Euro 2020 EFL graduates: Phillips takes leading role for England

The Leeds midfielder has enjoyed a meteoric rise from relative unknown to Premier League promotion hero who’s earned his place on the international stage, writes Holly Hunt.

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It’s safe to say that a large proportion of England supporters were dubious about Gareth Southgate starting Leeds-born Kalvin Phillips against Croatia in the Three Lions’ opening Euro 2020 match.

The midfielder silenced his critics when he put in a Man of the Match-worthy shift, guiding England to their first opening-day victory in the continental competition.

Lining up alongside Declan Rice, Phillips was pivotal to Southgate’s set-up, and had a hand in team-mate Raheem Sterling’s winner.

Phillips, who was without a Premier League appearance when he was first called up to the Three Lions squad in September 2020, skipped past two red and white checked shirts before feeding an inch-perfect pass to Sterling, who slotted the ball beyond Dominik Livakovic.

It might come as a surprise – if you aren’t a Leeds supporter – that Phillips was somewhat of a stranger to the national team when he was first involved in Southgate’s side, having never represented England at youth level beforehand he’s somewhat of a hidden gem.

Described as “understated” by manager Southgate in the wake of England’s slender victory, Phillips’ meteoric rise through the ranks at Leeds, and the EFL, has been well documented – quite literally – of late.

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When Phillips was born in December 1995, Leeds were flying high in the Premier League but by the time he was first picked up by the Whites from local non-league side Wortley, the club had dropped back into the depths of League One.

It wasn’t until some five years later that he would make his senior debut for his hometown team. Former youth boss Neil Redfearn handed Phillips his first home start in April 2015, and the Whites starlet marked the occasion with a goal against Cardiff City.

However, a casualty of Leeds’ rotating door, despite a positive display, he made just 10 appearances the following season under manager Uwe Rosler, followed by Steve Evans.

But his potential came to the forefront once again under Garry Monk before being transformed by Marcelo Bielsa – the latter being forced to fend off multi-million pound bids from Premier League suitors to keep a hold of his man.

Despite being lost to injury shortly before Leeds’ 2019/20 season drew to a conclusion, after the COVID-19 pandemic ground football to a halt, Phillips was a mainstay in the side that won promotion back to the Premier League.

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And although he played his part in ending Leeds’ 16-year stay in the EFL, Phillips hasn’t forgotten his roots as he picked up a number of end-of-season accolades, including a spot in the PFA’s Championship Team of the Season, which led to fans bestowing the moniker of the ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’ upon the 25-year-old.

But the midfielder has just one person he hopes to prove a point to after losing his Granny Val, who had a starring role in the Amazon Prime Leeds docu-series, prior to the tournament.

Following England’s victory, former footballer Ian Wright took to Twitter to say that Phillips’ late grandmother would be “watching down with the biggest smile” after her grandson pulled out all the stops on the biggest stage of them all.

Follow Holly on Twitter at @hollyhunt10

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