Kalvin Phillips eyeing jump from starstruck to stardom by helping Leeds United to Premier League
KALVIN PHILLIPS proved Leeds United’s present-day hero at the weekend – in front of heroes of his own.
Leeds fan Phillips counted Lucas Radebe, Luciano Becchio and Jermaine Beckford as three of his Whites favourites as a child and all three were present when the midfielder’s strike sank Birmingham City in the game played at Elland Road two days after United’s centenary.
Jonny Howson, Robert Snodgrass, Alan Smith and Mark Viduka were other Phillips favourites as a youngster.
Should the midfielder help Leeds United return to the Premier League, the 23-year-old could one day be viewed as a Whites legend himself – the stuff of dreams for Leeds-born Phillips who insists there is plenty more work on for United to achieve their goal but confident there will be no stopping Marcelo Bielsa’s men when they hit their full stride.
Phillips proved unstoppable in Saturday’s Championship showdown against Birmingham as his 65th-minute strike sealed a 1-0 victory to move the Whites back into the division’s automatic promotion spots.
The Academy graduate was the star of the show yet it was he who was left starstruck in the build-up to Saturday’s contest upon meeting first Radebe and then Beckford as part of the club’s centenary celebrations – a humble attitude and outlook from a footballer who attracted bids in excess of £20m for his services from Premier League clubs in the summer.
Already, even if the modest midfielder fails to see it, the former Wortley Junior is well on his way to carving his name among modern-day Whites greats.
Helping his hometown club back to the Premier League would naturally elevate such status further with Phillips staying grounded and committed to more hard work but highly encouraged about what Bielsa’s men could achieve when at their best.
“I think we have got a lot more to come,” said Phillips.
“If we can get the attack firing like we have done and like we did last season and like we did at the start of the season then I think the sky is the limit for us.
“We just maybe need a break of luck or a little bit more consistency and it will be there.
“I think we are doing well. We do what we do, we control games and teams are going to come and make it difficult for us and we have just got to break them down.
“I think that’s the final touch that we need, to be able to break teams down that come to defend and I think a good result like Saturday’s will give us more confidence to do that.
“A lot of people are very demanding of us after the season that we had last year, knowing that we shouldn’t have been in the play-offs or whatever and should have been promoted.
“But we are always going to get that and that’s the pressure of playing at such a big club.
“But I think we have done well so far in the season. People are quick to judge but we will always be there at the final whistle.”
Two weeks after the disappointing 1-0 loss at Millwall, Saturday’s final whistle at Elland Road was greeted with jubilation and relief by United’s biggest crowd of the season that included an impressive array of United’s former greats from the likes of Eddie Gray and Norman Hunter to Radebe and Becchio.
Assessing his own former favourites, Phillips smiled: “It’s a hard one as I loved so many players. I loved Mark Viduka and Alan Smith and Jermaine, Becchio, Snodgrass and Jonny Howson. I used to come every week and watch them.
“When I see them or play against them, I am a bit star-struck really and I don’t really know what to say to them. I don’t really know what they will say to me, but they are very nice people and humble. We get on very well.”
Pressed on the fact that he might well become a Whites legend himself should Leeds go up, Phillips said: “Hopefully, I’d love that. It is not there yet, but hopefully we can get there in the future.”
With his Whites now back into second, 34 more games now stand between Phillips’ Leeds and a long-awaited return to the Premier League with tonight’s trip to sixth-placed Preston North End up next.
The fixture presents a clash between the side with the division’s best home record against a Leeds outfit with the second-best away record.
Phillips, meanwhile, believes Leeds can now look at last season’s achievements as a positive and valuable experience gained in the bid to finally seal a return to the country’s top flight in the club’s centenary campaign.
“We have got to remember that we never thought we’d get that far,” said Phillips, reflecting on last season’s near miss and play-offs semi-final defeat to Derby County.
“At the start of the season, if someone had said we’d get that far, we’d have snapped their hands off.
“We did very well to get into that position. Personally, I view it as a positive. If we ever get there again, we will know what to do. We will carry on doing the best we can.
“Saturday’s win was massively important. The last two weeks have been quite hard for us, just thinking about the last game and we just wanted to get it out of the way.
“I think with the three points it has done that and, hopefully, we can go to Preston and get a good result.
“We always want to win games and winning will give us a bit more confidence going to Preston.
“They are a good side who are doing very well and we know there is threat from them. We will go there and be ready for a good fight and, hopefully, we’ll get three points.”