The Reds have targeted the next generation of stars so far this summer – but will their policy pay off?
Liverpool’s youth revolution continues.
The Reds are set to complete their second signing of the summer, with the arrival of Harvey Elliott from Fulham expected in the coming days.
The 16-year-old will join Sepp van den Berg, a relative veteran at 17, in snubbing interest from across Europe in order to move to Merseyside. Liverpool paid an initial £1.3million for Van den Berg, and will now agree a significant compensation package for the precocious Elliott.
He brings with him a growing reputation, having become Fulham’s youngest ever soccer professional last September, playing in a Carabao Cup tie at Millwall aged just 15 years and 173 days. In May, he became the youngest debutant in Premier League history when appearing for the Cottagers at Wolves, breaking a record that had stood for 12 years.
Word from Liverpool has been that Elliott, like Van den Berg, has been seen as a first-team signing who will train at Melwood, rather than someone who will spend the bulk of their time at the club’s Academy.
What a move this could be for the youngster. Though born in Chertsey, a few miles west of London, he was raised as a Liverpool supporter. He might have signed for the Reds as a 14-year-old but opted to remain at Fulham, whom he had joined from Queens Park Rangers a few years earlier. Given he went on to play first-team football at Craven Cottage before his 16th birthday, he can reflect on that decision as a smart one.
For Liverpool, his capture has been seen as another feather in the cap for the scouting and recruitment team, and further evidence of the club’s standing. Having seen off strong competition from the likes of Bayern Munich and Ajax to sign Van den Berg last month, they have again stolen a march on their rivals to land a top teenage talent.
Elliott was tracked by Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, as well as European giants Real Madrid and PSG. RB Leipzig made an approach too.
For players such as Elliott, the draw of the Bundesliga has been significant. Matt Bondswell, his England under-17 colleague, has been already at Leipzig, while the likes of Reiss Nelson, Rabbi Matondo, Ademola Lookman and, of course, Jadon Sancho have all found first-team opportunities in Germany.
Liverpool, though, are European champions, and in Klopp they have one of the best sales pitches imaginable. The manager’s reputation as someone who develops, trusts and uses young footballers should not be underestimated.
In Elliott and Van den Berg, as well as the likes of Rhian Brewster, Curtis Jones and Ki-Jana Hoever, Liverpool believe they are assembling a squad for the future as well as the present. Bobby Duncan and Paul Glatzel, the stars of last season’s Youth Cup winning team, will be used with the first team in the coming days, while Academy staff are also quietly enthused about the prospects of Huyton-born Layton Stewart, who has joined Barry Lewtas’ under-18 squad as a 16-year-old for the new campaign.
Of course the road to the first team has been fraught with danger. Injuries can play their part, as can loss of form or confidence. Opportunities are limited at the top end of the Premier League, where standards are high and patience in short supply.
Most Liverpool fans could reel off a long list of players dubbed “the next big thing” who were unable to crack it at Anfield. For every Steven Gerrard or Trent Alexander-Arnold, there are a dozen Jerome Sinclairs or Krisztian Nemeths. Or Bobby Adekanyes, or Adam Morgans, Michael Ngoos, Yan Dhandas… you get the drift.
Those examples should serve as a warning where Van den Berg and Elliott are concerned. Though both clearly have talent – they have both played top-flight football already, which has been instructive – it will take more than that to make the grade at Liverpool. They will need courage, patience, mental toughness and, perhaps more than anything, a little bit of luck too.
Meanwhile, it has been fair for supporters to question their club’s decision to, so far at least, avoid the temptation to strengthen their squad with established, big-money transfers.
The names continue to be linked, naturally, but the message from Anfield has been consistent, and Klopp’s recent assertion that the likes of Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joe Gomez can be “like new signings” this season was telling, too.
His words will worry those concerned about a lack of true, established cover in attacking areas or the absence of a specialist left-back to deputise for Andy Robertson. Liverpool handled problems well last season, but were still forced to field a 16-year-old at centre-back in an FA Cup tie, and started a Champions League semi-final with Gini Wijnaldum as their centre-forward.
Klopp would argue, with some justification, that he and his recruitment team have done enough to earn supporters’ trust and that a squad strong enough to win the Champions League while amassing 97 points in the Premier League has been not necessarily in need of too much surgery. Certainly, the spine of the team has been as healthy as any around.
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Maybe things will change before the transfer window closes on August 8. Maybe Liverpool will surprise us and land themselves another marquee signing. A year ago, remember, the word was that their pursuit of Alisson Becker was over, that the price was too high and negotiations had stalled. That turned out all right in the end.
For now, though, the focus has been on what they have done. In Van den Berg and now Elliott, the Reds have started planning for the future, here and now.
A risk worth taking? Time will tell…