Kalvin Phillips admits he has to “pinch himself” in his struggle to believe that he has actually become an England star.
Phillips, 25, says it is “surreal” to go from watching England games with his mates at the last World Cup in 2018 to now being part of the qualifying campaign for next year’s tournament.
The Leeds midfielder has been a revelation since breaking into Gareth Southgate’s England squad last year and is now pushing for a place in the Euros this summer.
Phillips said: “The last World Cup I’d just moved into my first house without my mum there and I had a few of my mates around to watch the matches.
“It was just one of those things – it was in the summer, it was warm and you just love watching international football.
“And now to be here playing and to have my friends and family messaging me saying, ‘I can’t believe you’re playing for England and doing all this stuff’… it’s surreal.
“Whenever I am called up or starting for England, the nerves are still there. But I just got my head down, worked hard.
“Through time, I’ve got more confident. But don’t get me wrong – the nerves are still there.
“Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make it feel real. I’m very happy with how the last few weeks have gone. Hopefully I can keep pushing on to get more games.
“Obviously, there were nerves when I first came and I never really knew anyone. These were players who were playing for big clubs in the Premier League. But it’s one of those things – you’ve got to keep working hard and I will keep on doing that.”
Phillips has been a breath of fresh air for Leeds and for England, proving a huge presence in midfield under Elland Road boss Marcelo Bielsa.
And his consistency in the Premier League has earned him a chance for his country.
The Leeds-born midfielder started all three World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland and, even though he knows it will be a huge challenge to get into the Euros squad, his approach is refreshing and will impress Southgate.
Phillips said: “I’m very happy with playing the last three games, but I know there is room for improvement.
“I’m happy just to be playing for England – never mind if I was sat on the bench. I’d be happy there as well.
“I want to be playing games and Gareth’s seen that and has seen that I’m capable of playing in different positions in midfield, which is a good thing as well. I’m looking forward to the next camp. Whether I’ll be in it or not, I’m not too sure, but the sky’s the limit for me and I think if I keep working hard, then why not?”
Incredibly, Phillips only found out he was playing a third game in a row – against Poland – relatively late on because James Ward-Prowse was down to start, but he withdrew through injury.
Phillips, though, who has now won seven caps, is just happy to seize his chance when it comes.
“It was a quick turnaround, and a little bit surprising,” he said. “But I’m one of those players who’s always ready – and I was ready for the game.
“I am not negative. What will be will happen. If I do get called up? Buzzing!
“If I don’t, I will just keep working hard and hopefully get called up for the next one.”