Side before self - Kalvin Phillips had an opportunity to put himself first but chose Leeds United

There was a moment during the summer when Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips had the option of putting self before side.

Monday, 9th September 2019, 5:46 pm
A Leeds shirt has never been far from Kalvin Phillips' grasp since he was a boy

The 23-year-old was a wanted man.

Premier League clubs were queuing up; Aston Villa were putting big money on the table, Burnley tabled a bid, Sheffield United took a long, hard look and Leeds United were hellbent on keeping their defensive midfielder at Elland Road.

READ: Angus Kinnear on the bids Leeds knocked back this summerJust before the Whites set off for a pre-season tour in Australia, Phillips picked up a knock.

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It wasn't a serious injury but it was an opportunity, a door left ajar for Phillips to march through, should he wish, in order to protect himself from further harm and keep the possibility of a top flight move alive.

For such a young man, Phillips is old school. And he's Leeds United.

Instead of accepting the chance to remain in the UK, put his feet up and 'play the game' with potential suitors and their deep pockets, he asked to go on the tour and played every minute of two games for the Whites, one of which a potentially fractious clash with bitter rivals Manchester United.

An exacerbation of the existing knock or an even worse one would have left the youngster sidelined, on a contract that didn't reflect his talent, that had two years left to run.

Phillips, right, pictured as a teen in the Leeds United academy

Phillips knew all of that, more than anyone, and flew Down Under to play in friendlies.

Side before self, every time.

That loyalty, the dedication to the club he, in his own words, 'idolised' as a young boy growing up in Leeds, has now been rewarded with an improved five-year contract.

For Leeds United fans, the news that the man they call 'the Yorkshire Pirlo' has scratched his name onto an A4 document will bring joy, pride and a little relief.

No one is naive enough to think that, should Leeds not complete their 2019/20 objective and finally escape the Championship, there are any guarantees of Phillips remaining at Elland Road for the full five years marked out on that contract.

He will, on the evidence of last season and the eight games of the current campaign, go on and become a Premier League player, with or without Leeds.

That much is just as inevitable as his putting in 100 per cent in the white shirt of his hometown team every time he pulls it on.

In the first half of his last outing, still playing on that old contract, Phillips suffered another injury.

It looked for all the world that Leeds would have to make a change, as he limped and winced his way around the pitch, trying desperately to run it off and get back to the task of tackling Swansea City players.

Another tackle sent him down to the turf once more. On he limped.

Half-time came and went, Phillips came back out and soldiered on.

That he finished the game said a lot about bravery and a lot about how much he just wants to play for Leeds United.

Sources close to him say that desire has never changed, since he first wore a Leeds shirt - "the yellow one with Strongbow on the front. I had Alan Smith on the back," he recalled in a YEP interview earlier this year.

They also say he himself hasn't changed.

From a 14-year-old academy recruit to a 17-year-old being signed by his first agent [Ex Leeds player Kevin Sharp], to an 18-year-old clutching his first professional deal, to a 23-year-old flashing his trademark grin as he penned a five-year contract.

He sticks close to his family, as shown in those heartwarming Take Us Home documentary scenes, and a small band of friends.

And he keeps his head.

The lure of Premier League money didn't send him off course, just like an early yellow card against Nottingham Forest failed to distract him from the job of shackling Tiago Silva.

By all accounts, those within Elland Road and those with personal insight on the man of hour, his conduct since last season has been a credit to himself, his family and his club.

By securing this deal, Leeds have enabled him to focus fully on getting them back in the Premier League.

You get the feeling he's never been focused on anything else.