Leeds United loaned England an engine for Euro 2020 but what condition will Kalvin Phillips be in when he returns?

In Kalvin Phillips Leeds United gifted England a tournament footballer and an engine but what will they get back and in what state?

Tuesday, 13th July 2021, 7:29 am
Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips in action for England against Italy. Pic: Getty
Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips in action for England against Italy. Pic: Getty

The Premier League season kicks off at Old Trafford, of all places, against Manchester United, of all teams, in under five weeks but, if the game was scheduled for tomorrow, Phillips would stick his hand in the air to play.

He’s the type to run 15.7km in a game, his eighth game since the 2020/21 season finished, and then volunteer to do more.

Durable, is how his agent Kevin Sharp describes him, because he can take a kicking and keep on ticking, returning to Marcelo Bielsa’s side without the slow, steady return-to-work protocol others require.

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Phillips can simply slot back in and look like he’s never been away, he can play through pain until the pain goes away - the shoulder he damaged against West Brom on May 23 remained strapped up throughout the Euros but he still covered every blade of grass at least once – and he has proved time and time again he will do what it takes for club and now for country.

But his body and his mind are in sore need of rest. Weeks on end in the England camp and the pressure-cooker environment of a major international football, his first no less, will have left him in need of decompression and down time.

Patrick Bamford said recently that retirement is when you sit down and reflect on what you’ve achieved, but Phillips deserves to at least try and process the events of the past weeks, the past season and the past year.

Winning the Championship during a pandemic that would later be responsible for the loss of his Granny Val, winning a place in the England team and playing in every game of the Euros only to suffer a final loss on penalties, Phillips will never experience a year like it ever again.

He’s due to go abroad on holiday to recharge and, if he can, switch off before he needs to start revving up for next season.

And, as vital as that little period of respite will be, it may actually be the football that follows it that helps to heal some of the wounds opened up by events at Wembley on Sunday night.

Football presents another chance, there is always redemption to be had or even just distraction. Try thinking about penalties when Bielsa and his staff surround you on the training pitch, relentlessly requesting that you move.

Next season will be good for Phillips, a chance to further prove his status as a top-class midfielder and add yet more top-flight experience that will reinforce his claim to an England place ahead of the World Cup.

The Euros, no matter how heartbreaking, will have done him the world of good.

“Each player improves against better opposition,” Bielsa once said and Phillips encountered plenty of that. Fairing as well as he did against Luka Modrić, Toni Kroos and Leon Goretzka, spending 120 minutes chasing around and pressuring Marco Verratti and Jorginho, training every day with and against the very best attacking talent England has to offer, he can only return to Leeds an even better version of the player who left.

His loved ones are adamant nothing will alter his character, not the profile he built up in his home city nor the recognition from footballing legends and his growing band of worldwide celebrity fans, but he will surely walk back into the Thorp Arch dressing room a changed man.

By featuring in a European Championships final Phillips has experienced something no other Leeds player in history has and achieved something none of his Elland Road team-mates have and, although he’s the same old ‘Kalv’ they have supported from afar this summer, they will look at him a little differently.

From the advanced midfield role he occupied to his increased confidence to get on the ball and dictate or orchestrate the play against quality opposition, from the leadership role he assumed when running from halfway to console Bukayo Saka after his penalty miss to the way he handled the national and international media, Phillips has not only shown the world everything Leeds already knew about him, but visibly grown as a footballer this summer.

So, if Leeds look after him properly between now and the new season, the player they gave to the nation will return in even better condition. And that can only be good news for Bielsa and bad news for the Premier League.