Phillips is out with a hamstring injury but says he has done his best to keep spirits up after Leeds signed off for the international break with a demoralising defeat to Newcastle United. Victory could have extended the distance between them and the Premier League relegation zone into double figures.
Whilst the 26-year-old cannot contribute on the pitch, he is conscious he has to off it, and of his wider responsibilities to the club. He was speaking as he came out to support a 127-mile charity bike ride to raise funds for former Leeds Women’s striker Stacey Daniel, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and needs to raise £50,000 for an operation in Mexico.
“It’s just being good around the training ground,” he said of his role. “Obviously I have been out for a while and you can see me getting frustrated sometimes in the physio room and in the gym but whenever I am around the lads I try to make them happy and make them smile. It’s keeping them happy and getting the banter going.”
Last season Leeds finished ninth in the Premier League with Phillips in the heart of midfield, before the Leeds-born player went on to be a key figure in England’s run to the European Championship finals. After the tournament he was named as the Three Lions’ player of the year.
The 2021-22 campaign has been tougher for Phillips and his club, with injuries limiting him to a dozen league starts and hitting the side hard as they have found themselves in an unexpected relegation battle.
“I knew that this season would be a lot more difficult than the last,” insisted Phillips.
“The teams have all played against us, they know what we’re about. They know what we do. I knew it was always going to be difficult.
“Through difficult times we always try and get together and work even harder.
“But I’ve always had confidence in us. We’ve got a good team. I think with the last result if we had won that it would’ve been a little bit better.
“We’ve always had good spirit throughout the season, no matter how many games we’ve lost or what score we’ve lost by.
“The lads are still in good spirits now after the loss to Newcastle. We just know we need to go on a little run now, which will do us good.”
The supporters have helped too, not that Phillips is surprised
“It’s always been like that no matter whether we’re doing well or not doing well,” he said. “The support has always been amazing but I wouldn’t expect anything else from the Leeds fans. They’re the best fans in the world.”
Phillips’s feeling for the club, not to mention his ability, are why it was important the Whites saw off interest from West Ham United and others in an otherwise disappointing January transfer window.
As frustrated as he is, there is always someone who has had it worse. He can take inspiration from the way fellow midfielder Adam Forshaw fought back from two years of hip injuries to win a new contract after re-establishing himself as a key component of the side.
“I have been injured for seven weeks, he got injured for two years and I’m pulling my hair out at being out for so long so I can’t imagine what he was going through,” said Phillips. “He’s a very good lad and a very strong person. He had his friends and family around him which helped him. I’ve just got to look at that as inspiration and motivation to get back on the pitch.”
Leeds return to Premier League action at Aston Villa next Wednesday.
Daniel is still trying to raise money for the life-changing treatment she needs at tinyurl.com/57932zp3