Opinion: Kalvin Phillips to Tottenham Hotspur – Does it make sense?

As we creep into November, the upcoming silhouette of the January transfer window looms large and the wheels of the rumour mill begin to creak into life in expectation of deals to be done, and one name that was always going to be bandied about was that of England international Kalvin Phillips.

After a few stellar seasons at Leeds and with an impressive European Championships under his belt, he got his ‘dream move’ to Manchester City – and with it an opportunity to dine at the top table of English football.

At the time, I have to admit to furrowing my brow. Good as Phillips is, there was no way he was going to be a regular starter at City, with the world-class Rodri in the team, it would have taken an injury for a projected run in the first team. Even at his best, Phillips doesn’t compare with the Spaniard.

My instincts were correct and sixteen appearances in the Premier League over two seasons is not a return he would be happy with (transfermarkt).

My brows were further furrowed when the Yorkshireman made the decision to remain in Manchester for the start of the season, despite a loan offer away (Daily Mail).

A strange choice, seeing as Pep obviously does not fancy him in his City team, with gifted youngster Rico Lewis being preferred in the middle.

Now, however, with a European Championships looming, Phillips seems resigned to his fate that he does not have a future at the Etihad.

Arguably his place in the England squad is not up for question, seeing as Southgate happily picks players who are never played, or play in a tin pot league.

That being said, Philips obviously would like to get minutes in his legs and build up a modicum of form before the tournament, and it seems like Tottenham are the latest club to be linked with him (The Sun).

So why has the link with Tottenham arisen and should he be considered a viable option? So far this season, the central midfield area at Spurs has been settled and impressive, with all three of the regular starters: Maddison, Sarr and Bissouma featuring in Sofascore’s top 50 players for average ratings (sofascore).

And with the return of Bentancur, Tottenham are genuinely looking at being able to rotate in the middle of the park with little, if any, drop-off in quality.

However, with the turn of the year comes the African Cup of Nations and the departure, and for a few weeks at least of Bissouma and Sarr will be on international duty, leaving the cupboard slightly barer when it comes to options. So is Phillips a signing that makes sense?

The biggest question would be, which Kalvin Phillips would we be getting? The one from Leeds under Bielsa would definitely be an asset. At his best Phillips is incredibly athletic and covers the ground well.

He would operate best in a single pivot at the base of the midfield – receiving the ball from the defenders, breaking the lines and distributing the ball forward. Arguably, his range of passing is better than that of Bissouma.

Kalvin Phillips
Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images

Should Tottenham try and sign Kalvin Phillips?

Off the ball, he demonstrates excellent positional awareness and can be effective in predicting where counterattacks may originate and thwarting them at the source. For any who are interested in a deep dive into his qualities, I highly recommend this article – (Coaches Voice).

However, one thing that needs to be considered is Phillips’ injury record which is not the best and since October 2021, he has missed a combined 236 days with various injuries. Most notably, two shoulder injuries – a joint that is notoriously susceptible to re-injury.

As mentioned earlier, the amount of inactivity severely hampers players, especially over a significant period of time and it would take Phillips a number of games to get up to speed – but by that point, one of Bissouma, or Sarr, or both could be back at the club.

If we are signing someone with one eye to covering them, they need to be able to hit the ground running – not be in need of thawing out after being frozen out for eighteen months.

Another question is whether he is better than what we already have. Again, it is hard to judge based on the fact that we do not know what Kalvin Phillips might walk through the door. However, if we were to assume that he was relatively close to the player he was at Leeds, what’s the answer?

Frankly, he is a superior player to Oliver Skipp. The problem Skipp has, and it pains me to say it, is that he does not have a varied enough skillset to be a top-four midfielder.

Certainly, he is industrious and hardworking and has the ability to be a destroyer in the middle. However, he is not good enough on the ball and looks rushed and panicked when he receives it, especially in tight spaces.

The more complex comparison is with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. Admittedly, I am a big fan of the Dane and he has been the consummate pro this season, when relegated to the role of bit-part player.

More so than Skipp, he is more comfortable on the ball and when he has been brought off the bench to solidify the midfield he has done so. The reality is, that if Phillips were to be brought in, then one of Skipp and Hojbjerg would have to make way.

A significant question must be: what kind of deal would Tottenham would be looking to do? The Sun article, cited earlier, suggests that a loan deal or a permanent switch are both on the table – dependent on the £50m price tag being met.

The idea of a permanent move for Spurs is a non-starter. We are not a club that can happily splash that sort of money on guaranteed starters, let alone for a squad player, whose form and fitness are definitely in question.

Therefore it leaves a potential loan deal. Similar to a permanent deal, a loan with an obligation to buy would be too much of a gamble, and a loan with an option to buy looks unlikely, seeing as even if he performed well in the short term, he would struggle to break into the starting eleven and you’re left with the same pickle.

The only viable option, to me, would be a simple loan deal, but again, if he is unlikely to have a longer-term future at the club – what is the point? I would rather see someone brought in from the scouting department, who have been so successful recently.

So to conclude. Although a couple of years ago, Phillips was a top player at Leeds, at this current moment, he is too much of an unknown quantity.

Added to that, the chance of him being in Tottenham’s long-term plans looks unlikely and he doesn’t significantly improve upon Hojbjerg to warrant a short-term move.

The transfer policy appears to be looking for younger, slightly lesser-known players with a high ceiling like Vicario, Van de Ven and Udogie – not players, who in all reality have already peaked and are hoping to rediscover that zenith again.

Therefore, it’s a no from me.

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