I’M excited by Joe Gomez. Or I was, until I was told it is very likely he will be loaned out immediately by Liverpool. So now I have no idea when I will see him play for Liverpool. The lad has been picked up by The Reds from Charlton, shifted into Liverpool, only, it is expected, to be shunted off somewhere else almost immediately. He’s spoken of being excited about working with Brendan Rodgers. Well, that isn’t going to happen, mate. Soz.
He probably knew that, being fair to Liverpool. They probably said, this is what will happen. And so it comes to pass. It just feels counter-intuitive about football. Whether it is in our reserves or our first team I want a Liverpool signing to be a Liverpool player. Play for Liverpool. Be in Liverpool. Being here is important. As said many times before, we’re a mad city. Come to terms with it, feel it beneath your feet. Don’t get onto some weird footballer plane of existence if you are coming in from outside, recognise what it is you play for. Be as one with us (did you hear Mackin, Sampson and Nevin talk about Joey Jones? Be like that. It doesn’t half help).
It is difficult to do all that when you are on loan at a Championship club.
We’ve been here before. So much so that I wrote about this in our book about 13-14 with reference to Tiago Ilori. Tiago Ilori: subject of this excellent piece in the Liverpool Echo by Neil Jones, currently doing a very solid job at centre back for Portugal in the U21 championship. Tiago Ilori who you cannot see starting for Liverpool next season. Tiago Ilori who you would have struggled to pick out of a line up three weeks ago. I’ve Googled Tiago a lot recently. He has a lovely smiley face. There’s a magnanimity to it. God knows, given his career path and injury record over the last three seasons he could do with being magnanimous.
What follows is an abridged version of what I wrote around the signing of Ilori two years ago, something which now applies to Gomez. It doesn’t just mention Ilori, who is supposedly down for a new contract, it also mentions Coates, who is supposedly — with only a year left on his Liverpool contract — set for a cut-price £2million move to Sunderland. Young centre back prospects. Doesn’t matter who you are, what sort of player you are – you are going to find it hard. What applied to Coates applied to Ilori, what applied to Ilori will apply to Gomez. What applies to Gomes will apply to the next one. And the next one. And the one after that.
Weird life the footballers have. Anyway, this is what I said then:
On the morning of the last day of the summer transfer window in 2013 Liverpool bought two central defenders: Mamadou Sakho — then aged 23 — and Tiago Ilori — then aged 20. There is three years’ difference in their ages, but Sakho had made 151 senior appearances for Paris Saint-Germain whereas Ilori had made 12 for Sporting. Sakho cost Liverpool £15m, Ilori reportedly around half that, though his fee has never been confirmed.
Without getting into the merits of Sakho, he was clearly a signing for the first team. He was ready for the first team. You could point at those games for PSG, the fact he had worn the captain’s armband, the fact that he had French caps under his belt, and you could say that this player was a first-team defender. And, should he be a success, at his age Liverpool have eight to ten years of him at the centre of their defence.
Ilori, on the other hand, was a gamble. He wasn’t a signing for the first team. By the end of the campaign he had made no first-team appearances for Liverpool and had gone out on loan to Granada in Spain, where he played fewer than ten games.
Three years’ difference in their ages, huge differences in their profiles, significant but not definitive differences in their price tags.
My problem, though, isn’t the money paid for Ilori. He really could turn out to be very good. My problem is this:
When does he get his game?
He arrives at Anfield, on 2 September 2013, with Skrtel, Agger, Touré and the newly bought Sakho all ahead of him. You can make an argument that Andre Wisdom is ahead of him too; he started at centre back against Notts County. Some would love to say Martin Kelly is as well. When do you play him?
This is nothing new. A list of names:
These are all young centre backs Liverpool have bought in the last 20 years. Some for small fees, some for large fees. The point remains the same — none could establish themselves in the first team. Some were clearly good players. Some have gone on to be very good players — Paletta is now an Italian international (Roqué’s opportunity to reach his potential was tragically cut short after he died of pelvic cancer in 2012). All this is before we look at prospects that have come through Liverpool’s youth ranks.
None could get into Liverpool’s first team and stay there. Some — Sebastián Coates for example — are just unlucky or badly managed or the wrong fit. He should have started as many games as possible at the end of Kenny Dalglish’s final season when Liverpool could no longer plausibly finish fourth. He should have kept his place after Manchester City at home in 2012 under Brendan Rodgers. That he didn’t is suggestive of why these players struggle to establish themselves. Managers, at the highest level, are under a pressure to succeed that precludes giving young centre backs extended chances. (See also Alex Ferguson and Phil Jones.)
Young players are exciting. They give life to a team, give zest. They’ll go through a brick wall, as Brendan Rodgers often says. We love watching young players. They make football a joy.
If they are attackers.
Attackers can try things. A young attacking player can try 10 things and if three of them come off, he looks inordinately exciting. One could lead to a goal. Imagine what he’ll be like in five years, we can say, just imagine. Bring him on, he plays without fear. Give him the last 20, he’ll go at them.
Do you want a defender who plays without fear? Who tries things? A young defender plays and if he does 10 things and gets nine of them right, you remember the thing he got wrong; it could have led to a goal. It’ll almost certainly have led to a goalscoring opportunity. And now he’s worried, he’s concerned and 45,000 people have just gone bananas. Because while a footballer or football team might try and play without fear, part of supporting a football team is the fear of conceding.
Footballers need to play to develop. For defenders to develop they need to play against the best and the best make everyone look daft. But they also need to make mistakes against those who aren’t the best. And if you are at Liverpool, where the aim is to win every game, where one mistake can mean the difference between first and second, fourth and fifth, silverware or empty cabinets, then it becomes harder again.
Tiago Ilori merely joins this list at this stage; perhaps he’ll buck the trend. But it appears to me that the only way we know is if he plays. And to play he has to elbow very good players out of the way, keep his place in the team and manage all this while occasionally not being very good and settling in a new country. Sakho makes sense as a signing. His youthful follies have been on Paris Saint-Germain’s time. I’m reluctant to have anyone’s on ours. Because I want to win.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo/PA Images
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While you raise valid points, an unproven player like Illori, like the players of the title winning years, need time to bed in. Some are able to, some are not. While Illori had been given chances to bed in better teams in other leagues than the reserves here, he has been unlucky because of injuries.
Having said that, he probably won’t have a better chance than this season to stake a claim for a first team place. The defense is still shaky. Sakho looks under pressure every time he has the ball. Skrtel, our ‘best’ defender was a calamity during the title challenging season. And of course, our 20mn buy, Lovren, has been a dud. Rodgers, who prefers playing out from the back, favours a ball playing CB. While only time will tell if Illori is that, at least he has a chance this preseason. Hopefully, he will make good use of that. Also, another season for Joe Gomez in the more physical Championship wouldn’t hurt his development at all. Let him cut his teeth there and come back a better player next season, of at all he goes.
I asked the very same question of mates when we signed Gomez.
Young centrebacks have to learn their trade. And that is either at clubs in lower leagues who can afford to let them make mistakes on the job or by starting them out at right/left back and then moving them centrally. However that doesn’t suit all centrebacks. I could never imagine Hyypia starting out at right back or Coates.
There’s a reason why the top clubs rarely see young centrebacks come through their ranks or indeed by them. They simply can’t afford them learning on the job and making mistakes. If you buy a “young” centreback that you can use straight away then they need to be 22/23 at the youngest and have had several season playing already at a lesser club/league.
With Ilori for example, we were lead to believe he was an extremely fast, technically proficient player. So why could he have not been given opportunities at right back???
I just don’t see what the path is for Gomez to get into our first team.
Not entirely sure I agree with the comment before me about Sakho looking shaky on the ball but I’ll leave you with your opinion.
I don’t think Gomez will be damaged by time in the Championship but I would love it if we could bring him on instead of the loan system but the way football goes nowadays, I know that won’t happen.
Ilori deserves to be given a chance this season. Let’s be honest, if he doesn’t see first team football for the Reds this season then I don’t think he ever will. It’s a shame really because some of these players could have turned out to be fantastic defenders but all too often they have their potential stumped by signing for bigger clubs much too soon.
No doubt sold to his loan club at a loss. Players learned their trade in the Central League. – a good mix of up and coming talent and tough old pros either coming back from injury or playing out time
Everybody loves to talk about “experience”, but our most experienced centre-backs (Skrtel and Toure) are just as error prone as they ever were, and their “experience” has no tangible benefit on the pitch where we continue to see them fail to display any sort of leadership in their performances.
I would much rather see Ilori, Coates, or even Gomez, be given the same level of opportunity to play their way into form and potentially develop into quality players at the back, as we have given Skrtel, Toure (and Lovren to a lesser extent) to prove that they are merely serviceable centre-backs.
In the Middlesbrough game (League cup) they Rossiter a game in the centre – also a bit of a risk. But central defence even more of risk?
Perhaps a bit wild (not done much) but if Liverpool start winning some games 3 or 4 nil, some of these youngsters could be coming on for last 10 minutes.
To be fair, it’s not just us – ever looked at Chelsea’s loan list, some seasons there seems to be more Chelsea players in the Anderlecht squad than Anderlecht players.
What we did do last year was recall a youngster doing well on loan and give him his go (Jordan Ibe) which I can remember happening very little and do show a chink of light to those out on loan that they are being watched and still may get the call. I think Arsenal did the same with a midfielder (whose name escapes me) too last year.
As said above, you’d imagine if the plan was to go on loan then he would have been made fully aware of this on signing. Why could we not though have let him do ‘an Origi’ and do an immediate loan back to the club that have developed him, safe in the knowledge that he is ours later but they can have another year out of him?
I get your point Acko and it’s also a great shout made by Michael for Llori at full back last season when considering some of the shameless defending we had to endure. Watched the U21 Final, the whole game, and he absolutely oozed class. I wa particularly keen to observe his positioning when Sweden attacked down the flanks (as Skrtl positioning is woeful in this regard) and the kid is a natural he has the knack of being in the right spot to intercept and snuff out passes coming into the Box from the flank. His time on the ball was excuisate as his pass completion rate must be as high as Sahko’s and he never appeared to be rushed, playing the game well within himself and Good Lord that is a rare quality for an LFC defender these days and needs to be cherished. He also appears to have an abundance of pace and this was the key for me, he has a very calming influence on the team, something which is screamingly obvious the team lacks no matter who we play. Make no mistake subject to Llori remaining mainly fit hes a player destined for great things and imo he will rise to the very top and if it is not with LFC that will be professional neglect by Rodgers.
BTW I do hope we go back to a flat 4 at the back as I thought the 3 at the back last season somehow exposed the conventional centre back pairing when the opposition attacked down the flanks especially as the so called full backs and I emphasise MORENO here were strangely allowed to abandon their defensive duties by the coaches. With that said, for me if Clyne and Moreno can give proper cover down the flanks and force teams to come at us down the centre then with 2 solid CB’s and I would defo include LLORI I see no reason why this kid couldn’t bed in immediately. Also our defensive frailties are exposed when the back line drops too deep and the gap between them and the deep lying midfielder is stretched.
Barring injuries Lloris not going to be featuring at RB any time soon with Clyne’s arrival however if MORENO doesn’t kick on from last season then Llori possesses all the attributes to cover the LB role with consummate ease. I remember Carragher at FB before Benitez arrived and he wasn’t that good either, however when Rafa moved him to the middle he rose to the challenge and a totally different mature and accomplished player developed.