There is every chance Kalvin Phillips will leave boyhood club Leeds for Manchester City this summer. Leeds fans will disagree, but it’s a move we’d love to see…
A persistent bugbear is football pundits who spend their entire lives doing two things: 1) bemoaning the fact that it’s always the same old teams challenging for titles and 2) demanding that all good players be immediately signed by said same old teams because they’re clearly far too good to be wasting their time with clubs that don’t win anything.
It’s incredibly annoying and also fuels the idea that winning big shiny pots at Manchester City or Liverpool is the only thing of value in a playing career, that nothing else has any intrinsic worth.
That said, and expecting absolutely no sympathy from Leeds fans for having acknowledged the hypocrisy, we’d really quite like Kalvin Phillips to join Manchester City this summer please.
Mainly, we’re thinking with our England hat on here. Phillips was far from alone in being pretty sh*t in an international break that was deeply concerning for England even allowing for all the obvious caveats about four unwanted games against decent opposition crammed in at the end of an exhausting season. But Phillips was arguably the most conspicuously and dramatically poor performer, standing out in a crowded field.
And with Gareth Southgate in charge, England can’t really afford for Phillips to be struggling. Jude Bellingham is a ridiculous talent but he is also still ridiculously young; a starting role in a uniquely challenging mid-season World Cup is asking a lot. It’s asking a lot of anyone to be playing every minute of every game at the World Cup, which is one genuine takeaway from the Nations League fiasco this month.
While there are additional mitigating factors in Phillips’ case after an injury-ravaged season, those work two ways as well. He played a full part in the final six games of Leeds’ Premier League season after a hamstring injury had kept him out since December. In many ways he should have been one player approaching the sweet spot of match-sharp on the back of regular action without having been exhausted by a long season.
Yet there he was, the worst of England’s regular outfielders in a fortnight where most of them were crap to a greater or lesser degree.
Leeds will hope that next season is less bleak than last, but it’s also reasonable to assume that at best it won’t be the same as their carefree, joyous first season back in the top flight. Jesse Marsch never fully convinced despite keeping Leeds up and will start the season near the top of the sack race market with your Hasenhuttls and your Lampards.
It would no doubt be a huge wrench for Phillips to leave his boyhood club, but the appeal of City is obvious. There would be no great uprooting of family in moving to a club less than an hour down the M62 on a good day, while the benefits for a defensive midfielder of working under Pep Guardiola are clear.
If Phillips never won a single pot or pan at City – and that seems vanishingly unlikely – it is almost impossible to imagine it wouldn’t be a move that makes him a better player.
Even the one glaring argument against the move is, right now, arguably the opposite. Game time. Will Phillips play in a team that deploys only one defensive midfielder and in Rodri possesses one of the world’s very best?
It’s a logical concern, but has an obvious flipside – the chance to train with and learn from Rodri as well as one of the world’s very best managers. And we already know that next season’s ludicrous Qatar-ruined schedule is going to place unprecedented demands on squads, especially those expected to challenge on four fronts.
Phillips would, at worst, take the place in the squad vacated by Fernandinho. At 36 and in visible decline (albeit from a very, very high mark) he still made 33 appearances for Guardiola’s side last season and appeared in half their Premier League games. And next season will place more, not fewer, demands on squad depth.
If Phillips doesn’t get significant game time at City then it will not be through lack of opportunity. It will mean that something has gone badly wrong. There really is no reason why that should be the case. Phillips has thrived with every step up in his career to date, and this next one looks the logical one for both himself and for England.