'Kalvin Phillips - amazing tournament' - England manager Gareth Southgate on Leeds United man at Euro 2020 and Three Lions' future aim
England manager Gareth Southgate has picked out Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips as a player who had an 'amazing' Euro 2020 tournament.
Phillips started every game of the Three Lions' journey to the final, missing only 25 minutes of the quarter-final in order to avoid suspension for the semis.
The Whites midfielder operated predominantly in a more advanced role than the one he has held down at Elland Road ever since Marcelo Bielsa arrived in 2018, and formed a solid midfield partnership with Declan Rice of West Ham United.
The amount of ground Phillips was able to cover during his first major tournament was only bettered by Chelsea and Italy's Jorginho. And by popping up here, there and everywhere, Phillips was able to disrupt opposition sides and help to shut down world class midfielders.
His tournament may be best remembered for his performance against Croatia, when he provided a fine assist for Raheem Sterling's winner, or the way in which he grew into the games against Germany and Denmark to wrestle control back for England. In the final, both Phillips and Rice worked tirelessly to try and deny Italy freedom in the middle of the park, although they were unable to give England the control they enjoyed in previous games. When Bukayo Saka missed the decisive penalty, it was Phillips who ran from halfway to console the Arsenal youngster, giving Leeds fans yet another reason to feel proud of their player.
As Southgate pointed out, England went into their pre-tournament camp not knowing if the Leeds-born player was going to be available. The shoulder injury he sustained in the very last minute of the 2020/21 season finale against West Brom threatened to derail his Euro 2020 dream, although Leeds' medical team were always confident the durable midfielder would make it.
"Even coming into this tournament there were so many things that were uncertain in terms of being able to embed one way of playing," said Southgate, the morning after England's loss in the final.
"The injuries we came in with, the availability we came in with. We weren't quite sure defensively what we were going to have. I have to say Tyrone [Mings] did a fantastic job coming into a massive situation at the beginning of the tournament. We had that huge doubt over Harry Maguire at the start. To have defended as well as we did throughout the tournament without being able to play that back four together too often in the two years before - Luke [Shaw] only came back in with us in March for one game. He had a phenomenal tournament I have to say as well. We were constantly dealing with uncertainties.
"Kalvin Phillips amazing tournament, we weren't sure we were going to have him in the week leading into the first camp. Remarkable year really in terms of trying to build something consistent. We never had the players all together until seven days before the tournament itself. You'd liked to have built across the whole season but that wasn't the reality of the season we had. That should be the aim moving forward.
"In some areas of the team we have clear strength and players who were in form, in other areas we don't have quite the same amount of strength and we've had to do it differently and do it our way. By adapting and adjusting we've managed to get to a final. Of course you're always looking for perfection and we're always looking to improve and we must continue to do that.
Southgate believes there's much more to come from his young and relatively inexperienced side. The final was only Phillips' 15th international appearance and seven of his caps came in the tournament itself.
Experiencing something as special and significant as staying in the competition to the very last will stand him and his England team-mates in good stead, Southgate believes.
"We've wanted for a long time to make playing for England fun and enjoyable," he said.
"I think they have had a fabulous experience, they have loved one another's company. It's a club-like spirit.The younger ones especially, all of this team can go again, there's no doubt about that but the young ones are still two, four years from peaking. They've had a great insight into tournament football and acquitted themselves so well.
"Those players will be far better for going through so many important wins and landmarks, historic performances. In the main they performed under huge pressure of being at home for the majority of the tournament, being one of the favourites. They dealt with it so well, in the opening game, against Germany, in the semi-final and for a large period of the final we dealt with that."