Still somewhat of a newbie to the international stage, having only made his England debut last September and featured at just one major tournament, many were surprised to see Kalvin Phillips named the England Men’s Player of the Year, especially after Raheem Sterling’s goalscoring heroics majorly helped the Three Lions reached the final of Euro 2020 at Wembley Stadium this summer, yet the Manchester City winger was consigned to third behind Chelsea’s Mason Mount.
However, the decision to award Phillips, who has already gained 15 international caps in the course of the last 12 months, with the accolade is far from unjust. Often, the work of defensive midfielders can fly under the radar, but Declan Rice and ‘The Yorkshire Pirlo’, as the 25-year-old is known by the affectionate Leeds United fans, were pivotal for Gareth Southgate this summer, and their new-formed, solid partnership in the middle of the park has definitely helped make England become more favourable in the football odds.
Phillips’ meteoric rise from the Championship to an England international has left many in awe, and his stock and popularity have grown massively over the course of the last year, whilst his love and commitment towards Leeds, whom he has played for since he was eight years of age, is admirable in this day and age, especially as he has had opportunities to leave in the past and turned them down. He could be one of the last one-club men in the English game.
That, however, is not the reason that the 25-year-old was named England Men’s Player of the Year, of course. His stats from the recent European Championships speak for themselves really. Phillips featured in all seven of England’s games, playing the full 120 minutes in both the semi-final victory over Denmark and the final defeat to Italy, racking up a mammoth total of 665 minutes — John Stones was the only England outfielder to gain more minutes (679).
In those seven appearances, Phillips covered a huge 82.8km, the second-highest distance travelled in the entire tournament, with only Italy’s Jorginho, the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year, covering more ground (86.4km). Defensively, Phillips made nine successful tackles, which was the joint-most challenges pulled off alongside Stefan Lainer of Austria, whilst he made an impressive 32 ball recoveries throughout the course of the tournament, which was only bettered by three of his teammates — Kyle Walker (40), Harry Maguire (34) and Stones (33), who are all defenders.
In terms of distribution, Phillips ended the tournament with 301 completed passes, the fourth highest tally in the England squad, alongside Rice, and a passing accuracy of 87% — stats that the great Pirlo himself would have been proud of.
Even as a penalty shootout ruined England’s hopes and dreams again, with Italy winning the final from the spot, Phillips received plaudits for his leadership ability. The 25-year-old was the first player to console the young Bukayo Saka after his decisive miss from 12 yards, and how quick the midfielders was to comfort the Arsenal winger didn’t go unnoticed in the midst of the manic Italian celebrations.
Shy and humble off the pitch, Phillips was taken aback when Rice presented him with the award at England’s St George’s Park training facilities. “I actually thought he [Rice] was playing a joke on me to be fair,” Phillips said. “He walked over with a big smile on his face with something behind his back. I thought he had one of those pies you smash into people’s faces!
“I remember the debut a year ago and to be honest I was really nervous because it was the first time I’d been anywhere like this (St George’s Park), I’d never been to any youth set-ups or anything, I didn’t know anybody.
“I came to the training ground and was nervous to speak to anyone but I think after a few days after speaking to everyone and the coaching staff it just felt like being at Leeds, being at home. They made it very homely. All the lads were good and I think that’s one of the major reasons why I’ve done well over the year.”
Phillips is a deserved winner of the personal accolade, and his name will now be added to the roll of honour alongside the likes of David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane. If he can continue to perform to the same standards for England, then they will certainly go far at the World Cup in Qatar next year, a tournament many are already backing them to do well in in the football betting tips.