Kalvin Phillips shared his thoughts on his physical fitness, the match against West Ham, and playing under coach Marcelo Bielsa.

Estimated read time 8 min read

“Ooofff,” Kalvin Phillips says, smiling as he usually does but feeling the question in his gut. Like a low blow. What was the toughest moment for him at Manchester City? “There’s a few …” Phillips wants to look forward. To his new challenge at West Ham where he is on loan for the remainder of the season. To Sunday’s derby against Arsenal at the London Stadium. To the European Championship with England in the summer.

The 28-year-old was well aware that he needed to leave City in January. If he had stayed and remained on the sidelines, he would have certainly lost his spot in Gareth Southgate’s team. He shares how the England manager convinced him to remain in the Premier League, causing him to reject Juventus and choose West Ham instead. Further details will be discussed later.

Phillips’ main goal was to return to playing for a club. He expressed feeling more energized at West Ham, despite making mistakes in his first two games that resulted in goals for the opposing teams, Bournemouth and Manchester United.

However, we are currently at West Ham’s Rush Green training ground, engaging in a discussion, due to the events that took place at City under Pep Guardiola. The situation cannot be ignored. In order to move forward, Phillips must acknowledge the past and share it in hopes of creating understanding and empathy. It may also allow him to find closure.

The figures are publicly available for anyone to view. He joined City from Leeds in July 2022 for a fee of £42m. His contract is for six years. He has made six starts for City in all competitions. He has played a total of 380 minutes in the Premier League. However, what has been harder to see is the emotional journey he has experienced.

“I believe…” Phillips pauses for a moment. “The most challenging time for me was after the World Cup, when Pep publicly stated that I was overweight. He was correct in doing so, but there are alternative ways to address the issue. I did not disagree with him, but it greatly affected my confidence and how I felt at City. My family was also unhappy, particularly my mother.”

Kalvin Phillips and Pep Guardiola

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Phillips was informed by City staff that he was expected to return in December 2022 after the World Cup. However, due to a shoulder injury, he had missed most of the first half of the season and was eager to come back earlier. Guardiola requested that he join the team immediately after the tournament so he could participate in their pre-season matches before the domestic season began.

Phillips explains that he did not receive the information because if he had been asked to be present, he would have complied. He believes it was simply a miscommunication and understands that the other person was frustrated with him for being 1.5kg over his weight goal upon his return.

Was there any discussion between Phillips and Guardiola to resolve the misunderstanding? “Um… no,” Phillips responds. “I just accepted it and moved on. As a true professional, I probably should have addressed it the day after the tournament ended, but it’s a lesson learned.”

As a result of the highly publicized scandal, it provided an opportunity for opposing fans to taunt Phillips, which they continue to do based on the attendance at last Sunday’s game at Old Trafford. “I’ve faced this throughout my entire career, particularly at Leeds under Marcelo Bielsa…not because I am overweight, but because he emphasized the importance of maintaining a professional image,” explains Phillips.

“I have always been the type to relax and enjoy myself the day after a game if we had a day off. However, I would still put in double the effort to make up for it. This mindset has been ingrained in me since then. Pep and Bielsa had a conversation about it, and it doesn’t bother me at all because I am still very dedicated to my profession.”

Phillips mentions a previous instance at City where he anticipated starting in the FA Cup against Burnley in March, but was instead pulled aside by Guardiola and informed otherwise. Additionally, he was partially responsible for a goal during a league match against Leicester in April, resulting in a 3-1 victory for City.

“I was feeling terrible,” Phillips recalls. “It was definitely a low point for my confidence. I spoke with Bielsa afterwards and he called me back with the help of a translator. We had a conversation for about thirty minutes, during which he mentioned that he had watched all of my games since I left Leeds. He also gave me advice on how to regain my form as a player.”

When discussing Bielsa and his time with Leeds, Phillips becomes visibly enthusiastic. It’s important to note that even though he had some low points at City where he felt unmotivated and uninterested in the routine of training and going home, those moments were balanced out by the excitement of big occasions like the treble and winning the Champions League against Internazionale, followed by lively celebrations.

Kalvin Phillips vies with Bournemouth’s Dominic Solanke

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According to Phillips, working with Guardiola significantly improved his skills as a player. However, he also admits that he never felt like he fully gained the coach’s trust. Phillips reveals that in the past 18 months, he may have lost some of his passion and drive. Despite this, he still approaches games with a strong desire to tackle and exert physicality.

“After such a long time without showing it in a game, one can forget what it feels like. It was only during the matches against Bournemouth and United that I experienced it again. I would call it ‘losing control.’ I become more vocal and sometimes a bit angry. However, it is not a complete loss of control as that would lead me to make foolish decisions. Instead, I am trying to motivate myself and my teammates.”

The experience at City was not a nightmare, but rather filled with stress. Despite winning the treble, sitting on the bench made it feel like the medal wasn’t truly earned. Fortunately, they cannot be taken away from me, so I am content with that.

“In the past year and a half… My love for the game remained, although my perspective shifted slightly. The game itself did not disappoint me, but the lack of something to anticipate pushed me away. Now that I am at West Ham and playing, I feel more energized. It’s not a complete restart, but a fresh beginning.”

Phillips came to the realization last summer that he should leave City. According to Phillips, the manager suggested, “We believe it would be best for you to go out on loan and get some game time,” and Phillips agreed. However, he and his girlfriend, Ashleigh Behan, were anticipating the birth of their first child, a boy named Kaelo due in November. Phillips did not want to disrupt their plans during such an important time. He explains, “I shared my situation with Pep and he was completely understanding.”

However, as January neared, the main concern was determining his destination with Southgate’s involvement being crucial. Phillips recalls, “I discussed a few teams with him. Juventus was one of them…I believe they were planning to wait until the final moment.” I suggested Newcastle as a potential option. I was aware that West Ham would likely enter the picture at a later time.

“He told me that he wasn’t going to tell me what to do but he said the Premier League is a lot more difficult, a more competitive league. He said to be playing in the Premier League versus playing anywhere else … it’s just that little bit of a step down in quality. So yeah, he influenced me to stay in England. And when West Ham came in, I thought it was the right place to go.

“The main factors that influenced my decision to join the club were its size and the manager, David Moyes. He expressed his interest in signing me for several transfer windows. I believed that if I was not going to get playing time at City, I wanted to be at a club where I was genuinely wanted. This is not to say that City did not want me, but I desired to be at a place where the manager was enthusiastic about having me on the team.”

“I also had a conversation with Declan Rice, my teammate on the England team and former captain of West Ham, and he mentioned that it is a close-knit club. This is important to me as I value a strong sense of family. My goal is to find a place where I feel at home.”

Source: theguardian.com

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