Euro 2020: When Sheffield United thought they could sign Leeds United's England star Calvin Phillips
With Harry Maguire, Kyle Walker, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Aaron Ramsdale all progressing through their youth system before turning professional, England are in Sheffield United’s debt as they prepare for the European Championship final.
But if Chris Wilder had got his wish then two more members of the squad which meets Italy tomorrow would have a spell at Bramall Lane on their footballing CV’s.
After guiding them out of the Championship in 2019, Wilder’s interest in bringing Conor Coady back to Bramall Lane was well-documented at the time. Indeed, until the then Wolverhampton Wanderers manager Nuno Espirito Santo decided to switch to a back three, Wilder and his head of recruitment Paul Mitchell, who remains at Bramall Lane following the 53-year-old;s departure in March, were convinced officials at Molineux would do business. United even went as far, The Star can reveal, as discussing a fee before a block was put on the transfer.
But what received less coverage at the time were the admiring glances Wilder cast in Kalvin Phillips’ direction towards the end of that summer’s transfer window. United had just pipped Leeds to automatic promotion and, with the shockwaves of their play-off semi-final defeat to Derby County still reverberating through Elland Road, the former United chief sensed an opportunity to acquire a player who had already made himself indispensable in West Yorkshire.
When news of Wilder’s desire to capture Phillips was reported by this newspaper, it was scoffed at by supporters of Marcelo Bielsa’s side. Although they always knew it was a long shot, what those who dismissed the story of United’s tentative approach as pure fantasy didn’t know was that Wilder was acting on what he felt was accurate information from a member of Phillips’ inner circle.
What ultimately scuppered the proposed bid - and exposed the faultlines in the relationship between United owner HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Wilder, which ultimately cost the latter his job - was the size of the fee he was told the midfielder would command. That and the fact Phillips, coming from a family of lifelong Leeds fans, had no intention of trying to force his club’s by agitating for a move.