Phillips turns down U.S. college scholarship for shot with Liverpool

Liverpool under-23 defender Nathaniel Phillips was all set on starting a new life in the United States before the Premier League club came calling this past summer.

The centre-half signed his contract with the Reds on the day he was meant to board a flight across the Atlantic Ocean, having secured a scholarship at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to study economics and continue playing football, with the aim of being drafted by the MLS.

Phillips came up through the ranks at the academy of Bolton Wanderers but sensed his time at the club -- where his father, Jimmy, serves as academy director -- was coming to an end, and he began to make alternative plans.

After securing the move to the U.S., Phillips was training at Huddersfield Town to maintain fitness with a coach who knew him from his time at Bolton.

"Three days into that I got a phone call off Liverpool saying: 'We're going to Germany for preseason, and we'd like you to come and train with us. Can you do it?'" Phillips recalled to ESPN FC and local media ahead of Liverpool U23s' match with Chelsea at Prenton Park on Monday.

"Obviously, I leaped at the opportunity and from then on it was all a bit surreal. I knew it was a one last opportunity to stay in the U.K. and try to make myself a career with Liverpool.

"It was a crazy few weeks, but I definitely couldn't have imagined a better way for it to turn out."

The decision to ditch the scholarship in favour of a shot at the Merseyside outfit was, what Phillips describes, a risk.

But the 19-year-old insists he simply had no choice when the offer was presented to him.

"With the university I was going to, they were drafting, in general, at least one lad a year," Phillips continued. "They were a good standard of football team as well. I was happy with that side of things.

"It was more a case of it being a safer option for me because I would have had a degree at the end of it.

"But it was an opportunity that you just can't turn down. If I'd have gone out to America, I would have always had in the back of my head 'What would have happened if I'd have gone to Liverpool?'

"Whereas if I see my contract out here and things don't work out for me as planned, then I don't think I'll ever have that in the back of my head. It was 'I came here, I gave it my best and I don't have any regrets.' That's the way I've looked at it really.

"Now I'm here, I've got to do my best and make sure that I've got nothing else to give at the end of it."

Phillips' appearances with the U23s were few and far between after he signed in August, often limited to just friendly outings.

His chances were limited as a result of Mamadou Sakho and Tiago Ilori dropping down from the first team to obtain match fitness, while the pair searched for moves away from Anfield. Phillips has since been making the most of his starts since the duo have departed.

"At first it was a bit frustrating with Mama and Tiago dropping down because that meant me, Tom [Brewitt] and Corey [Whelan] suffered the consequences of being sidelined," Phillips said. "But looking back, it helped a bit because it allowed me time to settle in.

"Since after Christmas, I've had a few more opportunities to play, and I feel like my games have gone well so far.

"I'm really pleased with how my games are going at the moment. I just hope to carry on getting the opportunities and keep doing what I've been doing."