“I put big demands on players and sometimes that takes a bit of time to get used to.”
– Brendan Rodgers, April 2013
ON Wednesday night, I was on a flight from Frankfurt to Johannesburg. Translation: Just over 10 hours of manoeuvring your body to locate maximum comfort, only to continuously find the opposite. Long-haul journeys can be the worst. They’re even more painful if a fellow passenger spots you reading a Liverpool book and decides to tell you everything that is wrong with Jordon Ibe.
19-year-old Jordon Ibe. Who was born when Mariah Carey was still in a sweet, sweet Fantasy and Coolio was living minute-after-minute, hour-after-hour in Gangsta’s Paradise. Three games in, and suddenly the winger is no longer one for the future — he’s now exceeded his level. Dismantling a career, one that it is only in its infancy, with just over 270 minutes of the season played, is more ridiculous than anything Mario Balotelli has ever done. And he’s done some mad, mad stuff.
“He just hasn’t got it.”
“He’s been found out.”
“He’s no Raheem Sterling”
The British traveller wasn’t isolated in his thoughts. I’ve seen and heard it on loop. Twitter, phone-ins, articles, Facebook, some of my friends, and possibly even from you…
But we have to resist the urge to soak in short-termism and practice patience. Ibe has not enjoyed the all-action start to the season we may have envisaged, but we need to assess this in context. Against Stoke at the Britannia, Liverpool were understandably risk-averse. The fearlessness of Ibe’s game was not the asset for that encounter, defensive organisation and solidity was. That was a fight — and he committed the most fouls as well as drew the most.
Then at Bournemouth, he was switched to the left flank. Again, the club’s steel and not style was the answer. Ibe’s role at Anfield against Eddie Howe’s men was to be the supporting act to Joe Gomez. But the encounter led to heightened criticism of not just the youngster, but Adam Lallana too, yet the England international’s defensive shift was tireless: he completed the most tackles for Liverpool, was among the top contributors for clearances and that of the headed variety. He also succeeded with the most take-ons.
On Monday night, Ibe was introduced with Liverpool against the ropes and Arsenal hitting as hard as Mike Tyson. It wasn’t his ball or ours, it was theirs. He looked lost. He’s not used to that.
Interestingly, Roberto Firmino created the most chances and completed the most take-ons at the Emirates, but he was also neither here nor there at times — especially defensively. We’re willing to be patient with the Brazilian, and we should offer Ibe the same courtesy, perhaps even more so considering his age and where he is in his football development.
The opening games have not killed Ibe — they have strengthened his knowledge of operating under different instructions and approaches. Brendan Rodgers is demanding more than ever from him, along with the rest of the squad, and the teenager is dealing with the changes. As the manager himself has admitted, the understanding of what is required takes time.
There’s a culture of obsessing over faults rather than promoting the encouraging, and it’s crippling. After the draw with Arsenal, I had tweeted a selection of Gomez’s stats. He recovered the ball 11 times, made five interceptions and the joint-most tackles. He is 18, playing out of position in his debut Premier League campaign, and he is the dog’s bollocks. All that and a bag of potato crisps.
In response to that tweet, I was told he ball watches, had poor passing accuracy and ‘made an error.’ The KID was a standout performer as Liverpool picked up another important away point against a side that smashed them in 2014-15, and constantly has them bent over at the Emirates. He did exactly what his manager asked of him, and threw in extra for laughs. If you didn’t appreciate his display, and you’re looking for what he didn’t execute, you’re failing at this enjoying football thing.
Young players tend to have a drop off as part of their development. We can’t want to be big on youth, and then enlarge their every inconsistency and mistake.
By extension, we can’t implore the club to sign players, and then refuse to accept there will be a settling-in period. We can’t wonder why some aren’t being picked, then kick off at the truth. We can’t want Liverpool to focus on excellence, and then get annoyed when they actually do. We can’t let our own misgivings about — let’s use Dejan Lovren for example — cloud our assessments.
Sometimes what we see isn’t the whole picture, and we’ve got to remember that when the paint brush is in our hands. Different strokes for different folks and all that, but essentially, we should all want the same thing.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo