As the season draws to a close, what should we make of Kalvin Phillips’ first season.
On Sunday, April 30, Manchester City took another step towards their third consecutive Premier League title by finally taking the lead at the top of the table from Arsenal following a cagey 2-1 win away at Fulham.
With only six games to go for the Citizens in the Premier League, an FA Cup final against Manchester United, and a huge Champions League semi-final showdown with Real Madrid all looming over the horizon, the next month and a half of fixtures could either end with City as mighty treble winners–or with nothing to celebrate.
As everyone’s attention turns to this crucial last stretch of fixtures, a man who has seemingly gone under the radar the whole season will continue to be left out. Seemingly the future of England’s midfield, Kalvin Phillips has struggled since joining the reigning champions back in the summer transfer window for 45 million pounds.
In today’s wild Premier League spending, 45 million might not seem like much for a player of Phillip’s qualities but he has made only TWO starts this season. The maths are pretty simple: 22.5 million pounds per Kalvin Phillips start.
Factor in that Phillips is on a monster 150K per-week contract, putting him on par or above constant starters such as Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gündogan, and Ederson, the signing of the Leeds’ academy product seems to be more and more confusing as time passes.
Unfortunately for Phillips, it does not seem that his time at City will dramatically improve in the last month. With only crucial games ahead, it is unlikely to see manager Pep Guardiola suddenly give him the much needed game time he needs. Coming in with a lot of hype surrounding him that he has failed to live up to, it is still too early to give up on Phillips, even if it looks almost certain he is gone in the summer.
Patience will be key for Kalvin Phillips.
There are a number of reasons as to why Phillips has failed to deliver on the expectations City fans had upon his arrival. He was never expected to take Rodri’s place in the starting XI but he was supposed to make things slightly uncomfortable for the Spaniard. Instead, Rodri has delivered his best season in a City shirt and been City’s most used squad player, making it difficult for Phillips to sniff any minutes.
Perhaps an even bigger reason is that Guardiola does not seem to fully trust the Englishman. When Phillips returned from World Cup duty, Guardiola called him overweight and that he was not in the right shape to play in the team. That definitely left the wrong impression on his manager and he has played a total of 417 minutes in all competitions.
In fact, both of his starts came in domestic cup fixtures, featuring in a 2-0 Southampton loss in the League Cup and a 3-0 win over Bristol City in the FA Cup. Even when Rodri was finally given a break against Sheffield United in the FA Cup semi-final, Guardiola chose Gündogan over Phillips in the defensive midfielder role.
The lack of trust Guardiola seems to have on him may not be reason to panic just yet. The likes of Riyad Mahrez and Jack Grealish appeared like flops upon their arrival in Manchester but turned it around after a year under Guardiola’s tutelage. Even Rodri failed to win fans over in his first season before becoming the best defensive midfielder in the whole world. Maybe Phillips just needs another season to find his feet, especially if he is tasked with all the responsibilities that a Guardiola midfielder has to deal with.
The key difference between Phillips and the rest is his age. He is not an up-and-coming youngster as he is turning 28 at the end of the year, he needs to start playing regular football if he wishes to maintain his spot in the heart of England’s midfield. With the Euros coming up next year, Phillips will be eager to prove he still belongs in the England setup but without regular football, it is hard to see how he cracks the squad.
Patience is crucial for Phillips and City fans. He might be wearing three medals around his neck come the end of the season but Phillips can’t feel like he was an instrumental part to the team’s success. No fan will be jumping out of their seat to congratulate him either.
It wouldn’t be shocking to see him look for a move elsewhere but it is not every year you have the chance to be coached by one of the world’s best, play with the world’s best, and compete for every trophy out there. If he were to stay another year and get a full pre-season under his belt, Phillips should live up to the billing and become an integral part of the City squad, even if it is as a much needed Rodri backup.