The inside story of Nat Phillips' rise under Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool has been revealed – with the 24-year-old battling back from a broken back to star at the San Siro for the Reds in their 2-1 win over AC Milan on Tuesday night.
Phillips was thrust into the spotlight last year after deputising for Klopp's side in the wake of an unprecedented injury crisis.
Despite starting the season as the Reds' sixth choice centre back, Phillips held his own and played a huge part in the stunning fightback that saw Liverpool eventually finish in 3rd spot; qualifying for the Champions League in the process.
It was a fairytale story for Phillips – who almost ended up signing a scholarship at the University of North Carolina in America before Liverpool swooped in after he was released from cash-strapped Bolton Wanderers at just 19-years-old.
Nicky Spooner was one of Phillips' first ever coaches during his spell at Bolton as a youngster, and he revealed the stunning story of how the defender battled back from adversity to star for Liverpool under Klopp to The Liverpool Echo.
“At 17 he missed a full season," recalls Spooner. "He got a fracture to his lower back so he missed a full season at 17 and that delayed his development with ourselves even more. He did very well. He was in sixth form and missed 12 months of football.
“The boys go full-time when they’re 17. So he missed that. He missed two years of full-time scholarship because he stayed on as an extended schoolboy. So he missed all Under-17s and trained in the day when he could.
“He balanced it, was willing to put in the work and has just been playing catch-up. Now he’s getting the rewards for all the extra work he put in.”
Although Phillips stepped up for the Reds last year, he's found opportunities harder to come by this season.
Do you think Liverpool should sell or keep Phillips in the New Year? Let us know in the comments section.
There have been a host of Premier League teams credited with an interest in striking a deal for the defender in the January transfer window.
But his performance in the Champions League on Tuesday night against Serie A leaders AC Milan should give Klopp food for thought.
The jury is still out on new £36million summer signing Ibrahima Konate and Klopp is seemingly still managing the minutes of Virgil van Dijk after his long-term injury.
Phillips showed he's capable of being more than just Liverpool's contingency man after schooling legendary striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the San Siro.
His display left Klopp purring – and the German then lavished the Bolton-born defender with the highest of praise.
"I have to mention Nat Phillips," Klopp said on Tuesday night.
"People often ask me which player made the biggest improvements under my leadership, and I say Robert Lewandowski.
"That’s probably right, but not far off that is Nat Phillips, just in a completely different department.
"I remember when I saw Nat Phillips first. I spoke to him after the game and he’s one of the smartest players I ever worked with. I told him, ‘You know you are not the easiest on the eye, eh?’
"He improved in pretty much everything since, and he’s not playing. Life is sometimes not fair and I can’t blame him.
"We cannot keep him forever, that’s clear. We needed him, just to be safe, for that half-year. We will see what happens in the window. He was fine doing it because he’s a great guy.
"His development is absolutely insane. You saw it last year, you would have said ‘Nat Phillips, oh my god, he plays in the last line?’
"People love him because of his heading but with his feet he is unbelievable. He’s a late starter, but his development is unbelievable. I would sign him for any club except Liverpool, because we have him."
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