Leeds United are braced for an approach for Kalvin Phillips from Aston Villa amid claims that the newly-promoted Premier League club intend to table a bid.
Leeds have received no offers for their talented midfielder but reports in the West Midlands indicate that Phillips is on the list of players who Villa want to sign in this transfer window.
United could be drawn into taking money for one of their prominent assets as a means of balancing the books at Elland Road but the club are deeply resistant to the idea of losing Phillips.
The 23-year-old was a critical part of Marcelo Bielsa’s team this season and is seen by the Argentinian as an essential part of his plans for a second term in charge.
Sources close to Phillips say he is happy at United and wants to remain at the club, although Leeds are yet to come forward with the offer of a new contract.
Phillips has two years to run on his deal and is due to receive a proposal to extend his stay before the new Championship season begins.
His existing wage sits below the level of United’s higher earners but his performances under Bielsa and the threat of interest from elsewhere would compel Leeds to raise his salary significantly.
Villa and manager Dean Smith are in the process of redrawing their squad after winning promotion to the Premier League via the Championship play-offs last month.
Reports in Birmingham say Smith has identified Phillips as a prime target and will open the bidding at £14m when Villa formally table an offer. Leeds value him in excess of that figure and are reluctant to be drawn into discussions about a midfielder who Bielsa is anxious to keep.
Phillips, a former Under-18s captain, is four years on from his professional debut for Leeds but came of age in Bielsa’s first season as head coach, installed as the defensive midfielder in front of Leeds’ back four and thriving in a season which saw the club reach the play-offs.
He is one of the youngsters below the Premier League who England coach Gareth Southgate has been tentatively monitoring.
Southampton were linked with Phillips shortly after the end of the recent campaign, though Leeds have not been made aware of interest from St Mary’s. The club are waiting to see if an approach from Villa will materialise and know that the Birmingham club have the capacity to pay Phillips far in excess of his salary at Elland Road.
Phillips is abroad on holiday and due to return to England next week, ahead of the start of pre-season training. Bielsa’s willingness to remain in charge is seen as a key factor in Phillips wishing to remain with United.
Bielsa spotted his potential and versatility in the earliest weeks of his time in charge, deducing that Phillips was best suited to a specific holding role but could also double as a centre-back in different formations.
Speaking in August, Bielsa said: “He’s a practical player who plays simply. He’s good from a defensive point of view, he has a very good long pass and he has good understanding of the game.
“He’s very good at getting the ball and putting it into another space, a better space. He’s very good when he has to cover the team when our full-backs go in attack. And when we are outnumbered, he is very good with his defending.”
Phillips is one of a several Leeds players who could attract major bids in this window. Youngster Jack Clarke is the subject of serious interest from Tottenham Hotspur but Spurs are unlikely to meet Leeds’ current valuation of the winger. Defender Pontus Jansson is another who might attract offers before the window closes.
Leeds have sold Ronaldo Vieira and Chris Wood in the past two summer windows, helping to limit the club’s losses under chairman Andrea Radrizzani. Leeds’ wage bill is believed to have climbed above £25m and the club’s loss in this financial year is expected to exceed £10m, pushing them closer to the EFL’s Financial Fair Play limits.
United, though, hope to create funds and additional space on their wage bill by finding new employers for a clutch of out-of-favour professionals.