A LITTLE under a year ago, Kalvin Phillips suffered the indignity of being substituted by Marcelo Bielsa before half-time.
It happened again to the Leeds United midfielder just a month later. This time he lasted 34 minutes at home to Birmingham City as opposed to the 28 minutes the Academy graduate had been afforded in that August 21 trip to Swansea City.
If Phillips felt slighted by the double substitution at the hands of Bielsa, he did not dwell on it. By the season’s end, the 23-year-old was attracting serious interest from the Premier League after a stellar year in the United midfield.
Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotpsur both rate Phillips highly. So, too, does Bielsa and not just because of how impressively he performed for the Yorkshire club last term.
Instead, the United head coach also believes Phillips has displayed huge maturity this summer in remaining focused amid all the speculation of a big money move to the top flight.
“Kalvin has been an example for everyone,” said Bielsa ahead of tomorrow’s opening day trip to Bristol City. “In the context of (there being) a lot of speculation, which is not good, Kalvin is showing us that you can be a big player, a good player and at the same time respect the values. That is very difficult to find.
If you are thinking to be a professional player, finally the money will come to you. Kalvin deserves the last part of the sentence. To understand that God will give you a present and in the first moment he will kill you.Marcelo Bielsa
“He deserves all the good things in the personal life because he teaches us how you can live professional life in football without forgetting about yourself, but keeping the behaviour in the right way. I can understand that the future will give him the things that he deserves, in all the levels that we are talking.
“Personal and professional. He deserves all of the good things.”
Whether Phillips is still at Elland Road when the transfer window closes on Thursday remains to be seen.
But there can be little doubt how he has grown as a player under Bielsa. The lynchpin in the 4-1-4-1 formation that made Leeds favourites for automatic promotion only to be reeled in by Sheffield United, Phillips made things tick.
What seems to have equally pleased Bielsa is how the midfielder’s character has also grown sufficiently not to have affected in any way by talk of Villa’s interest.
“There is a sentence that says if you think in money you will never be a professional player,” added the former Argentina and Chile national team coach.
“If you are thinking to be a professional player, finally the money will come to you. Kalvin deserves the last part of the sentence. To understand that God will give you a present and in the first moment he will kill you.”
On whether Phillips is likely to go or stay with Thursday’s deadline looming, Bielsa added: “I am proud if he stays here, I chose him in the 18 players that are included in the squad (to face Bristol City), but I can’t decide if that is here or if he has to leave.”
United supporters are desperate for Phillips to remain at his hometown club. Not least because this summer has already seen Pontus Jansson and Bailey Peacock-Farrell leave, the latter yesterday joining Burnley.
Kemar Roofe is also expected to depart after Vincent Kompany made it clear he wants the striker at Anderlecht. Talks were continuing last night over a possible £7m transfer for someone who is already into the final year of his contract at Elland Road.
On the plus side for United, Helder Costa should be an excellent addition on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers. Jack Harrison is also back at Elland Road for a second loan spell from Manchester City, while Jack Clarke returned north for the campaign just hours after joining Tottenham Hotspur for £10m.
Ben White, the Brighton & Hove Albion defender, is the other new face after joining on loan as Leeds look to go one better than last term.
“Let’s hope there’s going to be no play-offs this year,” said midfielder Mateusz Klich when asked about United’s prospects after another gruelling pre-season under Bielsa.
“Last season we didn’t know what to expect (with regards pre-season). This year was easier, we knew we were going to run a lot and do a lot in the gym.
“Hopefully, we will be ready for the season like last year – when we started really well. We want to do the same again. It is basically the same team as last season. That has made it easier for us to train, to do the things he (Bielsa) expects us to do because we know already what to do and how to do it.
“I think that is the big improvement, because we didn’t need much time. Last season we needed time to learn his way. This season it was quick in pre-season and very similar.”
The proof of Klich’s words will, of course, come via results. A trip to Ashton Gate represents a tough opening weekend assignment, not least because Lee Johnson’s team are expected to be among those challenging for promotion.
Leeds, though, do have an excellent record at the home of the Robins with five victories from seven visits since being promoted under Simon Grayson in 2010. And Klich sees Bielsa as key to not only tomorrow but also the season as a whole.
“He had a big impact on us all,” added the Polish international. “I think 95 per cent of players had the best season of their lives and he improved every one of us.
“Basically the same team two seasons ago was a mid table team and last season we nearly got the Premier League. There is nothing more to say, he improved the whole team.”
As for the Robins, Klich added: “I know Bristol talked last season about playing us in the play-offs but they had one shot on target in games against us.
“So let’s hope they are going to have the same amount of shots this season and we are going to win because we are going there for a win and for three points.”