After his release from Bolton Wanderers at the end of 2015/16, Nathaniel Phillips’ footballing career seemed to be in a state of flux.
The son of Jimmy Phillips, who played some 300 times for the Wanderers in two stints, reaching the 1995 League Cup final against his son’s future side and winning the first division title in 1997, Nat came up through the youth ranks at his hometown team. However, a big break into the first team never looked like it would materialize, and he was released at the end of that season, determined to pursue a scholarship from the University of North Carolina in the USA.
But lo and behold, soon before he was set to fly out, Phillips received a call from Liverpool’s Kirkby Academy, asking if he’d come in for a trial. As it turns out, Phillips was on the radar of Liverpool scout Andy O’Brien, himself a former Bolton player.
After “giving his best and seeing what happens” in the trial, he eventually signed a contract on the day he was supposed to fly out for the States, at that time behind Tiago Ilori and Mamadou Sakho.
His patience was rewarded in January of 2017, when he began to see minutes following the departure of Ilori and Sakho in Mike Garrity’s U23 side, with Garrity noting his qualities as an “old fashioned centre half”.
The defender was then called to train with the first team as the Reds navigated an injury crisis toward the end of last season, and Phillips, along with Conor Masterson, Rafa Camacho and Curtis Jones, was in and around the first team on the road to the Champions League final, an experience that was no doubt special for the youngsters in their development as well as for their confidence.
As one of the first to report back to training ahead of the 2018/19 season, Nat was given a taste of first team football in preseason, impressing enough in the early games to be included in the squad for the Reds’ tour of America. Incidentally, it featured a stop in North Carolina, playing Borussia Dortmund in Charlotte, not too far from Chapel Hill, where he would’ve worn the blue of UNC as part of his football scholarship. Instead, he played in the Red of Liverpool.
Though he has yet to feature for the first team competitively, he remains a part of the first team squad, given the number 47, while also captaining Neil Critchley’s U23 side. Now 21, big things are expected of the Bolton-born youngster whose rapid rise through the Kirkby ranks has already seen some great highs.