From Wortley to England via Leeds United - the inside story of how Kalvin Phillips was scouted
Kalvin Phillips has been handed his first call up for England by boss Gareth Southgate.
There is a lot to be said in the game of football for being in the right place at the right time.
Whether it is delaying a run into the box to meet a cross or a crunching last-ditch tackle to deny a goalscoring opportunity for the opposition.
Leeds United’s Kalvin Phillips is a player who feeds more into the latter, having been appointed Marcelo Bielsa’s defensive midfield general over the past two seasons at Elland Road.
‘The Yorkshire Pirlo’, as he is affectionately known is LS11, has been tasked with protecting and patrolling the Whites’ backline in their pursuit of Premier League football.
Phillips ‘came of age’ when the Argentine arrived in West Yorkshire and, two years on, has realised a boyhood dream with his hometown club after earning promotion to the top flight last month.
The 24-year-old has been with United since joining the academy in 2010 but, before that, he ‘learned his trade’ with Wortley Juniors in West Leeds as a boy.
Phillips was a player who attracted plenty of attention as a youngster – as a trial with Huddersfield Town will attest – yet many who came and went failed to gamble on his abilities.
“We used to have a number of clubs ringing us up asking where we were playing that weekend,” Ian Thackray, Phillips’ former coach at Wortley Juniors, told the YEP.
“Bradford City must be kicking themselves because they watched him three or four times. They didn’t seem to be interested because he wasn’t quick.
“That seemed to be the thing. If they couldn’t run like the wind then they weren’t interested. I used to tell them that if they came back the following day he’d still be there running around because he was like the Duracell bunny.
“A lot of the other clubs we used to play were amazed at how nobody had taken him. Newcastle, Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Huddersfield all came – Bradford were there three or four times.
“Leeds even watched him as a 10 or 11-year-old but he just didn’t seem to fit what they wanted.”
It is down to chance that he ended up with United at all – but football is a game of fine margins and all about taking your chance when it comes. Phillips was exactly where he needed to be when the opportunity arose and hasn’t looked back since.
The story of how he was scouted, however, is typical of the player many know and love on the terraces at Elland Road.
“He’d been away on holiday,” Thackray recalled.
“His family were coming home on the day we started a two-day tournament but Kalvin turned up to watch anyway.
“We’d had a couple of injuries and I’d borrowed a couple of lads from the second team but we were struggling.
“He turned up to support and he’d actually already told me he was leaving Wortley to join Farlsey Celtic because they tended to win loads of things and no-one else had taken him.
“All the lads wanted him to play and one even gave him his kit because we were struggling to get through so I relented and put him on.
“A Leeds scout was wandering up the touchline at the time and he asked if there was anything worth looking at and I sort of just shook my head dismissing him.
“Kalvin tackled this young kid right in front of this scout – he ‘did a Kalvin’. You know that tackle that gets him sent off! He did one of those but he did it right.
“The lad went flying up in the air and the ball rolled away and Kalvin sort of dragged it back while he was on the floor. He pushed it behind him and hit a ball with his right foot out to the opposite wing and we were on the attack.
“The scout just looked at him, then me and wandered off a bit bemused I think. I got a phone call a week later asking for his details and the rest, as they say, is history.
“In any walk of life you have to be in the right place at the right time.
“If Kalvin hadn’t have turned up after his holiday he might’ve never signed for Leeds.
“He might’ve ended up somewhere horrible like Huddersfield! We couldn’t have had that at Wortley.”