The fourth instalment of Vital Liverpool’s serialisation of editor Gavin John Day’s acclaimed Clear As Day football column…
Over the past season Vital Liverpool editor Gavin John Day has been writing a monthly column for LFC fanzine Anfield Roar entitled Clear As Day.
With the campaign now over we are delighted to be able to share these articles with you and will be publishing the series at regular intervals over the coming weeks.
In this, the fourth Clear As Day column published, Gavin reflects on the dangers of being regarded as the ‘next big thing’.
Clear As Day #4
Originally published: November 2012
Football’s long and chequered history is littered with players who were exposed to senior football at a very early stage of their career. Some thrive and blossom into greats but many vanish without a trace, often damaged by the exposure, burden or financial rewards thrust upon them.
The modern game is heavily responsible for a rising number of footballers who ultimately fail to make the grade despite receiving a brief taste of the limelight.
Nowadays almost every side around the world has its youth team stars who the fans and media, aided by the Internet, You Tube and social networks, know all about before they’ve effectively even taken their first formative steps.
The quest to find the ‘next big thing’ has led to clubs, and football associations, ploughing millions into academies, centres of excellence and general youth investment on an unparalleled scale.
Liverpool are no exception to this. In fact they are investing more in this area than most and over the past couple of seasons we have started to see the fruits of the club’s labour.
Following a series of impressive recent performances, which have catapulted him into Liverpool’s starting eleven, talented winger Raheem Sterling is seemingly at the forefront of an evolving Anfield youth movement.
Upon making his debut as a substitute against Wigan Athletic back in May, Sterling became Liverpool’s second youngest league debutant ever at 17 years and 106 days – 37 days younger than a certain Michael Owen.
Current team mate Jack Robinson, who holds our record in relation to the league, was a mere 16 years and 250 days when Rafael Benitez pitched him into first team battle at the end of the 2009-10 season.
Taking cup competitions into account and the overall accolade for Liverpool’s youngest ever player now belongs to Jerome Sinclair who featured in the League Cup earlier this season at the ridiculously tender age of 16 years and 6 days.
Suffice to say I cannot remember exactly what I was up to at that age but it probably involved tentative fumbles with unimpressed girls and cunning attempts at purchasing cheap cider from the local off-licence using a fake ID. Anyway, I digress…
Comments from England manager Roy Hodgson following Sterling’s well taken goal against Reading last month, which made him our second youngest scorer of all time after Owen, suggest he will shortly become only the third 17-year-old to play for England in 150 years.
The Jamaican born speedster is not the only one making a name for himself at Anfield though. This season has seen a host of youngsters blooded by new manager Brendan Rodgers as he attempts to implement a long-term strategy for success without the aid of the sizeable transfer kitties afforded to many of his predecessors.
Numerous other teenagers have featured heavily under the former Swansea City boss with Andre Wisdom and Suso in particular making sizeable impacts on the consciousness of Liverpool fans.
Although wearing the famous red whilst still in your teens is not exactly unheard of – Robbie Fowler, Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard were all 18 when they first graced the Premier League – to have so many promising talents coming through at once is hugely exciting.
A note of caution must be sounded however because for every successful teenager that goes on to make a lasting impact at a club there is always a Mark Kennedy or David Raven.
The recently retired Kennedy is an example from Liverpool’s not too distant past that shows the potential dangers of hype and expectation on a young player.
So many good things were forecast when Roy Evans handed Millwall around £2m for the winger in 1995, making him the most expensive teenage footballer in British history at the time.
A glittering future at the top level was supposedly a given but after featuring on just 18, largely disappointing, occasions over three years, Kennedy was soon offloaded to Wimbledon.
Although a regular international for the Republic of Ireland, the player proceeded to embark on a largely nomadic career, subsequently plying his trade for seven other clubs including Cardiff City, Ipswich Town and Crystal Palace.
Speaking of Palace, the London based club were the team on the receiving end when the youngest ever Premier League scorer, James Vaughan, netted for Everton in April 2005 at the age of 16 years and 271 days.
Despite still holding the landmark, Vaughan’s career has subsequently stalled to a large degree, featuring a number of loan moves and a so-far unsuccessful transfer to Norwich City.
It seems our Merseyside neighbours have a knack for producing striking protégés but for every Wayne Rooney there is unfortunately a Francis Jeffers or Danny Cadamarteri.
For several years Jeffers had everyone believing he was going to be the next big thing after making his debut for the Toffees aged 16 years and 335 days and going on to score 20 goals in 60 games.
It didn’t quite go to plan from there though and an £8m move to Arsenal in 2001 was an epic failure despite the illustrious Arsene Wenger lauding his new signing as the crucial ‘fox in the box’ his side needed.
Jeffers managed just four goals for the Gunners, partly due to injury, and can now be found playing for Maltese outfit Floriana F.C via a spell in Australia.
These examples offer proof, if ever it were needed, that Liverpool fans need to remain level headed through this period. The current crop of young players could propel us back to sustained success but equally they could become another forgotten chapter in the illustrious history of the club.
Only time will tell…
Liverpool fanzine Anfield Roar is a FREE monthly publication bringing LFC fans a plethora of news, views and opinion. Click here to find out more and to subscribe…
Previous articles in this series
Clear As Day Issue 1
Clear As Day Issue 2
Clear As Day Issue 3
Follow Gavin John Day on Twitter @superbag
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