Leeds lad Kalvin Phillips became the latest starlet to roll off the club’s famed Academy production line when he made his bow at Wolves. Leon Wobschall reports.
WITH an unmistakable Leeds accent and undiminished pride, Kalvin Phillips was a true picture of joy after making his debut for his hometown club on Bank Holiday Monday.
After the unsavoury developments towards the end of last week when Leeds United were besmirched with more bad headlines it could have seriously done without following the farcical decision to sack Steve Thompson, the sight of Phillips striding out at Wolverhampton Wanderers provided a chink of light in a darkened sky.
The future of head coach Neil Redfearn may ultimately be up in the air, but what he has – and is – infusing and cradling into the jersey of Leeds is a heart-and-soul White Rose identity which harkens back to better, safer and more wholesome times.
Redfearn consistently speaks of the need to show a duty of care to the footballing institution that is Leeds United and it’s his fledglings who have been entrusted as the standard bearers on the pitch.
After Sam Byram, Alex Mowatt, Lewis Cook and Charlie Taylor, now add the name of former Wortley FC junior Phillips to that list.
Having been involved in previous match-day squads – he was an unused substitute in the games against Blackburn Rovers, Nottingham Forest and Wigan Athletic, Phillips was provided with his big moment at Molineux.
With a thick head of curly hair, Phillips is the sort who easily stands out from the crowd and he certainly let no-one down on a Midlands day he will remember for the rest of his life.
As will his family and countless friends, even if his mum had to sit on a secret.
On his day to savour, Phillips said: “It felt brilliant and it’s an honour to put the white shirt on for the first team.
“I thought we were really unlucky with the result, but my debut has given me a lot of pleasure for the rest of my life.
“I had an idea I was going to be in the squad, but I didn’t have a clue whether I’d be starting, playing or whatever. Redders pushed me to one side and asked if I was feeling alright and I said: ‘Yes.’ He then said: ‘You are playing tomorrow.’ And I was like wow.’
“I felt quite calm, to be honest. All the older lads were telling me to be calm and stuff and said just play how you do in the under-21s.
“I didn’t tell my mum until late on Sunday and she was buzzing.
“She wanted to tell everybody, but I told her not to.”
Redfearn’s decision to hand Phillips a big vote of faith by throwing him in from the start at Molineux in front of the Sky cameras and not hand him an observation post from the bench before being brought in spoke volumes about his trust in the teenager, who turned 19 in December.
Blessed with an impressive physique and sound technical skills, Phillips – skipper of the academy side – wasn’t a passenger either on the pitch, just ask experienced Wanderers midfielder Kevin McDonald, dumped on the deck by an uncompromising but fair challenge by the young whipper-snapper.
Phillips, whose matter-of-fact sentiments were the sort uttered by David Batty when he was first starting out, said: “I was not really fussed about it, to be honest. I spoke to him after the game and he said it was a great tackle. I just caught him afterwards.”
Offering his verdict on his debut, he added: “I thought it went alright. I could have kept the ball a little bit better, but I was getting cramp towards the end of the game. I was surprised not to be subbed to be honest. I was knackered!
“But I thought I did quite good. I could hear the fans every single minute.”
The gloss on his debut would have provided by way of a positive result, although Phillips and Leeds played a full part after hitting back from 3-1 down to draw level before a late strike from David Edwards secured the relieved high-flying hosts the spoils in a dramatic 4-3 win.
Phillips added: “We started to play better football when we were 3-1 down and then we were obviously gutted in the last few minutes.
“It was very difficult to take on my debut, but it’s a game I will remember.
“He (Redfearn) said he thought we all played brilliantly.
“At the end of the first half, he was a bit unhappy with the way their goals went in, but he said we showed a lot of courage and strength to come back at 3-1 down to get it back to three-all.
“We were just a bit gutted with the last goal.”
Regardless of the late twist in the tale, Redfearn and all Leeds fans present or watching proceedings unfold live on television were entitled to take pride in a spirited showing.
Especially given the fact that Wolves headed into the game on the back of three successive wins and an eye-catching sequence of one defeat in their previous nine matches which is increasingly marking them out as a real form horse in the promotion stakes.
And in terms of Phillips’ input, Redfearn felt his decision to start him was thoroughly vindicated.
He enthused: “Kalvin had a great game, to say it was his debut. I thought it was a great debut.
“Kalvin’s been ready for a while. It wasn’t if, it was when.
“Why not today? He’s playing in front of a good crowd, on the telly.
“He can show people what he’s about and I thought he did.”