Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa gives firm response to Jamie Redknapp's Kalvin Phillips claim after Brighton switch
Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa has responded to suggestions that something is amiss with Kalvin Phillips, after the midfielder's half-time substitution at Brighton.
Bielsa started the England international at centre-half alongside Liam Cooper at the Amex before putting him back in his traditional role in front of the backline, but with Leeds struggling to click Bielsa sent Pascal Struijk on for Phillips at the break.
At various points in the first half Phillips was seen stretching his calves and appeared to speak to fitness coach Benoit Delaval about the issue towards the end of the first half, but speaking after the game Bielsa insisted his defensive midfielder was not injured and the switch was tactical. Bielsa reiterated that in Monday's press conference and revealed that Phillips will be available to face Crystal Palace.
Events at the Amex led to suggestions from Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp that there is an issue between the head coach and Phillips, with the midfielder's somewhat odd post-game interview at Spurs cited as evidence. Speaking in a televised interview after defeat at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Phillips initially stated he didn't know why Bielsa had put him at centre-half to mark Harry Kane, before explaining exactly why the move was made.
When Redknapp's comments were put to Bielsa on Monday morning he first made it clear that he continues to consider Phillips fully deserving of his 'idol' status at Elland Road.
"Kalvin Phillips is an idol for the Leeds United fans, he is a popular property with a lot of affections," said the Argentine.
"And we all have to look after the affection, we all have the obligation to look after the feeling that unites a fan with a team. The fans suffer when they lose an idol. And Kalvin is a player that has done a lot of things to deserve how the fans feel about him and what he has done has been sincere, it has not been conditioned. He opted to stay with Leeds when he could have left them when we were in the Championship. And he cleared up what his position was when he was asked about moving to the best teams in the Premier League and gave a sincere response saying he wouldn’t accept any offers. So what I am saying is that due to his performance and his position, with respect to his club Leeds, the position that Kalvin occupies is completely deserved."
The head coach also believes that any player can be substituted without it being turned into a major issue. His replacement of Phillips was entirely tactical, an attempt to help the team. Bielsa did not give an opinion on whether or not the change worked but Struijk did well enough in his 45 minutes to offer a measure of vindication for the swap. He was brave on the ball and managed to help Leeds play forward in a way that appeared beyond them in the first half.
"What you are asking me is resolved with a conclusion that is very simple - it is very difficult to imagine that a player can never come out and be substituted from a team." he said.
"The logic of football shows perfectly that in any game, any player can come off. And it can’t be that a coach is conditioned that one player can’t come off and that when that player comes off it is thought of as something, because finally the explanation is the one I gave, that I thought that Pascal was better suited in the second half to the defensive mid position that I imagined than Phillips.
"That doesn’t mean I was correct but I just did what I thought was best, but in no way does that mean that there is a difficulty with anyone."
It is Bielsa's firm belief that no player should consider his position 'untouchable' regardless of their status within a team.
"It is never good for a player or for a team to think that the positions are immovable and that the hierarchies that there are in a team cannot be altered ever, because apart from that it is not only bad for the player that is untouchable but it is bad for those who want to alter the positions within a team and this example that we chose," he said.
"It is bad for Kalvin to think that he is never going to be substituted, like for any other component of the team to think that the initial hierarchies cannot be changed. The position of a team is that you compete with the opponents and also with the players in your team.”