Kalvin Phillips' new Leeds contract will make sure there's no bad blood if he ever leaves (2024)

Kalvin Phillips, they say, is the player at Leeds United who Marcelo Bielsa would allow his daughters to marry. The notion is hypothetical — Phillips is already spoken for — but a remark like that might be the ultimate show of affection from a man who gets close to very few people.

Bielsa likes to drive Phillips hard, badgering him about weight targets and keeping the pedal down, but Phillips is his boy — the “teacher’s pet” as Patrick Bamford once said. It was Phillips whom Bielsa phoned after the 2018-19 season finished, for reasons that were unclear. Phillips missed the call and it went to voicemail, leaving him in the dark. Perhaps Bielsa thought his time as head coach was up. Perhaps he knew that Phillips was in two minds about his own next step. Whatever his motivation, at that moment Bielsa wanted to talk.


Both of them had a decision to make that summer. For Bielsa, it was a straightforward choice between giving the Championship another crack or going home to Rosario. For Phillips, there was the more complicated weigh-up of leaving for Aston Villa and the Premier League or signing a new contract at Elland Road. The midfielder is assured that he did the right thing by staying with Leeds but those are easy conclusions to draw with hindsight.

In that close season, and by his admission, his mind was full of questions. Would Leeds get promoted? Would his stock be as high in 12 months? If he said no to Villa and the Premier League, would the Premier League come for him again?

Victor Orta put ended the transfer talk by telling Phillips that if he felt undecided, Leeds were not prepared to sell him. They would only cash in if his head was elsewhere. In the background, though, Bielsa sought an unequivocal promise. A half-committed Phillips was no use to him, he said. A half-committed Phillips would be playing in the under-23s. He wanted Phillips in all his power and glory or not at all and Phillips rejecting Villa gave him his answer. As Bielsa said on Thursday, the average player would have taken that move. Money and profile are seductive. But in that process, he learned something about Phillips’ personality.

Bielsa tries hard to understand what he is looking at, without unnecessary bias. He can look at Phillips’ situation passionately and dispassionately and because of that, he can speak about the midfielder’s future without treading on landmines or upsetting anyone.

Phillips has been threatening to outgrow Leeds for a couple of years now and clubs outside the absolute elite either manage these situations or let them run away from them. Bielsa saw this with Javi Martinez at Athletic Bilbao. Martinez was another of his projects, a player Athletic would have kept forever. But in came Bayern Munich and Martinez left. That was 2012 and that is how the world works today.

Kalvin Phillips' new Leeds contract will make sure there's no bad blood if he ever leaves (1)

Phillips impressed for England during the summer (Photo: Carl Recine – Pool/Getty Images)

Where Phillips is concerned, Leeds are under no tangible pressure. He has another two and a half years on his existing contract and The Athletic understands that he has indicated to the club that he is keen to negotiate and sign an improved contract. As yet, Leeds have not formally discussed figures with him or been made aware of Phillips’ feelings towards issues like a release clause but after his run to the final of the European Championship with England, they anticipated that an improved salary would come up for discussion soon. A new deal would almost certainly make him the club’s highest earner.


The last contract Phillips signed, in 2019, pushed him much closer to that bracket, beyond £25,000 a week. Promotion earned him another uplift and talks should be made simpler by the fact that his relationship with Leeds is a healthy one. He appreciates that the club has been good for him. The club appreciates that he has been good for them. But times change and in the next two weeks, Phillips will work with an England squad in which his wage sits at the lower end. All sides agree that circ*mstances are different in comparison to 2019.

What a new deal would mean in the longer term is a matter of debate. In principle, it keeps Phillips at Leeds for longer but in practice, it maximises his valuation. When Bielsa spoke about Phillips this week, he was transparent in making the point that one day Phillips might be playing elsewhere.

One day he might go from Elland Road because, frankly, he is that good. “The way he does it will convert him to an idol forever,” Bielsa said, which may or may not have been his way of saying that speculation linking Phillips to Manchester United was a non-starter. Alan Smith taught people never to say never but Phillips will know the story of Smith’s defection inside out. It is perfectly obvious that poison still exists on that front, almost 20 years later.

Leeds at present have three particularly high-value assets: Phillips, Raphinha and Illan Meslier. Utopia would be to keep them indefinitely and to construct a monster of a team around them but as Leicester City realised, retaining elite players is not always realistic. In Leicester’s case, making the best of it has been the crux of their development. On occasions, the time is right to sell. On occasions, the price is high enough to accept. You can lose Harry Maguire and reinvest to good effect. You can lose Jack Grealish and reinvest to good effect. You can refuse point blank to sell Harry Kane and watch Kane slip into a rut. Leeds have been in this situation with Phillips before and, most likely, they will find themselves there again.

There are other players at Leeds who look at Phillips and gush at his development. They know his trajectory has gone past the point where he is anything other than Champions League material. They are proud of him and ambitious for him. It is one thing that jumps out whenever you ask the club about Phillips.


There is no fear around him, no guilt-tripping and no wistful regret about what might happen in future windows. He is here for now and Leeds are delighted about that because the partnership with him has been a dream. If and when he goes, there need not be any bad blood. There are ways in which it could be good for everyone.

As Bielsa said on Thursday, Phillips will know what to do.

(Top photo: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

Kalvin Phillips' new Leeds contract will make sure there's no bad blood if he ever leaves (2)Kalvin Phillips' new Leeds contract will make sure there's no bad blood if he ever leaves (3)

Phil grew up near Edinburgh in Scotland and is a staff writer for The Athletic, covering Leeds United. He previously worked for the Yorkshire Evening Post as its chief football writer. Follow Phil on Twitter @PhilHay_

Kalvin Phillips' new Leeds contract will make sure there's no bad blood if he ever leaves (2024)


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