The picture facing Leeds United star Kalvin Phillips if Gareth Southgate is to grant midfielder an England call

ENGLAND boss Gareth Southgate is not immune to delving into the Championship for his squad.

By Lee Sobot
Wednesday, 20th November 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 20th November 2019, 7:22 am
STAKING HIS CLAIM: Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips. Photo by George Wood/Getty Images.
STAKING HIS CLAIM: Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips. Photo by George Wood/Getty Images.

Mason Mount, Jack Butland, Angus Gunn.

Proof that a presence in English football's second tier need not be a barrier to representing the Three Lions.

Given England's conundrum in the holding midfield role, there are those who feel that Southgate would be worth his while doing so again to hand a chance to Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips.

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Danny Higginbotham is one such advocate of Phillips' cause with the former defender insisting this week that Phillips could be the answer to link England's back four and midfield.

But while a call up would perhaps be no surprise, Phillips would have to break nine years of history to actually play for England as an outfield Championship player and become the first since Jay Bothroyd's outing against France in November 2010 representing Cardiff City.

Before that, David Nugent represented England for Preston North End in 2017 though goalkeeper Butland did make the one outing as a Championship player for Stoke in the 1-0 win at home to Switzerland in September 2018.

As it stands, West Ham United's Declan Rice and Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Winks are the two main men in Phillips' way with Southgate chopping and changing and potentially leaving the door open to Phillips.

Ironically, a former Whites star features among the other possible options in the shape of Bournemouth's Lewis Cook with Watford's Nathan Chalobah among the other shouts along with playing Liverpool's Jordan Henderson in a deeper role.

United's Yorkshire Pirlo could of course already have been a Premier League player but for strong resistance from Whites chairman Andrea Radrizzani in the summer and Phillips' own desire to take his hometown club to the promised land of the Premier after last season's near miss.

A host of top flight clubs were interested in Phillips' services with Aston Villa leading the race and bids of in excess of £20m knocked back.

Phillips might be a Championship player on paper but there is little doubt that the 23-year-old has the talent to grace the big stage.

But whether or not the former Wortley Junior is handed the opportunity to grace the country's biggest international stage is fast becoming a hot topic and one which Higginbotham in particular believes is worth serious consideration.

"England have a very good pressing game but sometimes that space between the defence and midfield is too big," said Higginbotham in his Sun column.

"Gareth Southgate has switched between Declan Rice and Harry Winks in this holding position — but for me it is still up for grabs ahead of next summer.

"Looking outside the current squad, there are not exactly many English defensive midfielders excelling in the Premier League.

"But in Leeds’ Kalvin Phillips I see someone who could force his way into Southgate’s reckoning.

"The 23-year-old has been outstanding for Marcelo Bielsa’s side and has a number of really good attributes.

"I like his positional sense, he’s a very good tackler, and his distribution both long and short is fantastic.

"Yes, Phillips has never played in the Premier League.

"But I don’t have an issue with that at all — there were plenty of clubs in for him over the summer and he would undoubtedly be playing in the top tier now if Leeds hadn’t done everything to keep hold of him.

"And in calling up Mason Mount last October when he was on loan at Derby from Chelsea, Southgate has shown he is not afraid to select a Championship player."

Mount played no part in either of the Nations League fixtures following his October call up but his England debut was merely on hold with the midfielder coming on as a 67th-minute substitute in England's 4–0 home win over Bulgaria back in September.

But as well as Mount, Stoke shotstopper Butland is another case in point with the Potters 'keeper the last second tier player to step out for Southgate's side having played the full 90 minutes of the 1-0 win in the international friendly at home to Switzerland in September 2018.

Despite Stoke loitering in the wrong end of the Championship table, Butland continued to be a regular in Southgate's squad until missing out as part of the squad selected for the Euro 2020 qualifiers against Bulgaria and Kosovo back in September with Burnley's Nick Pope selected instead.

Norwich 'keeper Gunn was another Championship player called into a Southgate squad as a replacement for the injured Butland in November 2017 but like Mount he played no part as a Championship player.

So will Phillips become the next Championship player to make a Southgate squad and even the first outfield player to represent the Three Lions since Bothroyd in 2010?

Higginbotham certainly thinks so - and would not be surprised if the midfielder makes the cut for the round of next fixtures in the Spring.

Higginbotham reasoned: "The Three Lions don’t play again until March — if Phillips continues in this current vein of form then I see no reason why he shouldn’t be involved.

"I’m not saying he should be brought in as first choice. But in a position which is yet to be locked down, Phillips is well worth having a look at."

Maybe Southgate could take Ben White with him too?