There are few things Ben Woodburn hasn’t been able to master during his fledgling career so far, but asking him to summarise the last 12 months of his life is most definitely one of them.
But Woodburn is in good company as there are few who’d manage to put together the words that would successfully do justice to effectively explain how much has changed in the past year.
He tries again: “My life has obviously changed a lot and I do get the odd few people recognising me and asking for photos or autographs.
“The first time someone stopped me, it was a bit weird for me because I wasn’t used to it at all. A year is quite a long time, so I’ve gotten used to it now.
“All my friends and family still treat me the same, though, so it’s not a massive difference other than the couple of people asking for autographs, but I don’t mind it. It’s all part of it.”
Woodburn is startlingly modest and humble in his answering as he sat down with Liverpoolfc.com at the team hotel in Hong Kong last week, but the truth is things are drastically different now for the 17-year-old.
For starters, when his now full-time teammates were on their tour of the United States in 2016, the forward was with Liverpool’s U23s at a pre-season tournament in Germany.
Since then, nine appearances have been achieved with the first team. Oh, and a call-up to the senior Wales national side.
“I have enjoyed every minute of it so much,” Woodburn states. “It’s been a massive learning experience for me, especially alongside the players we have in the squad. Having those people around has made learning easier for me.
“I wouldn’t say I get nervous about anything now, I get excited because I just love playing football.
“Being in the squad, it’s kind of become normal for me. The other lads, they treat me like a normal player – it’s not like I’m a young kid and so I’m different. It feels normal. They make it easier for me to interact with them and ask for the ball in training and matches.”
Of course, there was also that goal against Leeds United that etched him into Liverpool’s history books as the club’s youngest ever scorer. Netted at the Kop end, no less.
“My phone just blew up with messages, WhatsApps, tags, likes… everything,” he says, smiling at the memory of turning his mobile phone on in the dressing room afterwards on that November night.
“All of my family and friends got in touch, it just went a bit mad. I managed to reply to everyone who’d messaged me, but it took a while!
“At the time it was obviously an unbelievable moment for me and everyone around me. Those things happen in football, though, so you can’t allow yourself to get caught up in it. That said, I’ve probably seen it back a few times! It is nice to watch.
“Before I went onto the pitch, the manager told me to go and enjoy myself. I tried not to dwell on it, I just wanted to go out and try and play my game, and show everyone what I can do.
“The next day, I was training and it was straight back to normal. The lads who’d started the game were on a recovery session and I was training normally, so it was just back to my usual routine.”
That sense of remaining grounded extends beyond the perimeter walls of Melwood.
Woodburn – who doesn’t turn 18 until October – still lives at home with his parents and his younger brother, where there is certainly no ‘superstar treatment’.
In fact, despite his football achievements, there’s been no let-up from Mum in making him muck in with household chores.
He smiles: “They don’t treat me any differently or anything. I still have to do the odd thing around the house for my mum – I have to tidy my room and put my dishes away!
“They’re the same with me. They obviously know my life has changed, but they keep my feet on the ground.
“It means I can just switch off when I go home; chill, watch TV, play FIFA with my friends. I am always doing stuff at home – I don’t stay in my room. Either that or I’ll be out doing something like playing golf or round at a friend’s house.
“I actually got into golf by playing a little bit when I was younger. A few of my friends like to play it and there’s a golf course right next to where I live, so we try to go when we can when it’s sunny. It’s a nice day out. It takes your mind off things and it’s good to chill out with my friends.
“But life at home and with my friends is the same as it used to be, it hasn’t changed for me.”
If life at home remains unaffected by Woodburn’s progress, the sight of numerous ‘Woodburn 58’ jerseys on display in Hong Kong last week shone light on his growing stature within the game and served as an indicator of how his progress has not gone unnoticed.
“The first time I saw my name on the back of someone’s shirt was when my friend took a photo when he was on holiday and sent it to me,” he recalls. “I just started laughing… it was really surreal and I didn’t know how to feel. I told my family and they also laughed and were really pleased for me.”
Woodburn featured in both matches during Liverpool’s trip to Asia and was deployed in a deeper midfield role in the encounter with Crystal Palace last Wednesday.
Afterwards, Jürgen Klopp outlined his belief that Woodburn’s tender age means it’s too early for him to be pigeonholed into a position on the field permanently.
It’s a sentiment the player himself fully concurs with.
“It’s obviously nice to hear when someone like that says something like that about you,” Woodburn reflects. “He’s right in what he is saying – I am only young and I don’t want to put one position to my name. I still don’t know which my best position is… I don’t think anybody does at the moment, so I’ve just got to keep showing what I can do in different positions. In time, it’ll show which position I should be playing in.
“I like playing in centre mid, but I like playing on the wing as well… I just like playing anywhere, really!”
By the same token, Klopp also revealed part of his thinking in placing Woodburn in midfield was to enable him to gain some crucial experience alongside his more established colleagues, Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana.
“It is good to play in midfield, especially with Henderson and Lallana because they’re top players and they make it easier for me when I’m alongside them,” Woodburn continues. “They talk to me throughout games, they’re good like that.
“They’re both captains in different ways – Hendo is the captain, but they both speak to me, give me advice and praise and it just makes it a lot easier.”
An appetite to learn and an eagerness to seek advice from his senior counterparts are staple parts of Woodburn’s plan for improvement.
The recently-departed Lucas Leiva was one such source of experience he used to attempt to tap into on a regular basis.
“They all give me advice, but I have to say Lucas gave me a lot of advice because there was a time when he played for the U23s at Arsenal last year,” explains Woodburn. “From then on, he gave me a lot of advice and really helped me to settle in when I first came to Melwood. He was a big personality and big influence on me.”
One man providing constant guidance to Woodburn comes in the form of his manager, Klopp.
The pair converse daily on areas for improvement and it’s something the Wales U19 international is looking to reimburse.
“I feel like we’ve got quite a good relationship,” he says of his dialogue with Klopp.
“He will tell me if he thinks I should be doing something else, he will praise me. He has been really good with me and since I’ve been with the first team, he’s helped me a lot.
“I think the first hug I had off him was after the Leeds game. He gave me a big one then! But it makes it special when you get advice from someone like him. He is one of the best in what he does.
“I just hope I can repay him with what I do on the pitch.”
‘Improvement’ is a word that comes up frequently during the course of our chat at Hong Kong’s Ritz-Carlton hotel.
So what are the main facets of his game Woodburn is currently working to enhance?
“There are a few things I am looking to improve on right now. A big difference between youth and senior football is that you’ve got to be mature in how you play, so that’s what I am trying to do.
“There are decisions within games you can get away with in the youth teams, but in the senior side you can’t – how quickly you pass the ball and not risking every single pass. Keeping the ball.
“I also want to improve my fitness levels because obviously here at Liverpool, pressing is one of the main parts of our game, so I want to get good at that because that’s how we play.”
It’s clear Woodburn is a youngster with an eye firmly on the future and what it’ll take to help him achieve his dreams.
But he’s eager to state that none of this would be possible without the solid footing and groundwork that was laid down for him by the staff at Liverpool’s youth complex in Kirkby.
“Everyone at the Academy has played a massive part in how I’ve progressed and I’ll never forget that,” Woodburn expresses with conviction. “They helped me so much and made the step to Melwood so much easier with the way they train you and how they are with you.
“It’s hard to put into words how grateful I am for that, they helped me a lot. I’ll always be grateful for that.”
It was at the Academy where a friendship with Trent Alexander-Arnold was forged – a bond that has made the step up to first-team level.
Their close relationship was evident from the moment they celebrated Woodburn’s Leeds moment and the pair share a mutual delight for the career progress the other has made.
“It makes it easier when one of your mates is with you in the squad,” Woodburn says with a laugh. “I can chill with him all the time.
“It’s not like going into the squad and not knowing anyone… if you’re with your mate, it’s a lot easier. It is great to see when someone who you know and who you’ve basically grown up with is doing well as well. It’s so nice to see.”
Woodburn was part of the Liverpool squad that jetted out to Germany on Wednesday for the second leg of their summer tour, having enjoyed every minute of the trip to Hong Kong.
Unfortunately, though, he and some of his other teammates will have to find something else to fill the void of a popular reality TV show that came to an end on Monday…
“There was a few of us watching Love Island,” Woodburn reveals with a grin, confirming a post Lallana made on Instagram regarding the show’s popularity among the squad while in Asia.
“It’s funny to watch. I also watch Netflix and films on there. I’ve just watched one… I can’t remember what it’s called but it’s got Rocky and Arnold Schwarzenegger in [Escape Plan] – it’s where they break out of prison. It’s good, I like it.
“I’ve also been listening to bit of Post Malone. Drake as well, but everyone listens to him don’t they? There are few different artists, I’ll just put shuffle on. We’ll also play FIFA, pool or ping-pong among the lads, but Love Island was the only TV I was watching!”
As we prepare to wrap up our interview to head to the day’s first training session in the sweltering Hong Kong heat, there’s time for one final poser.
Given the upward trajectory of his last 12 months, in an ideal world what would Woodburn like to be reflecting on if we were to sit down again on Liverpool’s summer tour of 2018?
“I’d start off by winning our next game!” he says in a manner that contradicts his tender age. “After that? I’d like to have played a good amount of games and hopefully the team had won at least one trophy and done well in the Champions League and Premier League.
“I’m just taking things as they come at the moment. I set myself a few targets, but ultimately I just want to play some games, hopefully score some goals and win matches.
“I sort of feel like I am establishing myself in the first-team set-up, but I know there is a long, long way to get to where I want to be. I am happy with what happened last season, but there’s so much hard work still to do and a long way to go for me.
“I just want to show everyone what I can do at the moment and show progression from last season.”