'What am I even doing here?' - Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips on England introduction, Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham goosebumps
There was a moment, albeit a fleeting one, when Leeds United’s Kalvin Phillips questioned what on earth he was doing in an England squad.
This was before he had stepped foot in the Premier League, at a time when the greatest source of discomfort and fear at club training sessions, besides murderball, was getting nutmegged by Pablo Hernandez.
It’s not that Phillips wasn’t surrounded by good players at Leeds, before making the leap to international level, but he was at home there, accustomed and acclimatised to the standards, knowing more or less what each player could and would do with the ball. Training with England and the best players the country has to offer, players he had no prior relationship with, was always going to feel different.
“For me, the first time I came in I didn’t really know anybody until Jack [Grealish] got called in a few days later,” Phillips told the official England podcast.
“I had to go out of my way to speak to people and get to know them. The first people to come up to me to say hello were Kieran Trippier and Eric Dier. I was gobsmacked; I thought people would keep themselves to themselves but it’s totally different at England. There’s a very good feeling about it, everyone asks how you are, how your family are, the coaching staff as well. It’s nice to be involved with a team like this.
“I’m quite a quiet person when I don’t know anyone. As I’ve come to different camps I’ve got closer to almost everyone. Having Ben [White] coming in as well it’s been nice to have someone who I’ve known for quite a while. The first time I went into training we were doing a possession and, at Leeds, we never do possession stuff, small sided games. I was literally just stood in the middle in awe of what I was seeing, the tempo, how good certain people were, it was scary to be honest.
“At first I was thinking what am I even doing here, why am I here? Once you settle down, you relax a bit and get in the swing of things and realise you’re here because you deserve it.”
Phillips, who can now confidently say he belongs in the England camp with eight caps to his name and a body of work in the top flight that proved beyond doubt he can handle himself against the best, is just two days away from the opening group game of a European Championships. England take on Croatia on Sunday, when major tournament fever will set in all over the country. For the Leeds midfielder, who watched the World Cup in 2018 as an avid fan, this must be a surreal time.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “A good friend texted me the other day and said I still can’t believe you’re actually going to the Euros, we were sat at your house watching Harry Kane score that penalty against Panama. When it gets to the tournament that’s when I’ll realise I’m involved now, I’m on the big stage. Hopefully I’m ready for it as well. “Until it’s here and right there in front of my face I don’t think it’ll faze me.”
Most of the worry over a shoulder injury sustained in the final seconds of the very last game of the season, dissipated when Phillips’ name was among Gareth Southgate’s provisional squad. Any lingering doubts vanished with the confirmation of the final squad. Phillips feels good, not only about his own fitness and preparedness for the tournament, but about the players around him, some of whom have been there and done it, some of whom are experiencing it all for the first time but at a much younger age than the Leeds man.
“You’ve got Harry Kane, Jordan Henderson, Harry Maguire, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Kieran Trippier, having them about makes it easier for the young lads and me when I first came in,” he said. “They make you feel right at home straight away. The first time I came, Jadon Sancho was unbelievable, dribbling past people, he’s got amazing skill, very good technique. There’s [Marcus] Rashford, Grealish, [Buakyo] Sako, [Jude] Bellingham as well for a 17-year-old kid is absolutely unbelievable. I know for a fact he’ll turn into a really, really good player.
“It gives me goosebumps thinking how old he is. He’s made it to a Euros squad, he’s a really, really good player. You’ve seen him in the Champions League against Manchester City and Sevilla, against Austria he was really good. It’s scary to see him doing so well at such a young age. I hope he can keep it up and do his country proud.”
Phillips is yet to play a competitive fixture for his country in front of England fans so the prospect of any involvement in Sunday’s Wembley clash with Croatia is a tantalising one. That moment, if it comes, and the feelings it will give the 25-year-old, will not be fleeting.
“It’s really exciting,” he said.
“Playing a game with England fans there, just listening to the atmosphere. When we watched the [Austria] game, I was sat in the stands, I was getting goosebumps thinking about how it would feel to be on the pitch, how it felt for Sako and Bellingham, I can’t wait to feel that as well.”