Since Leeds United were last in the Premier League my interest in the England team has waned. As Leeds tumbled down the football pyramid, the Premier League became a different beast, with larger sums of money being spent on players from all across the globe. It became very difficult to compare an England player to a Leeds player. As Leeds got promoted from League 1, Wayne Rooney was complaining about fans in South Africa booing the England team after a 0-0 draw with Algeria. The game was gone.
Flash forward 10 years and it’s all change. A new generation of England players, a new found sense of pride and, for the first time since 2004, a Leeds United player in the England squad. After two fantastic seasons playing under Marcelo Bielsa and helping Leeds win the Championship, Kalvin Phillips made his England debut against Denmark.
Sure, plenty of players have left Leeds and gone on to play for England, and whilst we always wanted players like James Milner, Fabian Delph, Aaron Lennon and Lewis Cook to do well, this is different. Not only is Kalvin representing the city of Leeds, he’s representing Leeds United.
Leeds have an excellent record of producing homegrown talent. Whilst those listed above left and moved on to bigger things, there was a time when Leeds players were called up for England duty on a regular basis. Players like David Batty, Alan Smith and Paul Robinson all graduated from Thorp Arch, playing for Leeds and England simultaneously. I can still remember when Leeds had five players in the England under 21s, with Smith and Robinson being joined by Danny Mills, Lee Bowyer and Michael Bridges. It filled you with pride to see these players not only pulling on the white shirt for Leeds, but also wearing the three lions.
In recent years, Leeds have turned around the fortunes of the under 18s and 23s, seeing them play in a similar style to the first team and challenging for silverware at youth level. Not only with England, Leeds have seen a rise in the number of players representing their countries at youth level. Jamie Shackleton and Nohan Kenneh have both featured for England while Alfie McCalmont has made his senior debut for Northern Ireland.
| Congrats to Alfie McCalmont who made his senior debut for Northern Ireland in tonight’s 1-0 win over Luxembourg pic.twitter.com/2zcDB0Y50N— Leeds United (@LUFC) September 5, 2019
It’s been great to see the quality of player that Leeds have been able to attract this summer. It hasn’t been since early 2000s that Leeds have signed international players. Back then we had players represent all corners of the globe, Lucas Radebe with South Africa, Mark Viduka with Australia, Olivier Dacourt with France. However, there’s something different about seeing a homegrown player in a side with the best that the country has to offer.
Watching the rise of Kalvin Phillips from a fringe player under a variety of managers to the lynch-pin in Bielsa’s team has been nothing short of unbelievable. We all get behind a local lad that little bit more but I doubt many of us saw his meteoric ascent happening quite so quickly.
Tonight we saw Kalvin Phillips make his England debut before even kicking a ball in the Premier League. Whilst it wasn’t the most impressive England performance, Phillips didn’t look out of place. It would be great to see him playing that holding role on his own instead of being pair with Declan Rice, but it’s fantastic to see that Southgate has trust in to start at international level. With Southgate being a Yorkshire dweller these days we will hopefully be seeing him at Elland Road on a more regular basis.
Kalvin Phillips’ performance on debut was certainly good enough that you would expect to see him used again, even if it wasn’t one of his more spectacular days. Twitter was awash with Leeds fans talking about how proud they are of him, we at TIAT certainly are.