It was an unexpected rise to prominence for Nat Phillips, one which could ultimately prove to be a win-win situation for both the defender and Liverpool moving forward.
From the cusp of a summer exit for the second time in his Reds career, fate would have it that Phillips would remain in Jurgen Klopp‘s squad for the 2020/21 season.
And to say he shot out of obscurity would be an understatement as his role on the periphery would soon turn into being considered the number one centre-back option.
Unprecedented injuries at the heart of the defence created an opening, but Phillips walked through the door that was left ajar and seized his moment.
“I love the boy — he knows that,” Klopp said after the win at Burnley late last season, where Phillips scored his maiden goal and coupled it with a crucial goal-line clearance.
The moment was not lost on Klopp as his sixth-choice centre-back at the start of the season had helped ensure there was something to salvage from a campaign like no other.
An old school defender not afraid of the contest, Phillips endeared himself to supporters throughout the 20 appearances that saw him partner five different Reds at the back.
His qualities are clear as is his attitude, but so are his limitations in a Liverpool side that thrive off a high line and require pace from their defenders in turn.
The job Phillips fulfilled to help propel Liverpool to third will not be overlooked by his manager, teammates or fans, but there is no hiding from the fact that the return of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip will push him down in the pecking order once more.
And with Ibrahima Konate now added to the fold, that’s four names to hurdle.
It’s not to say there would not be a job for him as Liverpool are likely to carefully manage the comebacks of the returning trio after lengthy injuries, but it’s not in line with Phillips’ aspirations.
“I have loved every minute of it and would love to carry on playing for the club,” Phillips recently told the Liverpool Echo.
“But I’ve also got to take into consideration what is best for my career, and that will depend on what role Liverpool see they do or don’t have for me and I’ll have to go from there.”
At 24, game time will be paramount for his development and ambitions and having now had a taste of regular action, all parties could find a win-win situation with a permanent switch this summer.
Reports have stated that Liverpool would be “reluctant sellers,” but “there is a deal to be done if the price is right.”
That price is suggested to be in the region of £12 million, a significant markup on the fee of around £4 million that had been expected before his switch to Swansea last October collapsed.
With two years remaining on his contract, it would represent a valuable windfall and another nod to the development pathway at Liverpool.
It was a successful year in the second instance, with fellow academy graduate Rhys Williams earning plaudits and gaining experience while Curtis Jones enjoyed a breakout year – the Reds will be overjoyed to continue to hang their hat on that in the years to come.
“It’s a sign for all our kids at Liverpool in the academy. It’s possible, it shows it’s possible…just work hard,” Klopp said at the back-end of the season.
“These boys they are obviously not skilled like crazy, they had to work incredibly hard. And now they are proper, proper Premier League players. And that’s exactly how it can work. I am really happy for them.”
And the opportunity has ultimately put Phillips name on the map and opened doors to the regular senior football he is eager to have, with it still uncertain if he would accept a squad role with few guarantees.
There are still reservations over his game as a whole and it all lends itself to a mutually beneficial scenario if the right club for Phillips can be identified.
The Reds are in a position of needing to sell before they buy and funds from the 24-year-old, whose value may now be at its peak, would assist in adding players capable of being named in the starting XI from the off, with their investment in his development coming back tenfold.
Ultimately, Phillips will have an important say in how the next chapter of his fascinating story unfolds but as he is not short on admirers, it sets up a win-win summer for all parties.