New goals for Kalvin Phillips as England chase Euro 2020 glory

Sunday was the day most of England woke up to what Leeds United fans could have told them years ago – that in Kalvin Phillips the Three Lions have a serious talent on their hands.

Even if UEFA picked goalscorer Raheem Sterling as their “star of the match” really it was the man who created the chance, Phillips, who was the best player on the pitch, setting the tone for the game with a tigerish midfield performance high on quality.

Neil Redfearn the manager who gave Phillips his Leeds debut playing in the more advanced role he was so successful in against Croatia, is confident the “calmness” the 25-year-old shows on the pitch will ensure he is not weighed down by the expectations he raised at Wembley.

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And Redfearn and Whites legend Eddie Gray both think there is more to come from Phillips in an international shirt, particularly when it comes to goalscoring.

England's Kalvin Phillips. (Picture: Glyn Kirk/Pool Photo via AP)
England's Kalvin Phillips. (Picture: Glyn Kirk/Pool Photo via AP)

“He’s got fantastic technical ability, an unbelievable range of passing and under (Leeds coach Marcelo) Bielsa he’s really blossomed tactically, that’s helped him ten-fold, but for me his strongest asset is how he is as a person, how he deals with things and takes them in his stride,” comments Redfearn, who was an academy coach at Thorp Arch and had three spells in charge of the first team in 2012, 2013 and permanently in 2014-15. The way he gave an opportunity to young players like Phillips, Alex Mowatt, Sam Byram, Lewis Cook, Charlie Taylor and others is still something which gives him great pride.

“He always has that calmness and assurance about himself,” says Redfearn of the young Phillips. “Nothing seems to fluster him.

“Once you’re thrust into the limelight in such a big way and perform at such a level everybody wants to know you but Kalvin’s so level-headed he’ll take that in his stride.”

With only eight caps and no tournament football at kick-off on Sunday, Phillips admitted to being nervous at the start but not for long, and 94 per cent of the time he passed the ball, it went to a white shirt.

Sheffield United Women manager Neil Redfearn. Picture: Darren Staples/Sportimage

“I think after two minutes, the first touch of the ball, the nerves went and I settled into the game,” he said.

“Whenever I get on the ball I just think, ‘Don’t give it away.’

“I always knew I had room to find the pass and get into a position where I can hurt defences.”

It was Bielsa who transformed Phillips’s game, converting him to play the pivotal holding role in his 4-1-4-1 formation, or occasionally in a back three. In his first three seasons as a first-teamer he had mainly been used to link the team’s defensive and attacking units, which is how manager Gareth Southgate has tended to utilise him.

England's Kalvin Phillips in action against Croatia on Sunday at Wembley.

“Leeds try and overload all the way through the thirds and it’s perfect for Kalvin because he drops between the centre-backs, who split, and he can play out,” argues Redfearn, now manager of Sheffield United ladies.

“England in that particular game saw him as more box-to-box because he’s got a real creative side to him. His passing range is unbelievable, we see week in, week out his vision.

“It’s true testament that he can play both roles at elite level comfortably.”

The Leeds version of the man dubbed “the Yorkshire Pirlo” seldom gets into goalscoring positions and has not scored in open play since October 2019, but Redfearn and Gray both believe it can be a different story given the greater freedom Southgate offers him.

“I think he’s capable of scoring goals,” says Redfearn, who made his name as a player finding the net from midfield for many Yorkshire clubs up and down the football pyramid. “When he played for the Under-23s for me he was a creative midfielder who could score goals. He’s a good athlete and really calm in tight situations, he makes good decisions.”

Gray added: “He’s a good striker of the ball. We saw that with the volley he hit in the first half (against Croatia), he timed it very well. I always thought with Kalvin that he would mature into a better player if he gets forward.

“He’s got the energy to get up and down the field. People talk about defensive midfield players – midfield players play box-to-box, that’s the name of the game.”

Intelligent, adaptable, calm – they say football teams often reflect their managers and Phillips has many of the best qualities Southgate had as a player, with an extra level of technical ability.

Redfearn is a big fan of Southgate too, having first got to know the centre-back when they were both at Crystal Palace in the late 1980s.

“Some of the decisions before the game raised a few eyebrows but he’s got the strength of his convictions,” he said.

“Gareth was an apprentice when I was playing at Palace. He had a fantastic career as a player but was really down to earth as a person.

“He comes across as a nice guy but there’s some real determination and strength of character there. He’s doing a fantastic job.”

In Phillips he seems to have found a kindred spirit.