Jurgen Klopp is relishing the journey Nat Phillips has made from a place at college in the US to joining Liverpool and, four years on, shining on his Premier League debut.
Phillips was a surprise starter for the Reds as they hosted West Ham on Saturday without Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho and Joel Matip, handed a shirt ahead of Rhys Williams.
It was a sensible decision, with Phillips unable to play in the Champions League and more experienced in the situations expected against a physical West Ham side, and it paid off massively.
The 23-year-old ended the game as Man of the Match, having largely dominated in the air and rarely putting a foot wrong on the ground, receiving considerable praise from Jamie Carragher as part of Sky Sports’ coverage of the 2-1 win.
And in his post-match interview, Klopp flagged Phillips as having stood out, saying he “couldn’t be more happy” with his new centre-back starter.
“Nat Phillips – wow. I couldn’t be more happy,” he told Sky Sports.
“Before the game, I asked if he was nervous. He said ‘no’, I said ‘I would be’. It kept him awake.
“[He was] confident, did his stuff and played a really good game.”
Before joining Liverpool in 2016, Phillips had been offered a scholarship at the University of North Carolina, planning to study economics and look to break into MLS.
Upon receiving the Reds’ offer he opted against a move to the United States, but prior to this defensive crisis, it seemed unlikely he would ever debut for the club in the Premier League – and was even expected to leave the club this summer.
Instead, he found himself marking Sebastien Haller out of the game at Anfield, and the significance of Phillips’ journey was not lost on Klopp.
“Yes, 100 percent,” he said when asked if he agreed with Carragher’s selection as Man of the Match.
“Look, Jamie was a defender himself, he knows. Maybe he can remember his first game for Liverpool, that’s a big thing.
“And especially for a guy like Nat, who is exceptionally intelligent, and three years ago he was on his way to America to study at college.
“Tonight he played for Liverpool, it’s a really nice story.”