England midfielder Kalvin Phillips has revealed the “toughest” moment of his disastrous spell at Manchester City came when manager Pep Guardiola called him “overweight” in public after returning from the World Cup.
Phillips, 28, joined City from Leeds United in a £42m transfer in July 2022. He signed a six-year contract with the Premier League champions but made just six starts in all competitions under Guardiola, spending the majority of his time at the club sitting on the substitutes bench.
Phillips joined West Ham on loan in January, returning to the pitch in search of much-needed minutes ahead of Euro 2024 this summer, and admitted he had lost the “fire within me” since moving to City from Leeds.
The midfielder is expected to feature as West Ham host Arsenal on Sunday afternoon and Phillips held a sit-down interview with several outlets before the fixture, where he opened up on his past 18 months.
“After the World Cup was probably the toughest,” Phillips said. “When Pep came out and said I was overweight.
“He was right to do so but there are different ways to go about it. I did not disagree with him but obviously I took a big knock on my confidence and how I felt at City. And my family were not happy about it, either. Especially my mum.”
Phillips said he was not told that Guardiola wanted him to return to City straight after the World Cup: “I never got that information because if he asked me to have been there, I would have been there. It was just a misunderstanding and I think he was very frustrated with me coming back 1.5kg over my weight target.
“I just took it on the chin. Me being the right professional, I probably should have gone in the day after the tournament finished but it’s one of those things that you live and learn.”
Phillips denied that his time under Guardiola was a “nightmare” and said he became a better player under the manager despite having few opportunities on the pitch. Phillips was part of the Manchester City squad that won the treble of Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup trophies last season but said he knew he had to leave the club in order to get minutes ahead of Euro 2024.
“To be honest, I probably lost that fire within me over the past 18 months,” Phillips says. “Don’t get me wrong – I still go into games and want to smash people as much as I can, get stuck in and run about.
“But when you’ve not demonstrated that in a game for so long you kind of forget what it feels like. It was only against Bournemouth and United that I felt it again. I’d describe it as ‘losing my head.’ I start to get more vocal and a little bit angry. It’s not actually losing my head because that’s when I’d do something stupid. It’s more trying to push myself and my teammates.
“It wasn’t a nightmare at City, it was just stressful. We won the treble. But when you’re sat on the bench, you don’t feel like it’s your medal to take, although they can’t take them away from me so I’m happy about that.
“Over the last 18 months … I still loved the game, it just changed my way of thinking a little bit. The game wasn’t letting me down but the fact I had nothing to look forward to kind of pushed me away. Now I’m here at West Ham and playing, I feel a lot more alive. It’s not starting from scratch, it’s starting afresh.