Sporting Lisbon’s Tiago Ilori has been named as one of Liverpool’s top priority signings this summer. They will face tough competition from Valencia who are also very keen on the 20 year old central defender, as well as rumours that PSG and Lyon are keeping a close eye on him. But what is all the hype about?
Tiago is another product of the Sporting’s excellent youth academy that is famous for producing world-class talents such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Figo and Rui Patrício – to name just a few. He started his career at Imortal, a small club in the Algarve, in 2004. In 2006, at the age of 13, he made the move to Lisbon to train in Alcochete, at the Sporting Academy.
He arrived as a fast winger that had the ability to play through the middle and with an unusual ability to control the ball. In 2007, he had a small setback that led to Sporting loaning him to Estoril-Praia, a club on the outskirts of Lisbon. It was at that time that he stood out as a central defender and in the following summer, he was back at the Sporting Academy.
It was in 2011 that he made his European debut with Sporting, against Lazio, in the Europa League. You may have read that Tiago Ilori is the fastest player in 30m sprints to have ever been through the Academy (yes, faster than Cristiano Ronaldo). In that game, he managed to keep up with Djibril Cisse on numerous occasions, sometimes even after handing him a head-start.
Jurgen Klopp, Borussia Dortmund’s manager, recently said in an interview that a crucial feature of a good centre back is his technical ability, and that this ability could be analysed with three parameters: reception/ball control, ability to move with the ball and passing quality. Since Ilori became a first team player at Sporting in the beginning of this year, his technical qualities have improved exponentially from match to match. In the 11 matches he played for Sporting this term, he scored one goal and contributed to various others.
He came into a Sporting side that has been struggling this year into the frailties of the league, but came in an invigorated them into some life along with some of his academy colleagues.
Tiago Ilori is one of the fastest players I’ve ever seen, has strong aerial ability, tactical intelligence and excellent technical skills. He still makes some mistakes, as is to be expected from a 20 year old central defender, but he has everything to become a world-class player in the next few years. In these next years, he needs to bulk up his physique if he wants to defend against tall and strong strikers, improve his positioning and become a reference from corners so he can score more goals.
Sporting have been quick to acknowledge Ilori’s development and, in March, extended the player’s contract until 2015, with a reported buy-out clause.
Portuguese journalist and Sporting expert Tom Kundert believes Os Leaos were wise to do so and that Ilori is a genuine prospect;
“Ilori was thrown in at the deep end and looked a bit nervous. However, he has got better and better and looks like a classy centre-back, rather than a ‘Rambo’ type. More Ricardo Carvalho than John Terry, you could say.”
Others have compared him to Real Madrid’s French centre-back, Raphael Varane due to his tall, slender figure, yet omnipresent strength and pace. Another reason Rodgers might be interested is because he is versatile; allowing him to play at left-back, somewhere he has played at youth footballing levels.
As a Sporting fan, I would obviously prefer him to stay with us for a couple more years. He would get more playing time, evolve his playing skills, and then, at the right moment, make his move to the Premier League. If, however, he chooses to move now, we wish him all the luck in the world – I am certain he will be a world-class central defender.