IT'S been a remarkable year for Leeds United midfield lynchpin Kalvin Phillips.
The 24-year-old, nicknamed the 'Yorkshire Pirlo', was instrumental in leading Marcelo Bielsa's side to promotion, following a 16-year absence from the Premier League.
Better still, Gareth Southgate has rewarded Phillips for his fine form with his first ever call-up to the England squad for the Nations League games against Iceland and Denmark – just weeks after he was contacted to play international football for Jamaica.
However, when he was a kid his former teachers believed he should forget about football and concentrate on his education.
Phillips was a late-bloomer, and didn't join the Leeds academy at Thorp Arch until he was 14.
Before that he was starring at Wortley Juniors, and then Farsley for a season until Leeds scouts spotted his potential.
However, his Sliding Doors moment came when his mother wrote to his school asking if her son could be excused from class.
The school's response wasn't so positive.
“My mum got a letter from school,” he recalled to the Yorkshire Evening Post.
“It said they hoped I realised that not many people make it as a professional footballer.
"There was me and a friend, in the same age group, and they were threatening not to let us go.
"But they did and when I look back now I think…”
LEEDS IN HIS BLOOD
Phillips grew up in Armley, a district west of Leeds – with the club very much in his family's blood.
A triplet, he was raised by his mother in a large family. But sadness hit the Phillips clan hard when he lost one of his sisters to illness at a young age.
He took to football, playing in the streets with his brother until it got dark and idolised Alan Smith – the last Leeds player to play for the Three Lions.
“I remember getting my first Leeds shirt, me and my brother.
“It was the yellow one with Strongbow on the front. I had Alan Smith on the back.
"We’d play outside whenever we got the chance, from 10 in the morning until six at night when my mum shouted us in for tea.
"You’re just a kid and you enjoy running about. I never got tired.”
SCOUTED AT 14
Leeds picked up Phillips when he was midway through secondary school.
It was by sheer fluke. He was there to watch his mates play in a tournament, ended up filling in because of lack of numbers, and caught the eye of Walter ‘Sonny’ Sweeney – a legend of Don Revie's 1960s Leeds side.
“I was at Wortley Juniors until I was about 12 and then left for a season at Farsley,” he said.
“I’d gone to watch Wortley play in their home tournament but they didn’t have enough players so I played for them. I got scouted by a guy called Sonny Sweeney and went to Leeds City Boys.
“After that, he came and watched me again and got me on a six-week trial at Leeds. It all went from there.”
LEEDS' GAIN WAS HUDDERSFIELD'S LOSS
It could've been a completely different Yorkshire club that Phillips might've made his name at.
Before Sweeney spotted his talents, he trialled with Huddersfield Town and they must be kicking themselves now that it didn't work out with the Terriers.
“As soon as I went there, I thought ‘I don’t like it. It’s not for me’," he said.
"I was growing up around Leeds and I idolised Leeds. I went to Huddersfield and thought it was a good chance but I got there and felt like I didn’t really fancy it.
"A couple of weeks later I went to Leeds and I haven’t looked back.”
Phillips is aware he is one of the lucky ones and paid fantastic money to do a job he loves.
He has a special bond with his twin sister, who teases him about his easy life. She works in the prison service in London.
“She tells me that every time she sees me,” he joked.
“But she’s proud of me as much as I’m proud of her. I don’t think she realises how proud of her I am.”
Phillips holds no grudges when it comes to having made it late.
In fact, the tough-tackler believes it made him the player he is today.
“I knew I’d joined late but in a way it was better because I got to enjoy my football more when I was younger," he said.
"There wasn’t as much pressure. Me coming here late probably made me a better player."
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