Nat Phillips interview | Stuttgart loan, unpredictability and future plans
The abnormality of Nathaniel Phillips' career reached new heights last season.
The defender's journey to Liverpool was far from one well-trodden, but nothing could have prepared him for what 2019-20 entailed.
Briefly recapping the events, Phillips signed a long-term contract with the Reds in August and immediately joined VfB Stuttgart on a season-long loan.
He temporarily returned to Liverpool in December, though, and made his senior debut for the club in the FA Cup Merseyside derby victory.
After that game, it was back to Germany, where he helped Stuttgart achieve promotion to the Bundesliga following a two-month pause due to COVID-19.
"Not a bad year!" Phillips reflected during a conversation with Liverpoolfc.com at the Reds' pre-season training camp in Austria.
Phillips is part of Jürgen Klopp's squad currently based on the outskirts of Salzburg as they prepare for the approaching 2020-21 campaign.
He'll encounter familiar faces on Saturday when the Premier League champions come up against Stuttgart in a friendly.
The centre-half made 22 appearances during his loan spell there as they returned to the German top flight at their first attempt.
"I actually found out we're playing against them off their players because they had been told just before we set off for this tour," the 23-year-old revealed.
"I knew going out there, [promotion] was a priority and it was more of an expectation than a goal, so there was a lot of pressure on us to make sure we achieved that.
"Obviously I played a lot of first-team football, which I hadn't done much of before. The experience of playing in front of big crowds every week – at Stuttgart, they get a big crowd at their stadium – so that was a good experience playing under that pressure.
"Also the different style of football over in Germany was a new experience. There were lots of different things that just help you as an individual and as a player.
"It was difficult at first, like it is if you move to a new place in any case. It takes time to settle in and with it being a different country, I had a few more challenges with the language and having no idea about the city beforehand. But I loved it.
"I did pick up a fair amount of the language because everything at the club was in German, all the meetings were in German. That was another skill I wanted to pick up before I went and fortunately I've done that."
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Phillips has returned to a Liverpool side fresh off winning the Premier League with a club-record points total – not that you'd be aware of that, though.
He explained: "There's not really been any mention of winning the title since I've come back. It's sort of, 'Right, we're back now, next challenge up.'
"The hunger and desire hasn't diminished – if anything, it's grown more so after people have had a taste of what it's like."
As for himself, the former Bolton Wanderers trainee awaits to see what the immediate future holds.
He's willing to battle for opportunities within Klopp's set-up, and equally as content for another loan switch to gather more senior experience.
"I'm sort of used to the unpredictability now!" Phillips laughed.
"From what I understand, the plan is that they'll have a look at me throughout pre-season and we'll go from there. I think whichever direction my season ahead goes in, I'll be in a good position.
"If they decide to keep me here after the departure of Dejan [Lovren], obviously I'm one spot closer to the first team, which is good, and I can compete for a place.
"Likewise, if I go out on loan then I'm able to go out and get more games and more first-team experience and start establishing myself in my career.
"I'm feeling quite happy and comfortable going into the season ahead."
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