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Is Kalvin Phillips destined to be just another EPL talent lost in the 'big club' machine?

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Roar Rookie
21st February, 2024
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Football is about playing for the best teams, alongside the best players in the best competitions in the world. Often we see players shine at clubs that are, in reality, below their level. Nine times out of ten, this results in them moving to a better team.

Recent examples of this include James Maddison moving from Leicester City to Tottenham Hotspur, Declan Rice moving from West Ham United to Arsenal and Jude Bellingham moving from Borussia Dortmund to Real Madrid.

For all three of these England international midfielders, the moves have proven to be excellent decisions. But there is another highly talented Three Lions midfielder who is now at a crossroads as a result of a transfer in 2022.

When Kalvin Phillips left his boyhood club Leeds United for the best team in England in Manchester City, it seemed like the right move to establish himself as one of the best midfielders in the Premier League.

Ilkay Guendogan of Manchester City lifts the FA Cup Trophy after the team's victory during the Emirates FA Cup Final between Manchester City and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium on June 03, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Justin Setterfield - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

Manchester City lifts the 2023 FA Cup Trophy. (Photo by Justin Setterfield – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

The midfielder was coming off the back of a few great seasons with Leeds, helping them return to the top flight for the first time in 16 years. City thought they were getting someone who could genuinely provide stern competition for Rodri. On the back of winning the England player of the year after his performances at EURO 2020, Phillips must’ve been relishing the opportunity to play alongside the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and inevitably winning trophies.

Fast forward 12 months and Kalvin Phillips had an FA Cup, Premier League and Champions League winners medal in his trophy cabinet. But the sad reality is he contributed next to nothing to what was a historic treble winning campaign for the blue side of Manchester.

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Injuries certainly played their part, but the reality is manager Pep Guardiola didn’t rate Phillips anywhere near as highly as Rodri, which isn’t a surprise. What is more damning is how little time Phillips was given on the pitch. Guardiola is known for regularly rotating his teams, especially during a season when so many games are being played.

After returning from the 2022 Qatar World Cup Guardiola said Phillips wouldn’t be available to train with the squad due to being “overweight”. The Spaniard did however go on to say of Phillips that “We need him. We need him a lot.” Ultimately that wasn’t the case. Phillips started two league games in the whole season and as harsh as it is to say, shouldn’t really lay much claim to the trophies Man City won during the campaign.

There was little hope Phillips would get an opportunity this season but any chance he would begin to play more games were put to bed in December when Guardiola admitted that he couldn’t see a place in the starting eleven for Phillips – noting he was “so sorry” he was unable to see a world where he could visualise the 28 year old fitting into his team. Guardiola has also in the last few days apologised to Phillips for the comments he made about him being overweight.

Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice

Kalvin Phillips (with Declan Rice) was one of England’s stars at the Euro 2020 tournament. (Photo by Carl Recine – Pool/Getty Images)

After being heavily linked with a loan move to Juventus, Phillips eventually joined West Ham United on loan in the January transfer window for the remainder of the season.

During his time under Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds it would’ve been easy to see Phillips as someone who would massively improve the Hammers side, in what would likely have been a central midfield partnership with Declan Rice. But thus far, the loan move has been a disaster.

Lack of game time is evident in Phillips, with the England international putting in several poor performances capped off by a red card at the City Ground on Saturday. While he will probably still be on the plane to Germany for the Euros in the summer, it is hard to imagine him getting much time on the field when there are many players in his position performing to such a high level.

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West Ham manager David Moyes has come under pressure lately and would’ve been hoping Phillips could help him put a string of wins together. The Scotsman appeared to have lost some faith in Phillips after just one start, as he gave away a goal in the first few minutes of his Irons debut against Bournemouth.

Kalvin Phillips is on loan to West Ham United from Manchester City. (Photo by Rob Newell – CameraSport via Getty Images)

Phillips, who is in desperate need of consistent game time, was on the bench for the next game against Manchester United. Phillips came on late in the game, and again came off the bench in the 6-0 defeat against Arsenal. Unable to solidify a place in the starting line up for West Ham, it is difficult to see how Phillips will return to the once brilliant midfielder he was during his time at Leeds United. Euro 2020 feels like a distant memory and with the emergence of so much central midfield talent, it is unlikely Phillips will get a real run in the England team at another major tournament.

The move from Leeds to Manchester was one full of promise but has unfortunately hampered his development and led to him struggling to regain form. Big transfers are what players at smaller teams hope for and they often work out well. For some, like Andy Carroll and Danny Drinkwater, a move to a bigger club can be detrimental to their career. Sometimes a certain style of play suits players better and when they move to a better team, the system is one that they aren’t able to fit into.

While more game time could see him get sharper, it does appear that Kalvin Phillips is another one who might have been better off staying at the team he was playing his best football at.

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