England called on Kalvin Phillips – and finally a whole nation found out what Leeds United fans had been saying all along.
Often underrated, written off or misunderstood by those who do not ardently follow Phillips’ fortunes with Marcelo Bielsa’s club side, the midfielder put in a virtuoso performance to help the Three Lions beat Croatia and secure an opening victory at Euro 2020.
If anyone was confused about why the phrase “Yorkshire Pirlo” was trending on Twitter during the game, the answer soon became apparent.
Leeds-born Phillips has been bestowed with the nickname – in reference to Italy legend and general football wizard Andrea Pirlo – by United fans, and lived up to the moniker with a commanding performance that included the key pass for Raheem Sterling’s decisive goal.
Facing the TV cameras after the game with a beaming smile, Phillips told BBC Sport: “It’s a great feeling to get an assist and a great feeling for the three points.
“I’m laid back – that’s the kind of person I am regardless of what is thrown at me. I just try and take it in my stride.”
Three Lions boss Southgate said: “Kalvin Phillips is a player who is so understated. He has had a fantastic start to his international career. I thought he was immense throughout the game – as they all were.
“Working with Marcelo Bielsa and having the season he has gave him confidence, but all the attributes were there. High performance, low maintenance – we like that a lot.”
An all-round midfield performance
Phillips had not yet made a Premier League appearance or featured in any of England’s youth teams when he was called up to the national team by Southgate in September 2020.
He made his debut in the goalless Nations League draw against Denmark on 4 September and appeared in the top flight for the first time four days later in promoted Leeds’ 4-3 defeat by Liverpool.
But it was his ninth cap, earned against Croatia on Sunday, that has really made people take notice, and ex-England striker Alan Shearer was full of praise.
“I thought Kalvin Phillips was man of the match for England today,” he said on BBC One. “He had a superb game from start to finish. He had an energy, a maturity, he had everything you want from a midfielder.
“He was up, he was down, the pass for the goal was superb, he was protecting that back four at times. Fantastic.”Usually deployed in a deep-lying role for Leeds, Phillips played further forward for England against Croatia and had more touches of the ball in the opposition half than his own
Phillips’ passing accuracy was an impressive 93.9%, misplacing just two of his 33 attempts, while he won the ball back seven times, the joint-most of any player on the pitch.
Of his 44 touches of the ball, 26 were in the opposition half, which is more than he is accustomed to in his deeper-lying role for Leeds.
Southgate said: “We know that we are asking him to play in a slightly advanced position than that he plays at his club.
“But he knows he has the technique to do that. He gives us a bit more solidity in midfield and allows us to effectively play four attacking players with Mason [Mount] in midfield as well.”
Former England midfielder Frank Lampard added on BBC One: “We see him week in, week out playing in a deep area. His game has really improved and he controls the game from the deep area.
“Now Gareth has asked the question of him today – can you play higher? Can you give us that energy? Can you give us that bit of brain that he brought into the team?
“I thought he did it brilliantly well. I’d say the balance of the midfield was spot on today.”Kalvin Phillips: Leeds United midfielder takes Ian Wright on tour of his football roots
‘What a talent’
With a mark of 8.38, Phillips’ scored highest in BBC Sport’s Player Rater. Here’s what some fans said:
Darren W: That’s why we call him the Yorkshire Pirlo.
Noel Fitzpatrick: With that run and assist from Phillips, I can picture Bielsa perched on his cooler with a big smile on his face.
Lewis Chapman: What a player Phillips is, he’ll be worth big big money by the end of this tournament.
Dean Plumley: Kalvin Phillips showing the whole world what a talent he is!