From Wortley to Wembley: Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips will return a hero whether or not England seal Euros

In the shadow of the wall adorned by Kalvin Phillips’ 12-metre high mural, the Leeds United midfielder’s public gathered to watch their hero.

Saturday, 10th July 2021, 11:45 am
Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips' mural by The Calls. Pic: LUFC
Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips' mural by The Calls. Pic: LUFC

England against Denmark at Wembley was the occasion and a place in the European Championship final was the prize. Aire Bar on The Calls was the viewing venue.

Phillips – starting his sixth straight game for the Three Lions at the Euros – has been a trusted lieutenant for head coach Gareth Southgate at the delayed international tournament.

As the night went on every ball was kicked and every tackle reverberated around the pub, in an historic victory for England, everything Phillips did was roared.

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‘Come on Kalv!’ punctuated nervous applause.

When a shot from his boot flew high and wide with the game on a knife edge and the clock ticking down a rendition of his now famed ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’ song rang out.

Had the ball hit the back of the net it’s hard to fathom what may have ensued. The still waters of the River Aire, just yards away, would have welcomed several bodies.

The Thorp Arch academy product has been the beating heart of his boyhood club in recent times and has now taken on a similar role for his country.

His stature as one of the city’s best loved sons is celebrated in the centre and is a welcome to Leeds like no other. You’re in Kalvin Phillips country now.

This summer marks three years since Phillips came to a crossroads in his career at Elland Road. It also marks three years since Marcelo Bielsa – another of those to be immortalised on walls across the city – arrived in West Yorkshire and tapped Phillips on the shoulder.

Since then, nothing has ever quite been the same. Leeds are back in the Premier League. Phillips is an England regular.

“Marcelo sees a lot of crazy things that other people don’t,” Phillips said of his head coach.

“The first day he came in he referred to me as a number four and I’d never played in a defensive midfield role. But I’ve never enjoyed football as much in my life.

“He’s been a major part of my career. A major part of my life. In the last two years or so he has improved me as a person and a footballer. I believe that if he was never introduced to me then I don’t think I’d be in this position.”

It is seven years to the week that Phillips signed his first professional terms with the Whites.

He made his senior debut against Wolves in 2015 at Molineux – a chaotic 4-3 fixture that would sum up his first years of senior football.

A managerial revolving door hampered development more than it helped, having been in and out of the team and the squad before coming to the fore under head coach Garry Monk.

By the time Bielsa arrived in 2018, Phillips was a squad member many fans were split on. Leeds were stagnating in the Championship and a number of other academy graduates - Charlie Taylor, Lewis Cook, Sam Byram and Alex Mowatt – had all moved on.

Phillips was deployed as a more advanced midfielder by his predecessors. He has, though, skyrocketed since Bielsa laid the foundations for his new position a little further back.

The now 25-year-old has turned from boy to man at Leeds and from a Championship player to one of the Premier League’s best defensive midfielders.

Ask either Kalvin or Marcelo about who holds responsibility for the change in career trajectory and they will both point at each other.

The two together have been the perfect pairing at the perfect time for a player who needed a simple nudge in the right direction.

Over 200 senior Elland Road appearances later and Phillips is now a household name across the city. His exploits with the Three Lions this summer have moved it on further.

Former junior club Wortley is currently inundated with new players, a mountain of press requests and have even been able to set up an open age women’s team due to the increased interest.

Leeds is connected to Kalvin and Kalvin is connected to Leeds. His turning down of Aston Villa to help his club – the only one he has ever wanted to play for – back into the top flight after 16 years away cemented his growing legacy further.

No matter the result on Sunday, Phillips will return to West Yorkshire a hero with or without a trophy in hand. It has been a rise of meteoric proportions.

From Wortley to Wembley and England via Leeds United. Kalvin Phillips is a European Championship finalist. Drink it in. The city may never see anything like it again.