the promotion, the first Leeds player to win a knockout game at a European Championships, all achieved by a Thorp Arch academy graduate.
The profile that has accompanied his success - the link with Dua Lipa through an agency, the celebrity fans, the mentions from legendary footballers, the city centre mural - will only increase in size if he carries on playing as he is for club and country. A natural consequence of that is noise and speculation of ‘big six’ interest or, as feels inevitable, attention from Champions League clubs in Europe.
Right now, this summer, other than Rome, Phillips is going nowhere. Why would he? He’s living the dreams of the young boy who grew up not far from Elland Road idolising Leeds and England players, and the club he supports are on an upward trajectory with yet more potentially exhilarating times around the corner.
The only moves that would make sense, in purely financial or career terms, would be to Champions League clubs and, even then, with three years left on his contract and his importance to Bielsa’s system, the price Leeds would seek would be prohibitive, especially in light of the other business those English clubs hope to do this summer.
A defensive midfielder does not appear to be an immediate priority for any of those who could afford him so, if they did make offers, they would come with no guarantee of the starting spot he enjoys week in and week out with Bielsa.
Loyalty plays a part with Phillips and family too, his close relationship with his mother Lindsay, pictured celebrating at Wembley after the win over Germany on Tuesday, is key to keeping him in Leeds.
But, at some stage, someone will surely test his and Leeds’ resolve and that’s when the work Radrizzani and Victor Orta have done and must keep doing to make him feel as special and important as any of the shiny new signings, will stand them in good stead.
It’s a delicate balance, keeping players happy and maintaining a healthy pecking order as the clamour of the outside world threatens to disrupt dressing room harmony, but that’s where the closeness of this Leeds team and the friendship of older heads like Liam Cooper, Luke Ayling and Stuart Dallas comes in. The standard of Leeds’ recruitment has helped to reassure players like Phillips that their ambitions are as lofty as those held by any individual at Leeds and that has to remain the case.
Phillips has to know that whoever is brought in to bolster the midfield, for example, can do the things he can do, as well as providing competition to keep him on his toes.
Retaining Bielsa too is another hugely important part of warding off the advances of clubs already playing at the level Leeds want to one day reach.
The head coach has a strong personal bond with Phillips, despite the arm’s length distance and the lack of summer texts, as the famous embraces on centenary day and promotion day showed.
Phillips wouldn’t be where he is without his family, Leeds United and Bielsa and the player feels a keen sense of gratitude to everyone who has played a part in his ascent to the top.
As it stands, everything is in place to allow Phillips to cement legendary status at Leeds, so the job for club chiefs is to put the plans in place to ensure he goes on to achieve that.
A new contract will surely be on the agenda during the next 12 months, one that reflects his importance as a player to build a team around.
None of this will be on his mind this week as England prepare for the Euro 2020 quarter-final with Ukraine but, with each performance on the international stage, it will be crossing the minds of decision makers at Leeds.
Regardless of whether or not football is coming home, Phillips will and he should never leave.