Phillips almost took US college scholarship before Liverpool came calling

Nat Phillips – called ‘a monster in the air’ by Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp – is completely grounded when it comes to making big career decisions.

And there have been quite a few for the son of Bolton Wanderers legend Jimmy Phillips.

“Nat has always had a great ­determination to succeed as well as being dedicated and disciplined,” said Phillips senior (below), who made more than 300 appearances for the Trotters in addition to spending 15 years as a coach with the club.

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It is an inner strength that saw him reject a US football scholarship, move to Germany on loan, recalled for a ­Merseyside derby and bounce back from an aborted move to a ­Championship club on transfer ­deadline day in October.

Two weeks later, he was thrown in at the deep end by Klopp for his ­Premier League debut against West Ham, following a Kop injury crisis.

Nathaniel Phillips almost missed out on his Liverpool career

He responded with a man-of-the-match performance and his delighted manager saying: “In the air, he is a monster – he was incredible.”

His Champions League debut will have to wait because he is not in the squad for the European big nights.

Dad Jimmy said: “He’s not registered for the Champions League. Liverpool had to name the squad on the Tuesday and transfer deadline was the Friday and they were pretty sure Nat wouldn’t be a Liverpool player.

“They were prepared to sell him to a Championship club, but the deal broke down. It looked like he would be ­staying at least until January and his game time would be very limited.

“But the next day Virgil van Dijk got injured against Everton and that ­created an opportunity for Nat and a few other players. There were other injuries and, a couple of weeks, later he’s playing against West Ham.”

Twists of fate have affected the ­central defender’s football life. ­Glandular fever and injuries slowed his progress in the Bolton academy, which he had joined as a nine-year-old.

The defender has helped Jurgen Klopp with his injury crisis

Jimmy encouraged Nat to study.

“I told him nothing is guaranteed in football,” he added.

Armed with three A levels when ­Bolton’s finances ­dictated he had to be released, a change beckoned.

“I said, ‘Why not look at the US ­college system?’, it offered a great base for ­getting into the American game,” said Phillips senior.

“He liked the idea and got an offer from Charlotte ­University in North ­Carolina, went over and was incredibly ­impressed with the facilities.

“But, three days before he was due to fly out, Liverpool, who had been keeping tabs on him for a few months, invited him to join them on a ­pre-season trip to Germany.

“The only thing I asked ­Liverpool was not to just offer him a short-term contract because he did have this ­fantastic offer from America.

“If he wasn’t successful in the first month or so at Liverpool, then he’d also have missed out on America. To be fair, they offered him a two-year contract that gave Nat the chance to develop, which I felt he still needed.”

The raw Phillips was soon reunited with Germany – en route to a loan spell with VfB Stuttgart.

“Nat has to be grateful for Jurgen Klopp getting involved through his ­relationship with Stuttgart’s sporting director,” said Jimmy. “Liverpool looked to get him out on loan, but to get to Stuttgart, even if they had dropped into Germany’s second tier, was a great ­experience.

“There was pressure to get promoted back into the Bundesliga. They managed that and, when I went to see him, there were 50,000 fans. He spent the second half of the season in lockdown, but to be part of a promotion-­winning team was fantastic.”

Then there was a Merseyside return in January – a young Kop side in the FA Cup third-round derby against ­Everton, ­embarrassing their ­neighbours with a 1-0 victory.

“Jurgen likes to feed one or two at a time into the first team where there is experience around them,” added his dad. “I wouldn’t have said four years ago that he’d play for ­the first team.

“But if you work hard, you never know what’s around the corner.”

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