Some relationships just don’t work. No matter how much you try to patch things up. Sometimes the best thing that can happen to both parties is to part ways. And remain friends - even if from a distance. Football teams and players experience this too. Sometimes players promise to stay and fight for their place in the team, only to discover there’s no place to fight for after all.
Kalvin Phillips was reportedly offered a chance to leave Manchester City last summer but the midfielder decided to stay and fight for a place in the team. Although he found minutes hard to come by last season as City chased a piece of history, the player felt he was still working his way into the team and could work his way into the manager’s thinking in the next campaign.
Unfortunately, that has turned out not to be the case despite numerous changes made to the team. With several high-profile departures and new signings coming into the squad, Phillips has found it difficult to stake a claim for a starting shirt in the lineup.
His biggest opportunity to finally show that he belonged was a few weeks ago when the team was in dire straits as the manager looked for cover for key players missing due to injuries while Rodri served his three-match suspension for a red card.
Although the 27-year-old did start against Newcastle United in the League Cup at the end of September, he was far from impressive as City fell to a 1-0 defeat and exited the competition. It is noteworthy that City lost all the three games he played in while Rodri was absent. That’s not to say he was the cause of those defeats.
But for a player who was brought in as back up for the Spaniard, he has not been able to do the job when needed. Granted, he has not been given enough minutes on the pitch to actually get in sync with the team and recapture his best form. But that will not suffice as a good excuse, the reason being that with such limited opportunities whenever selected to play, he is supposed to take full advantage and give his best to show the manager just what he has been missing.
Pep Guardiola is a ruthless manager and that has been necessary to achieve the kind of success he has in his career. He has no room in his team for seat warmers. He will not keep selecting any player just for emotional reasons. A place in the lineup will always be a reward for good performance and good behaviour.
The Englishman has been commended severally for the latter. But he has left much to be desired when it comes to the former. Therein lies the problem.
Yet, Phillips is not a bad player. He earned his move to the Etihad Stadium on the back of excellent outings for boyhood club Leeds United. His influence on the team was huge. He sometimes carried the team on his back. From the moment he left, Leeds sank deeper and deeper into trouble until they landed in the Championship.
Although Phillips now has several winner’s medals to boast of as a professional footballer, his career has not progressed much on the pitch since leaving Elland Road. However, England manager Gareth Southgate has shown in the national team set-up that Phillips can be a reliable option in midfield.
He partnered Declan Rice in the recent international break to help the Three Lions defeat Italy and qualify for Euro 2024.
But the level of competition for places in the national team set-up could mean he may not be guaranteed a seat on the plane to Germany next year if he continues warming the bench at City. With the January transfer window now approaching, this may be the best time to secure a move away from the Etihad Stadium in search of regular playing time.
As the business end of the season now approaches and injured players are returning, it is very unlikely that Guardiola will have any more significant minutes for the Englishman during the remaining part of the campaign.
That leaves Phillips with a big decision to make. It may be time to reconsider his decision to stay and fight for a place in the City team.