Kalvin Phillips – the ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’ – caps rise with recognition by Italian original
For the “Yorkshire Pirlo” a good luck message from the real thing, received as he sat in his hotel room on the eve of last summer’s European Championship final, was a timely reminder of the remarkable trajectory his career has taken.
Kalvin Phillips, an integral part of Gareth Southgate’s England side preparing for Monday’s World Cup qualifier in San Marino, had not even been in a national squad until the start of last season.
Now, with Phillips having been named England’s Men’s Player of the Year for the 2020-21 season, the country’s football supporters have finally recognised the quality which Leeds fans have known about for the best part of eight years and which led them to name him after Italian icon Andrea Pirlo.
Nor did Phillips’s qualities go unnoticed by the man himself, who used his former New York City team-mate Jack Harrison, now at Leeds, to pass on a message – a gesture all the more sincere and surprising given that Phillips was facing Italy at Wembley the following day.
“It’s always nice to get the recognition of some unbelievable players,” Phillips said. “The night before the final Jack Harrison, who used to play at New York with him, sent me a video from Pirlo. It was a video to me saying good luck in the final, so that was very nice.
“It was a very nice feeling and obviously I thought it was going to say something about Italy but no, he wished me well; full respect for that.
“I just got the video and I was like ‘oh my God’. I’ve never met him, I’d like to meet him. I’ve seen that he is a very cool guy, but I’ve heard he’s a nice guy as well. To have someone on the other side, on the other team, wish you well and especially a player like that, it is always a great feeling
“I was confident going into the final anyway because I knew that all I had to do was play my game and run as much as I could and I tried to do that.
“To get noticed by very good professionals and people who have done everything in their career, won World Cups and Champions Leagues it’s very special and something I’ll always remember.”
Separately, Pirlo has also spoken of his admiration for his “namesake” and openly admitted to seeing similarities between the Leeds man and his own playing style.
There could hardly be a more impressive reference and the anecdote neatly sums up 15 months in which Phillips has been transformed from local hero to international force of nature, a player routinely linked with potential transfers to the likes of Real Madrid or Liverpool.
“It’s been a good year. Obviously, I didn’t expect to be in an England shirt, never mind doing this well,” Phillips said. “I live in Leeds and they call me the ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’. I’m a big Leeds fan and I have a lot of people coming up to me for autographs and stuff.
“But now it happens when I travel somewhere else. I travelled to London a few weeks ago by train and there were people at the station asking for photographs.
“It was a bit strange. I used to be able to go under the radar – but not anymore. I don’t mind. It’s part of the job and it’s part of my success and the team’s success. It means I’m doing something right,” he added.
Phillips’s efforts in helping England reach the Euros final certainly enhanced his growing reputation and, as he remained on the Wembley field surveying the aftermath of the penalty shoot-out loss to the Italians, the 25-year-old took in the significance of the moment.
“I think I hung around quite a bit,” he said. “There was me, Ben White, a few other lads. I just wanted to see what it was like to win a major trophy.
“I wanted to see their reactions at winning it and the fans’ reactions as well. I think – no disrespect to Italy – but if England had won it, the celebrations would have been a lot better than theirs!
“I think for the first week or two it’s more hurtful and more painful to think about. But now, I still think about it, I think about what could have been if we’d won and I can remember a chance in the game when I had a volley on the edge of the box and obviously it’s fairy-tale stuff, but just think, imagine if that had gone in?
“But it wasn’t to be and it’s part of learning, part of being involved in these major tournaments and we want to go one better next time.”
In the meantime, Phillips is part of a Leeds team who have started to show their old tenacity in recent weeks, having endured an uncharacteristically lacklustre start to the season.
Their difficulties even prompted question marks, externally at least, about Marcelo Bielsa although Phillips’ admiration for, and loyalty to, his manager remains undiminished. So, too, does the relish with which the England midfielder recounts his favourite story that illustrates Bielsa’s unique approach to the game and life in general.
“He used to walk to the training ground from his old house in Wetherby. It’s probably a half-an-hour walk,” Phillips said. “It’s on a big, long country road. He likes to know how far he is walking.
And he’s not one for technology.
“He has a friend over from Chile. He’s called ‘Cachu’. So he had Cachu follow behind him, with one of those things that clicks every time you walk one metre, counting how many metres it was from his house to the training ground. That’s one of the maddest things he’s done.
“Even now he walks around the training ground. We had a 1,000-metre running track installed a few years ago. He does five or 10 laps every day around it.”