CAMERON Brannagan has been at Liverpool since the age of five. Fifteen years on, after making his breakthrough into the first team and making nine appearances last season, the question around the midfielder now is: What next?
The Manchester-born 20-year-old was linked with a string of loan moves away from Liverpool this summer, although potential switches broke down reportedly over Liverpool’s insistence that clubs commit to the player appearing in an agreed percentage of games.
So with the season now underway what now for the talented youngster? Brannagan spoke to TAW about what 2016-17 could hold for him.
You remain at Liverpool then, so what’s the target now — what are your hopes for the season?
I’m here now and I’ve just got to keep training and working hard. If the manager needs me for the first team I’m here and ready to be called upon. The Under-23s games are coming up and I’ve just got to keep playing in them and working hard.
You were linked with a loan move to Wigan Athletic, and a host of other Championship clubs were said to be interested in a loan, too. How close were you to leaving this summer?
There was loads of speculation. I was going here and there but mainly my focus was on whatever was there. If the manager had accepted that then I’d have probably gone but he didn’t and I’m still here. My priority at the minute is to keep working hard and when I get the chance to play, keep playing well.
Do you think you can force your way back into the first-team picture at Liverpool this season?
Playing last season [in the first team] just gives you the incentive — you want to play more. That’s not always the case being a young lad coming through, it’s difficult. You know that you’re not going to be able to play 20 games a year right now — that’s not normal.
When I’m at Melwood, I’ve just got to keep trying to impress the manager as much as I can. Even when I’m training here [at the academy], I’ve got to try to impress the manager and the Under-23s training staff. We will see where that takes me.
Now that you’ve played for the first-team, trained with them and toured with them, do you almost feel you are too good for Under-23s football?
I wouldn’t say too good, I would just say being up there [at Melwood with the first team] a lot of the time, you learn stuff that maybe some lads don’t understand here.
You need to come down from that and, if there’s a young lad coming up from the Under-18s then you need to help him. There are older lads here and everyone knows what it’s about. You need to be able to show what it’s like up there and try to help people as much as you can.
When you spent time with the senior players at Liverpool who really stood out for you? Who impressed the most?
There’s been a lot that have impressed, I couldn’t really name one. Obviously, I was up there when I was younger as well so there were people like Steven Gerrard and Kolo Toure there — they were the players I was looking at the most then.
Now I would say Lucas Leiva and James Milner. With everything they do off the pitch and during training, you can just see how good they are and what they have done to get here is unbelievable.
People like that I always watch and I take a lot from.
You’ve played in a few positions for Liverpool at various levels, where do you see yourself settling long term?
I’ve been here since I was five now and I think I’ve played every position on the pitch — even in goal at one stage for the Under-9s!
Wherever the manager wants me to play, I can play it. I don’t really mind, as a long as I’m playing.
There are many positions that I could probably play. Over the years I’ve learned so much from all the positions I’ve played in.
If I ever got put somewhere that I wasn’t too comfortable, I could do a job. I can play on the right, the left — I don’t mind, as long as I am playing. That’s all I’m concerned about.
Can you tell us anything about what Jürgen Klopp is expecting from you now? Areas for improvement, targets?
Not really. We’ve had our talks and that’s between me and the
manager in what we say. My aim and focus is to just keep working hard in the games that I play.
OK, but if you had to say one position — your favourite?
I’d say the right of the attacking midfield. I like to get forward, but I like to get back, too. I’m a bit of a box-to-box man, to be quite honest. I’d say the right of the midfield in the centre — the number eight or number 10. role. Either of them I like to play.
Where do you think you can improve as a player now?
I think there’s loads to my game that I can improve on. I’m only a young lad and there’s loads that I’m working on at the minute — my finishing around the box, my weaker foot. I’ve been practicing free kicks and corners as much as I can. I’m always there working with the manager and the coaching staff after training.
There is a big focus on goals at the club right now isn’t there?
If you work with the manager in training you would understand. When we’re attacking he wants as many people in the box as possible. If the full-backs are near the edge of the box then he wants them to get in the box.
He’s more concerned about you being in the box rather that not in the box. At minimum, when we’re on the attack, he wants four or five people in the box at one time to try to score as many goals as we can.
How did you find the pre-season tour?
It was good. It was hard, very hard. It was our first proper pre-season with the manager and it was learning about what he wanted and what we had to do.
Being out there with the first team, I learned a lot again, so it was really good for me and a great experience. We did lots of running over there, especially in the heat — that was hard. It was good, but it was tough, which you need in the preseason to get fit.
Now we all know what the manager wants, which is good as a player to keep learning from that.
There is lots of talk about Klopp not signing players for the sake of it in the transfer window. He talks a lot of the players who are already at the club. That must give you confidence that you can break through and get another chance under his management?
That’s massive. Because at the end of last season, the manager stuck with a lot of the youngsters and in the cup games he played us and gave us a chance.
We understand this year that might be a bit harder because there are not as many cup competitions that we’re in. But us youngsters are always working hard with the manager every day at Melwood.
Whenever we need something, we can always knock on the manager’s door and say we need something on the pitch or off the pitch — he will help us a lot.
As a young lad, you need that to keep learning. If he keeps us up there and we keep sticking to what we have to do and keep doing well, then we might get our chance in the future.
He’s down to earth, the coaching staff, too. Whenever you need anything they want you to go and speak to them about it and they’ll help you out whatever way they can. As a young lad you need that.
What has been your impression of Jurgen Klopp on the whole? What is he like behind the scenes?
You can see how passionate he is. I think that’s great. I prefer someone like that and I prefer someone that is going to tell you straight and tell you the truth because I feel you can learn a lot from that.
He is calm but he loves the game so much — that’s who he is. He doesn’t change when he is with us, that’s how passionate he is still. He’s a great manager and he’s one of the best.
Finally, what players do you style yourself on? Who do you admire in the game?
There are loads of people. I could go on all day about different players. There’s people that I watch all the time, like Iniesta and Coutinho. Especially being with Phil everyday you can watch him and train with him. You can learn a lot from people like that.
With people like that around me, it’s good because I want to be someone like him, or even like Iniesta. I need to keep watching what they do and try to take as much from their game as I can.
– Liverpool Under-23s host Leicester City at Prenton Park this Sunday, September 11, kick off 2pm. Admission is £4 for adults and £1 for children and concessions. Members and season ticket holders can gain admission free of charge by showing their cards on the day.
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