Kalvin Phillips has only been at Manchester City for 12 months but it’s looking increasingly likely that this is a relationship that will end sooner rather than later. The speed of Phillips' downward trajectory has caught everyone by surprise given that the deep-lying midfielder learned his craft under the watchful eye of Marcelo Bielsa; a man that Pep Guardiola hails as the best coach in the world. So, why has City’s manager lost faith in Phillips so quickly when his mentor was able to turn the 27-year-old into England’s Player of the Year?
Bielsa's West Yorkshire miracles
You could argue that Bielsa is capable of miracles that Guardiola simply isn’t. Keep in mind that Bielsa, without any real assistance in the transfer market, took Leeds from a 15th-place Championship side to title winners in just 24 months. Tellingly, when the 68-year-old left, the wheels came off at Leeds. Now, the Whites are back in the second tier and at rising Championship odds of 2/1 to go up. Instead, the Paddy Power football championship odds make fellow relegated clubs Leicester and Southampton the outright favourites for promotion at 11/10 and 9/5 respectively.
Leeds' problems and the current race for promotion aside, the broader point is that Phillips’ performances under Bielsa ultimately earned him the move to City and made him one of the first names on the England team sheet, so why has all progress stopped?
A season of struggle is expected when players arrive at City
It is no secret that the first full season under Guardiola borders on intolerably difficult given the Spanaird’s pursuit of perfection. What has also been made abundantly clear is that if Guardiola doesn’t think a player is ready during this settling-in period, then game time is almost impossible to come by.
Perhaps other managers would seek to get the best out of new recruits that are battling to adapt in training by throwing them into the deep end of matchday competition to see if the cut and thrust will jar them into life. Similarly, this show of faith can often have the desired effect as players go above and beyond to take the chance handed to them. Unfortunately for Phillips, Guardiola doesn’t operate this way which means that the midfielder’s confidence has taken a hit owing to a severe lack of game time.
Additionally, seeing Rodri sign a three-year extension a week after Phillips arrived at the club in 2022 which was then followed up by City signing Mateo Kovacic the following summer, as covered by the BBC, would have added further doubt into Phillips’ mind about his long-term role under Guardiola. There even appears to be a sense of confusion among City's own squad around Phillips' role at the club after Rodri publicly voiced his own concerns over how many games he had to play last season with Guardiola unprepared to rotate his starting XI. As reported by The Guardian, Guardiola himself has complained about the number of games City have to play, so he is certainly aware of the fatigue issue.
Guardiola appears to have seen enough
The only conclusion to draw is that Guardiola has gone from waiting for Phillips to show the qualities he needs to play in his system, only to reach the verdict that the 27-year-old will never be ready.
Guardiola does, after all, have a front-row seat to the goings-on in training and sees what the rest of the world doesn’t. Ultimately, there must be a reason why Phillips, who was reaching extraordinary heights for both club and country, is now being pushed towards the exit door.