Kalvin Phillips wasn’t meant to be the one at Leeds.
Phillips is nowhere to be seen in that famous image of Lewis Cook, Sam Byram and Charlie Taylor celebrating Alex Mowatt’s winner against Millwall in February 2015.
The quartet gave us something to cling to while Leeds somehow seemed further away from the Premier League than in the League One days.
They were the ones who could take us home. If one of Massimo Cellino’s head coaches could successfully build a team around them, Leeds had something seriously exciting around the corner.
Leeds, of course, are now a Premier League side once again. But, quite remarkably, not one of Mowatt, Cook, Byram or Taylor played a single top-flight minute for the Whites.
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Phillips meanwhile, would not make his debut until a few months after that Millwall game. But in truth, it was another three years before the midfielder’s career was transformed.
Phillips struggled for some time to showcase what player he could be.
Mowatt and Cook had gone by the 2017/18 season. Phillips would score seven league goals that year. Only two Leeds players managed more. And yet, the one midfielder Leeds fans were excited about was not the Englishman, but rather Ronaldo Vieira.
There was huge disappointment when Vieira was sold in Marcelo Bielsa’s first summer.
Obviously, he was someone who could attract a considerable fee. But had Leeds fans had the choice, most probably would not have hesitated to move Phillips on instead of Vieira.
Ultimately however, Bielsa’s plan for Phillips transformed his career. He became the best holding midfielder in the Championship in no time.
And in the following years, he would become one of the best midfielders in the country.
‘The best’: Kalvin Phillips leaving Leeds
Promotion, a top-half finish in the Premier League, a prominent role in England’s run to the Euro 2020 final all came. Phillips was named England’s Player of the Year for 2021.
Leeds fans have known how important Phillips has been to our fortunes. And yet, there was still a sense that you fully realised how significant his presence was when he was absent.
Unfortunately, Phillips’ absence is midfield is something we now need to get used to. He is Manchester City-bound.
Arguments can be had about the fee. And there will be apprehension about who will be signed to replace Phillips.
But for now, we can feel an incredible sense of pride that Phillips is heading to the best team, perhaps in the world. He is going to work with the best coach. And hopefully, he is a huge success at the Etihad Stadium.
As Tony Dorigo brilliantly said this week, Phillips has conducted himself with nothing but class. And he leaves with most fans’ blessing.
After years of watching our best players leave because we were not competitive in the Championship, we have the vultures circling again.
But that is now because the world’s best want some of our players.
It is fitting therefore, that Phillips is looking set to be the first to move on in this era – because no single player has done more to get us here.
So, thank you for everything, Kalvin. You proved those of us who gave you little chance of making it at Leeds so, so wrong.
And anyone doubting you being a success at Manchester City should prepare themselves to make the same admission in the years to come.
As a wise man once said: ‘The best, Kalvin, the best’.