Nathaniel Phillips left Bolton in August 2016 at the height of our financial problems. He was due to head to America on a footballing scholarship at the University of North Carolina, where he would have studied economics with a view to being drafted into MLS. Instead, Phillips ended up on trial with the Anfield outfit, eventually earning a permanent, professional contract.
Indeed, he was offered his Liverpool deal on the day that his flight to North Carolina was to depart. How’s that for destiny?
So, it begs the question - given his progress at the Premier League club - why didn’t he make it at Bolton?
His departure came as a surprise to those who had seen him play for Wanderers. A tall, rangy midfielder with the capability to play in defence, and with his father being a modern day club sort-of legend, surely his position and his future were certain.
Well, think again - this is Bolton Wanderers after all.
At the time, and to cut costs, virtually all the U23 players who could be released were released. Phillips wasn’t alone. The first team saw an exodus of some 27 players, ranging from Chris Cvetko, to Zach Clough, to Jordan Lussey, to Quade Taylor, to Jon Ceberio and beyond.
The story behind Phillips’ departure, which has yet to be told until now, surrounds the player (and his dad)’s desire for assurances as to his development in the upcoming season, but the club was unable and, perhaps, unwilling to offer any. This forced the players’ hand and he chose to make his move.
Forced to make tough decisions in light of the club’s financial crisis, few would blame the hierarchy for stripping the academy down as far as possible to save money. This meant players who would normally have received a fourth years’ contract were let go. Rumours even existed at the time that David Lee was out searching for sponsors to help fund individual players’ contracts, such was his desire to keep our talent in-house.
Unfortunately it wasn’t to be.
Phillips, to his credit, has prospered at Anfield. Transforming himself into a confident centre half, he has been a mainstay of Jurgen Klopp’s side in pre-season, indeed he started last night’s win over Torino alongside £75m world-record signing Virgil van Dijk.
Being a ‘homegrown’ player he may well be in the squad to fill out their UEFA mandated English contingent but, either way, he’s done really well for himself and we, as Bolton fans, should be proud of him.
Who knows, perhaps a loan deal could be on the cards one day?