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Childhood coach says pace problems almost cost Kalvin Phillips

Childhood coach says pace problems almost cost Kalvin Phillips
© Reuters
The midfielder is making a huge impact for club and country.

Kalvin Phillips almost slipped through the scouting network as a junior because he could not “run like Linford Christie”, his former coach has revealed.

Phillips, 25, has played the full 90 minutes in all three of England’s Euro 2020 group games and appears integral to Gareth Southgate’s plans.

But Ian Thackray, the coach who nurtured the fledgling Phillips for seven seasons at local club Wortley Juniors, recalled the Leeds midfielder was 14 before his hometown club finally gave him his chance.

“That was the day he came back off holiday,” Thackray told the PA news agency as he watched Wortley’s next generation trying to emulate their hero at a McDonald’s Fun Football session held at the Leeds amateur club.

“Even then fate intervened because he came up to watch a pre-season tournament at the start of the under-15 season and wasn’t registered to play.”

Thackray initially resisted the clamour from the other boys to play Phillips in the tournament until a couple of injuries forced his hand.

“Within five minutes of him swapping kits with an injured lad, the Leeds scout, Walter Sweeney, turned up,” Thackray said.

Phillips has played every minute of England's three group games at Euro
Phillips has played every minute of England’s three group games at Euro 2020 (Nick Potts/PA)

“Kalvin put in one of his famous tackles right in front of us. He dragged the ball back, like a ‘Cruyff turn’, before passing it to the far side of the field straight to our full-back’s feet and Mr Sweeney said: ‘Who’s that then?’.

“I said: ‘Kalvin Phillips and everybody’s already been to watch him’. Leeds had been before, Bradford had been, Huddersfield, Middlesbrough, both Sheffield clubs. They’d all been and all seemed to want kids who could run like Linford Christie.

“Kalvin wasn’t particularly quick but could run all day and I said to Mr Sweeney: ‘What’s the harm in taking him to Thorp Arch? What can you lose?’.

“I knew he was better than anybody else in the Garforth League and Mr Sweeney rang me back a couple of nights later and asked if he could speak to Kalvin’s mum.”

Phillips went on to thrive in an academy environment and, still a teenager, made his first-team debut for Leeds in April 2015.

He is set to make his 200th league appearance for his hometown club early next season in the Premier League and another solid Three Lions display against the Czech Republic on Tuesday night was his 11th for his country.

Thackray said he has had to pinch himself when watching Phillips play his part for Southgate’s side during the Euros.

“You’re watching on telly and thinking, ‘I know that lad, in fact I coached him. Look at him! In the middle of the pitch with England!’,” Thackray said.

“It’s like he’s part of the family. I’ve got his mobile number, but he doesn’t want me nattering him.”

Wortley club chairman Stuart Haley added: “All the kids here idolise Kalvin and it’s infectious. You see them with Phillips on the back of their shirt, number 23, and they constantly talk about him.

“Wortley Juniors was already on the map, all the people involved at the club do such good things for the community, but Kalvin has helped take it to another level.”

Kalvin Phillips is helping to promote McDonald’s free Fun Football sessions this summer. To find your nearest centre, go to:

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Thursday's key events

· The women's heptathlon continues with the long jump, javelin and 800m, with Katarina Johnson-Thompson now out of contention following an injury (1.10am-1.40pm)
· Andrew Pozzi pursues his dream of an Olympic medal in the men's 110m hurdles final (3.55am)
· Tom Bosworth and Callum Wilkinson are among the British hopes in the men's 20km race walk (8.30am)
· Holly Bradshaw aims to improve on fifth in Rio to challenge Greece's Katerina Stefanidi and Anzhelika Sidorova of Russia for an unlikely medal in the women's pole vault (11am)
· London 2012 champion Kirani James goes up against current world champion Steven Gardiner in the men's 400m final (1pm)

· One of the toughest Olympic events takes place in Tokyo Bay as GB's Hector Pardoe takes on the men's 20km marathon swim (10.30pm Wed)

· Galal Yafai takes on takes on Kazakhstan's Saken Bibossinov for a spot in the gold medal bout of the fly (48kg-52kg) class (6.48am)

· Lois Toulson and Andrea Spendolini-Sirieix (daughter of First Dates' Fred Sirieix) line up for the women's 10m platform (semi-final 2am; final 7am)

· Australia face Belgium in the men's final (11am)

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