December 6th: The TBT Advent Calendar series continues with our very own Jack Sear taking a look at six academy players who he feels could be the next to break into the Liverpool first team.
The Liverpool Academy has been a very busy place in recent weeks with staff reshuffles and a number of youngsters going out on loan. The outgoing Rodolfo Borrell and Frank McParland will be proud of what they’ve achieved at the club as Kirkby Academy is now widely regarded as one of the best Academies in the country. Seven Academy graduates made their first team debuts last season and in this installment of The TBT Advent Calendar, I’ll be taking a look at the latest set of Academy crackers that look set to step up to the first team at some stage in the future.
1) Jordon Ibe
The London born forward who is known for his burning pace and fantastic strength was one of the Academy graduates who made his senior debut last season. In fact, Brendan Rodgers has been a fan of Ibe ever since he was appointed, taking him on the pre-season tour of America at the beginning of the 2012/2013 season when he first arrived. Taking all of this in to account, it’s quite astonishing that Ibe is just 17 years of age (18 this Sunday). Ibe arrived from Wycombe Wanderers where he made his goal scoring debut aged just 15 in January 2011 a game that saw him booked for celebrating his debut goal with his parents on the sidelines. Last season saw Ibe develop extremely well in Alex Ingelthorpe’s U21 set up and also allowed the Bermondsey born winger to showcase his talent in the FA Youth Cup. His constant beating of defenders and fantastic finishing ability caught the eye of the first team coaching staff and Ibe was given his full Premier League debut at home to QPR on the last day of the season, where he created an assist for Philippe Coutinho’s winning goal. What is just as impressive as Jordon’s constant attacking threat is his work rate and desire, a characteristic that has always appealed to Brendan Rodgers. The Liverpool boss recently claimed Ibe moved more like a Spanish or Brazilian player on the pitch. If Ibe was at this stage of his development this time last year, there’s a good chance he’d have played a much bigger part in the manager’s plans in the previous campaign, just as Raheem Sterling did. He now trains regularly with the first team at Melwood and the next step for Ibe may be a loan move to further his development. A certain star in the making.
2) Lloyd Jones
18-year-old centre back Lloyd Jones is another youngster who has taken real strides through the Academy system in the past year. The Plymouth born defender made the move to Merseyside at the beginning of the 2011-2012 season and it was clear after his first few games with the U18s that Jones had the potential to be an extremely dominant defender with leadership qualities and impressive composure on the ball. At 6’3”, his aerial threat is a big asset for whichever side he’s playing in as he attacks the ball well, making him a threat at set pieces. The 2012-2013 season saw Jones promoted to the U21s where he has continued to develop under the guidance of Alex Inglethorpe. The defender, who recently rejected an offer to link up with Wales U21 squad with the intention of trying to break in to the England set up, has travelled to matches with the first team squad on several occasions and even made the bench for the away clash at Fulham last season. This campaign has seen Jones confirm himself as an U21 regular. More recently, Alex Inglethorpe has handed Jones the captain’s armband for games against PSV and Aston Villa. The defender’s aggressive nature has seen him over boil on a couple of occasions, but if Jones can keep a lid on that and keep listening to advice from the likes of Ingelthorpe and Rodgers then there is no reason why he can’t go on to be a big player for the club. Jones is not short of competition, he’s joined by Andre Wisdom and Tiago Ilori as the clubs most exciting defensive prospects. All Jones can do is continue to go about his work in the right way. If he does that, plenty of opportunities will come in his direction.
3) Jordan Rossiter
One of the most talked about prospects working their way through the youth set up at Liverpool is local lad Jordan Rossiter. Likened to Steven Gerrard by Robbie Fowler ahead of his NextGen Series appearance against Borussia Dortmund last season, the tough tackling midfielder has made himself an U21 regular this season at the age of sixteen. He captained the U18s last season aged fifteen and has showed immense maturity every time he’s been called upon. With Brendan Rodgers expressing his desire to have more local lads move up to the first team, a lot of heads have turned to Rossiter who continues to impress for Inglethorpe’s U21 side. He is a midfielder who always wants the ball and always makes time for himself. His passing range and tackling ability is also very good especially when you consider he is up against players who are a lot older than himself. In recent weeks there have been signs Rossiter is adding even more to his game. He’s quite often deployed as the deepest midfielder in the team but in the last few weeks Rossiter has managed to get forward and get his name on the score sheet on more than one occasion, after which he revealed that he has been asked to try and score more goals by manager Alex Inglethorpe. The midfielder was in the squad for Liverpool’s Capital One Cup clash against Notts County earlier this season and is viewed by many as the most exciting prospect emerging from the Academy. To have such a well rounded game at a very young age is extremely rare, and when you add that to his maturity and attitude on the pitch, Jordan Rossiter is certainly a name to remember.
4) Harry Wilson
‘The Welsh Wizard’, as he is already being described, burst on to the scene with the U18s this season and his performances for them caught the eye of the Welsh Senior manager Chris Coleman who added him to his squad to face Macedonia and Belgium in October. Wilson even came on to make his senior debut against Belgium. Wilson is a right forward who likes to cut in on to his favoured left foot and score goals. His goal record for the U18s this season is fantastic. He’s not blessed with bags of pace but is extremely good on the ball, frequently turning opposing defenders inside out. His goal record also proves he has very good finishing abilities. He is one of many talented attackers in Neil Critchley’s U18 side, but most would say Wilson has been the standout performer so far this season. With several U21 players leaving the club on loan, Wilson could soon find himself getting a chance at a higher level in the near future. If he can continue to run rings around defenders the way he does and keep on scoring goals, Wilson could turn in to a very good young player. After his Wales call up, its essential that Wilson keeps working hard and doesn’t let the international fame get to his head. So far that’s exactly what he’s done.
5) Cameron Brannagan
The rapid development of the Manchester born midfelder has surprised a lot of fans this season. Many would argue that Brannagan is the most improved player at the Academy. The 17-year-old turned down an offer from Manchester United to make the move to Liverpool in 2004. Many were surprised when Brannagan was promoted to the U21 squad last season ahead of the likes of Dan Trickett-Smith and Seyi Ojo, but we are now starting to see what the coaches at the Academy have seen in him for a while. Alex Inglethorpe has moved him in to a more advanced midfield role and it is there where he has excelled. Part of the reason I think Brannagan was promoted is because he looks like a ‘Brendan Rodgers midfielder’. He has all the footballing attributes that the Liverpool boss looks for. He looks classy on the ball, has a good eye for a pass and has a great knack of making time for himself on the ball. He also covers the other midfielders well, works hard and perhaps most importantly, he scores goals. The 17-year-old has a lot of attributes in his favour and crucially, all of these attributes are one’s that Brendan Rodgers is known to like. He has time on his side, but if Brannagan continues to develop in the same way, I think he’ll definitely get opportunities under Rodgers in the future.
6) Jerome Sinclair
Many thought that Jerome Sinclair may push on after his first team appearance against West Brom in the Capital One Cup last season, where he became the youngest ever player to represent Liverpool. Unfortunately, the 17-year-old striker has been hampered by injury which have meant that he has only really been able to play consistently for the U18s in the last few weeks. What’s guaranteed when he does play though, is goals. Jerome is a striker full of self-confidence; he always wants to take players on when he can, rather like a certain Daniel Sturridge. The Birmingam born forward (again like Sturridge) is blessed with pace, a good physical presence, skill and most significantly, very good finishing capabilities. He is a young striker with a lot to his game. So what’s next for Sinclair? With Adam Morgan leaving for Yeovil on loan, the U21s only really have Samed Yesil and Michael Ngoo as striking options. Sinclair has travelled with the U21s for a couple of games this season already, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him break through in to the U21 set-up in the coming months. What’s key for Sinclair is staying fit. If he can do that and continue to work well, Liverpool have another very big attacking talent in their hands.