LET’S face it, last Sunday’s abysmal 2-1 defeat at the hands of Crystal Palace will never be remembered fondly by almost anyone connected to Liverpool FC, writes JOEL RICHARDS.
Except for one eager-eyed 17-year-old.
When the starting 11 and subs were revealed an hour before kick-off, nearly every Red will have taken a curious glance at the name Rhian Brewster among an already youthful and inexperienced substitutes bench.
If you didn’t already feel old at the mention of his age, the fact that he was born just four months into the new millennium is enough to dread your increasing age with every passing year. Despite not making it onto the pitch and becoming the first post-2000 born to appear in the Premier League, it capped a remarkable rise for the Londoner who was playing under-16 football just 12 months ago.
Age has been no barrier for a kid who decided to leave Chelsea at the age of 14 in the hope of a better pathway to making it at the highest level of English football. Brewster acknowledged that Liverpool were more willing to give youth an opportunity, which would have appeared a remote possibility had he decided to stick to his familiar surroundings. Having been coached by former under-23 manager Michael Beale during his time with the Blues, the transition to life at Kirkby was made a lot smoother by a familiar face as he adapted to life away from home and living with house parents.
His first-team call up was just rewards for a season which has seen him net 13 times for the under-18 and under-23 sides, as well as score a hat-trick in a behind closed doors friendly for the senior side against Accrington Stanley last November.
But there’s more to his game than just putting the ball in the back of the net. Capable of playing anywhere across the front line or even as a number 10, Brewster quickly became one of the first names in Neil Critchley’s under-18 line-up thanks to his ability to link up play to devastating effect alongside Yan Dhanda and Glen McAuley.
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One particular game that stands out from Brewster’s season is a 3-3 draw with Manchester United back in November. Trailing to an early United goal, he seized upon a quick interception by Liam Coyle before taking one touch and unleashing an arrowed shot that drove into the far corner to level proceedings.
The Londoner then showed another side to his game, using his fast pace to charge down the United defence and refusing to give up possession even when tackled. In the second half, he turned provider after latching on to another loose ball courtesy of a fine tackle from Coyle before spotting Dhanda charging into space to his left. One perfectly weighted pass of his right foot later, and Dhanda was allowed to waltz through a trio of blue shirts before smashing an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net.
But by the end of January, Brewster would be lining up for the under-23s after regular forward Brooks Lennon returned to the USA to join Real Salt Lake on loan. It didn’t take too long to make a mark after netting on his debut in a 3-0 win over Ipswich Town and barely looking out of place with players who have tasted first-team football. Since then there has been the odd difficult game where service has been lacking or his diminutive stature has been outworked by towering defenders, however they have been overshadowed by performances that have included classy strikes and hard work off the ball as much as on it; a trait that Jürgen Klopp has clearly picked up on.
The call to train at Melwood soon came, and with it a chance to earn a place in the match-day squad thanks to injury misfortune elsewhere.
For all his natural ability, the one noticeable thing about Brewster more than anything else is the fact that he regularly sports a smile on his face on and off the pitch. In an interview with liverpoolfc.com, he explained: “When I’m happy I play at my best and I always like to play with a smile on my face. Being happy puts a smile on my face. It’s important to stay happy and focused on my job and score lots of goals for this team.”
While many young footballers his age are daunted at the thought of giving interviews in front of the cameras, Brewster relishes it. Although grounded and humble, his energetic and enthusiastic personality always shines through and it is this trait that will be one of the main factors in his development into what hopefully will be a long and prosperous career.
Although he may have been disappointed at not making his Liverpool debut against Palace, there’s no doubt that further chances will come his way if he continues to display the performances which have taken him so far in such a short space of time.