The ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’ is preparing to line up against Italy for a shot at immortality with England – a position Kalvin Phillips does not believe he would be in if it was not for the influence of his Granny Val.
The 25-year-old Leeds star had not played a minute of Premier League football when he earned his first senior call-up, putting in a solid debut display in the goalless Nations League draw with Denmark last September.
Phillips’ 14th cap came against the same opponents on Wednesday, when his remarkable rise continued as Gareth Southgate’s men sealed a semi-final victory and Sunday’s return to a rocking Wembley.
John Stones is the only outfield England player to having played more minutes at Euro 2020 than the man nicknamed the Yorkshire Pirlo, whose battle against Italy’s classy midfielders could be key in their quest for glory.
“I feel like once you step on the pitch it don’t matter who they have played for or how long they have played,” Phillips said, having praised Azzurri midfielders like Jorginho and Marco Verratti.
“It is just a matter of me beating that person and him knowing that I am good enough to compete against him.
“I think once the first whistle goes that goes out of the window. You have to do the best for your team. That’s what I try to do.”
Preparing for the Euro 2020 final brings into sharp focus just how far Phillips has come in such a short time, having helped Leeds to a 5-0 win against Stoke on their way to the Championship title this time last year.
“I have that on my Facebook,” Phillips said. “I was just thinking I can’t believe it has been a year since then.
“It feels like a long season because of what’s happened with Covid but then when you look back it has gone like that [clicks fingers].
“And I feel very blessed and privileged to be in this position. I am going to keep working to get better and better.”
Phillips’ terrific transformation under Marcelo Bielsa in the Championship meant Southgate had planned to call him into last March’s ultimately cancelled pre-Euros friendlies.
The 25-year-old got wind of that so held off booking a summer safari in Kenya with his girlfriend just in case he got the nod as the midfielder focused on the Three Lions rather than seeing the big five.
And if Phillips is thankful to Bielsa for his progress on the pitch, it is Granny Val who takes much of the credit for his personality off it.
The midfielder’s grandmother died earlier this year and he paid tribute after beating Denmark on Wednesday by donning an England shirt with his number and her name on the back.
“I wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for her,” Phillips said. “Every time I put the England shirt on I think of her.
“Yeah, I actually think I would not be as far in to the tournament if I didn’t respect my grandma that way and show the love and support she deserved.
“I do feel like she is up there looking down and cheering me on.”
Asked about her influence, he said: “It was just her example. She worked a lot.
“My mum worked in a pizza place but my grandma worked for the Tote at the races. She was there for 50 years or 60 years. It’s just morals in life.
“Teaching me what kind of person to be and how to treat others and that hard work can get you as far as you want. That’s what she taught me and it will always stick with me.”
That approach coupled with his talent as a footballer has helped Phillips inspire the next generation in Leeds, with childhood club Wortley receiving so much interest following his ascent that they are setting up a women’s team.
“Have they, yeah? I didn’t know that,” he said smiling. “I know a lot of people from Leeds are behind me and it’s spreading more through the Yorkshire area.
“To inspire more people to be involved in football and at especially my home town club where I started before Leeds is inspirational.
“It gives me goose bumps when I think about it and hopefully it can carry on.”
Whatever happens on Sunday, Phillips will be adding a medal to the one he received following last year’s Championship triumph – and he is determined to make it gold.
“I have worked hard enough to be in this position,” he added. “This opportunity wasn’t gifted to me, it was worked for.
“It’s what I’ve done at club level. I’ve been around unbelievable players for the last five weeks.
“You want to do your bit and my bit is protecting the back four and winning the ball and giving it to the better players.
“I try to do that as much as possible and I feel like I will run all day for whoever is next to me and put myself about.”
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