Liverpool's Nat Phillips had a very successful loan move with German side VfB Stuttgart. He helped the German side gain promotion to the Bundesliga and was playing regular football for the first time in his career.
When Phillips returned to Liverpool, he understood that he was far down in the pecking order and was looking for regular playing time.
Swansea City showed interest in Phillips and he was happy to accept the move in search of game time.
“My bags were packed. My bags were packed and in the car,” the 24-year-old revealed in an interview with the Echo.
“That day training at Liverpool, I dropped out early, all the staff knew that the move was meant to happen. I think it would have been a permanent move and they wanted to protect me, they didn’t want me to get injured in training.
“It didn’t feel like it wouldn’t happen. It seemed almost done but as the day went on, I just thought, “Oh right, maybe this isn’t going to go the way we all imagined this morning."
“Come the evening, once my bags were packed, I wasn’t going to move back in with my parents again because I’d just come back from Germany so I went and got a flat and that was the process of me moving out of home again.”
Unfortunately, the move fell through and Phillips was forced to accept he would have a lesser role on the sidelines for Liverpool instead of playing regular first team football.
“It was very frustrating,” Phillips said.
“I’d just had my first state of playing for a first team in front of fans, bringing value to a side and being more than just a training player in Stuttgart and I loved it.
“I was looking forward to building on that. I was realistic enough to know that while Virgil, Joe, Joel and even Fab were there, they were all ahead of me in the pecking order. It would have taken extreme circumstances for that to change for me, which no-one would have foreseen, for me to have a chance of playing.
“Even just playing, I wanted to be playing regularly and someone who brings value to a side and adds something. That’s what I was getting by moving away.
“When the possibility of me not playing football for a first team in a competitive manner seemed to be taken away and wasn’t coming to fruition for half a season, it got me worrying a bit because I am aware of my age.
“I didn’t want to turn into one of these players who is 24 or 25 with barely any games under their belt. At my age, I need to be playing games.”
At the time, it was very reasonable for Phillips to feel this way as in normal circumstances he probably would've been used in training and maybe played in the Premier League 2 for the rest of the season.
In the Merseyside derby his fortunes would change. After a challenge from Jordan Pickford, Virgil van Dijk suffered a season ending injury and a few games later Joe Gomez would also suffer an injury that would end his season too.
Phillips was brought into the squad after the injury and was included on the bench against Sheffield United. The game after, he was given his Premier League debut against West Ham.
The 24-year-old said that Virgil's injury did have a negative impact on the squad but he understood he would've had a season on the sidelines if he did not pick up his untimely injury.
“Virgil’s injury was horrible for him and horrible for the club as well,” he said. “It’s never nice seeing a player getting injured but in my case, it meant they needed to rely on another centre-back and that’s how I got my opportunity.
“I was grateful to have the opportunity, to be in that place at that time, that I was the guy they had to turn to in the injury crisis."
"There were previous occasions where I might have got opportunities but had injuries myself so was unavailable, but this time I felt I was in a decent place, having come back from my loan spell at Stuttgart, to seize my opportunity.
“There was pressure because of the level that is expected of any Liverpool player.
“Not only that, Virgil is the best centre-back in the world and you’re getting compared to him and whether you can do the same job he does for Liverpool, but I was just excited to be getting an opportunity to play for Liverpool in the league and to be playing football again in a first team.”
Phillips went from not even being in the squad to starting the majority of the games at centre back. He ended up playing 20 games for Liverpool and got one goal and one assist in those games.
He had an impossible job of replacing the best centre back in the world but Phillips did himself proud. The 24-year-old helped Liverpool keep nine clean sheets and secure Champions League football for next season.
Phillips went on to give thanks to Jurgen Klopp for trusting him and teaching him, even though Klopp didn't have much of a choice to play Phillips. “At first I was just doing a job and filling in. I was more than happy to do it but you want to be adding value and helping the team out," said Phillips.
“In my first few games, I was just making sure I got through the games, did my job and didn’t slip up to ensure it wasn’t noticeable that someone who wasn’t a regular was playing.
“That was the aim at the start, just to swim. But as the season went on, I felt more responsibility and more confident and it felt like I could add a bit of value and bring something.
“The manager’s done so much for me and the opportunities he’s provided me with, I’m so grateful that he saw something in me and went out of his way to work on that and do whatever he could to help me achieve as much as I can.
“I will forever be grateful to the manager for that. The only thing that has changed is my role in the squad at the end of the season being different to what it was before, so maybe he has to rely on me more than he ever used to and hopefully he now feels he can place all of his faith in me when I’m playing on the pitch.”
Even though Nat Phillips will probably fall back down the pecking order with van Dijk, Gomez and Joel Matip all coming back from injury, Liverpool fans will never forget what he contributed to this very important season.
With the signing of Ibrahima Konate, it looks like Phillips will either be let go or pushed back down to 4th or 5th choice centre back.
Phillips is a quality player and is much better than being a 5th choice centre back, so if he does want to go no Liverpool fan will blame him and he will always have a place in the hearts of Liverpool fans.
Hopefully he can fight for his place like he did last season and prove he has the quality to compete with Konate, Gomez and Matip.