24-year old Nat Phillips rose to the occasion to guard Liverpool’s backline this season in the absence of Virgil Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip. And he was also voted third place in the Standard Chartered Men’s Player of the Season ranking. He spoke to the Liverpool Echo about the opportunities he was granted this season.
On the pressure of filling in for Van Dijk:
“Virgil’s injury was horrible for him and horrible for the club as well. It’s never nice seeing a player getting injured, but in my case it meant they needed to rely on another center-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 center-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.”
On receiving Jurgen Klopp’s support and encouragement:
“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.”
On the deal bringing in Ibrahima Konate, a potential competitor for him:
“It’s no surprise. Liverpool is a huge club and they are always going to have huge competition for places. You always have to compete for your place in the team.
“Even though there is a lot of competition, I see it as another person to try to learn from; a new person’s game I get to see up close, see how they play and see if I can take anything from that.
“At Liverpool there is always going to be high competition for a place on the pitch. No matter who you are, you don’t have a right to play for them and certainly not myself, having only played a handful of games when the new boys came in.
“You want to be playing as much as possible but you have to earn it. There are occasions when you get on there by default because of injuries, but they don’t come along very often.
“If you want to play as often as possible you need to embrace that fight and play to a high enough standard to hold off such competition.”