PART one of the Jordon Ibe prediction likened him to a lucky packet: the bags of sugary treats that are crowned by a mystery toy. It was hard to tell exactly what secret prize Liverpool would get with the 19-year-old, but you figured it would be exciting. The surprise at the start of the season was there was no toy at all in the packet and the candy had expired.
When the winger cut short his holiday to book extra training sessions in June, he would never envisaged the beginning of his 2015-16 resembling a baboon’s arse. It was meant to be his breakthrough campaign but upon activation, it was the antithesis of that. Three games into the season and he was being hung on Twitter and harangued in the ground, despite his style being at complete odds to the risk-averse approach at the time.
Brendan Rodgers was in trouble before the term kicked off and he knew it. He needed results. He chose to go safe, but in the end he was still sorry. A player like Ibe, who counts on fearlessness and menace, could not thrive in such a set-up.
In the opening Premier League fixture at the Britannia, defensive solidity was prioritised over attacking ambition and he struggled. Against Bournemouth, he got switched to the left flank in an encounter where the Northern Irishman again wanted steel over style. At the Emirates, Ibe was introduced into the action when Arsenal were in the ascendancy.
He seemed lost, as did many of his team-mates who struggled to keep up with shadows.
The England Under-21 international’s confidence faded as fast the patience for the former manager and he limped along as Liverpool did. The club had lost their identity and so had he. Ibe spent the rest of Rodgers’ tenure on the bench for league games, and it was hard to picture the teenager returning to his explosive best.
He needed to remember what kind of player he is, and was desperate for the encouragement to be exactly that again; brave and dynamic. Jürgen Klopp walked into Melwood and slapped that back into him, literally.
The German has been instrumental in reconstructing Ibe’s conviction, again on display in an impressive cameo at Manchester City last weekend.
“With the new manager, everything is fresh,” he admitted recently.
“I feel like a new player and it’s for me to keep improving and trying to stand out in training. I feel good — the whole team are feeling great and fresh.”
Klopp’s message to Ibe has been simple: have the bravery to make faults, play with a big heart, believe in yourself because I really do, have fun with the game and respect it.
When the boy from Bermondsey struck against Rubin Kazan, it may as well have been the magnetic trainer applying the sharp finish. The connection between them was made clear post-match.
With a teeth-showing smile plastered on his face, Klopp half-hopped, half-jogged towards the goalscorer shouting “Ibey” before giving him a gigantic hug. The look on the attacker’s face, given the stifled start to the season he endured, was magic.
That feeling — that’s what’s next for Ibe. He’s got to dine on it and reproduce it — to make himself and his manager proud.
Young players generally have downturns as part of their development. If Ibe does suffer another setback, it will be crucial to dust himself off and go hard again.
The priority will be to ensure he is continuing his progress and advancing every aspect of his game. To give fullbacks hell every time he’s afforded an opportunity. To work on the final ball more, to get on the end of them too. To understand when to dribble, and when to play simple. To learn, to evolve, to push.
As Klopp detailed: “He is a good lad and a big talent, a very skilled player. He has a really good base and he feels good at this moment but he has to work on things and he has a lot to learn. If he is prepared for this then everything will be good.”
Earning a regular start will be difficult given Liverpool’s options in attack especially with injuries easing off, but he has to make sure he is always in the equation; always giving the manager something to think about.
The 48-year-old has already elevated Ibey, and he will continue to do so. As Robert Lewandowski explained: “His positive way of thinking will help the players… I don’t know all the players of Liverpool, but I am pretty sure Klopp will improve them. The thing with Jurgen is that he will always make any player better.”
The manager is more than prepared to help Ibe become the best footballer he can be, it’s up to him to make sure those triumphant post-match exchanges turn into the norm.
Go on lad, surprise us all again.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo