Young Players at Liverpool – Different Fates
We’ve recently witnessed two situations surrounding the futures of young players at Liverpool which basically ended in the same way but were perceived differently, and rightly so.
Bobby Duncan and Ryan Kent both left the club on a permanent basis on the deadline day of this year’s summer transfer window. Both are undoubtedly talented young forwards who simply couldn’t make the cut at this particular moment – when Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp have one of the best attacking lines in the world. Eventually, they both saw their best opportunities for immediate first-team minutes were away from Anfield.
But rarely can two situations like this be put in the same basket, and that is certainly not the case here.
Born in the summer of 2001, Duncan started his football days with Wigan Athletic’s youth setup, which he left to join Manchester City as a 10-year-old. Seven years later, his name exploded into the ears of every Liverpool fan as he joined the Reds’ U-18 side, and the fact that he is a cousin of Liverpool icon Steven Gerrard suddenly became relevant.
He went on to score 32 goals for the club at Academy level, but after just one season in a Red shirt, he apparently lost his patience in regaards to a first-team chance and chose to seek a way out. Whether or not, or just how much he was under the influence of a blood-sucking so-called “agent “ isn’t important anymore. Not for himself, anyway. He is now Fiorentina’s worry and his bed is made.
It’s quite a different story with Kent, really. The winger was promoted from Liverpool’s U-18 to the U-23 side back in 2014, which means that, unlike Duncan, he has quite a history at the club. Since then he’s had several loan spells where he worked hard to develop into a proper Liverpool-quality player, but it seems neither Brendan Rodgers in 2015 nor Jurgen Klopp since then ever saw enough of what they need to see to give him a proper chance.
Temporary stints with Coventry, Barnsley, Freiburg, Bristol City and Rangers all came and went, but the story was stuck in the same place. There was still no place for him in the first-team squad at Liverpool.
So it eventually came to that moment, this moment, when loans simply don’t make much sense anymore. A permanent deal was the best solution for all parties. Rangers got a player who will be able to help them, and he will get enough first-team opportunities under a manager who knows him well and obviously appreciates his qualities. Liverpool got a decent fee, reportedly of £6.5 million, for a player of very little experience that they decided they didn’t need.
Unlike with Duncan, it can’t be said that Kent (or Liverpool, for that matter) lacked patience or perseverance.
Is there hope?
Leaving the likes of Kent and Duncan aside now, there are examples of a different development in young players’ stories. One needs not look further than Trent Alexander-Arnold to fully appreciate how a youngster, just out of his teens, can make an impact in the first team. Two years younger than Kent, Trent has already played in two Champions League finals and has nailed down a regular starting spot in a team contending for the biggest trophies out there.
There are also those currently somewhere in between. Harry Wilson is another extremely talented player who has been with the club for a long time. Like Kent, he has also been on a number of loan adventures – Crew Alexandra, Hull City, Derby County, and now AFC Bournemouth.
However, the overwhelming feeling at the moment is that this is likely to be the last move of the sort for the 22-year-old Welshman. He is now being given a full-season run at a Premier League club, where he will be expected to nail down a regular spot promptly and start delivering the goods. Therefore, his fate is in his own hands now, and Klopp will be keeping one eye at the Vitality.
The contract of Adam Lallana, who will be 32 then, will expire at the end of the season. It will also be interesting to see if Xherdan Shaqiri decides to stay in a squad role for a third campaign in a row. At the age of 27, the Swiss international is a fully formed player in what should be his best years, and it’s not unreasonable to keep an open mind about his potential wish to leave come next summer.
All of this clearly indicates, (indicates, mind you) that there would be a place in Klopp’s plans for Wilson; he just needs to use this spell with the Cherries to make sure it’s his.
His left foot is as deadly as anyone’s (left or right) in the world when it comes to long-range strikes, but at the moment it feels like he needs to take in more of what is wanted of him in open play.
Another one who has stepped into a hugely important season for his future is Rhian Brewster. With Daniel Sturridge gone, Brewster has become a third-choice No.9, and though he’s not very likely to get game-time in the Premier League, he must make the most of what he gets in cup games. Whatever happens, he’ll likely go on loan next term, but whether it’ll be a move similar to that of Wilson, as opposed to that of Ben Woodburn, will be up to him and the quality he shows now.
Things look less hopeful for Woodburn. His path in terms of loan spells has been going in a direction different to that of Wilson, or indeed, Kent. He spent 2018/19 with Sheffield United, and though the Blades gained promotion to the Premier League, Woodburn’s contribution to the success through mere seven league appearances is questionable.
Obviously, the loan didn’t work and he’s now been sent lower down, to League One side Oxford United. Never a good sign. He has, however, already come to six appearances and scored a goal, and we’ve only just stepped into September.
But if that is an indication of the level that suits him… Well, the end part of that sentence is pretty clear, even without being said. A disturbing prospect for the youngest player ever to score for Liverpool’s first team in a competitive game.
The main thing to bear in mind when discussing these and similar names is that very few of them actually make the cut coming from Academy levels into the first team at any top club. It’s a ruthless game, one in which mental strength, working habits and determination to reach a goal probably matter more than the natural talent itself.
We are constantly hearing about them, and the public eye seems to sometimes add a little unnecessary pressure on their shoulders, not to mention self-awareness. But until a moment comes when they can actually influence the fortunes of the first team on the pitch, keeping the nose to the grindstone and as far as possible from media (social and otherwise) is the best approach.