Jack Hallows discusses Ben Woodburn and why, despite a very impressive start to his Liverpool career, we must proceed with caution.
When Ben Woodburn thumped home after being teed up by Gini Wijnaldum I genuinely leapt up out of my seat at home and punched the air. I’ve been a huge fan of this kid since seeing him in pre-season and have been talking him and his future up constantly so to see him become Liverpool’s youngest ever goal scorer made me feel weirdly proud. However, while his career he is off to the perfect start, there’s a long way to go and we must heed Klopp’s warning to not get ahead of ourselves.
Nothing anyone can say will take away from Woodburn’s remarkable achievement and his rise to prominence has been nothing short of impressive. The Welsh youngster was representing the U16s at just 14 years old, the U18s at 15 and now the U23s at just 16 years old. Woodburn comes with a reputation for scoring goals at every level – he has 5 goals and 5 assists in 10 PL2 games this season – and is a remarkably composed finisher for his age with an ability to find the net in a multitude of different ways.
While it’s not always the case – the likes of Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen and Raheem Sterling both went on to have distinguished Liverpool careers and it’s arguable that Sterling still hasn’t even hit his full potential – we need to be wary of overhyping Woodburn so as not to risk another burnout situation.
Take Jordan Rossiter for example. The midfielder scored early in his Liverpool career – he was also just 17 – and being born and bred on Merseyside, was fast being touted as a future first team star and the next Steven Gerrard. Injuries, alongside Jurgen Klopp’s arrival, saw his career stall and he moved to Rangers upon the expiration of his contract in the Summer where he has yet to make any significant progress.
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Jordon Ibe and Jerome Sinclair are also both good examples of young players who didn’t live up to the hype. Sinclair came up through Liverpool’s academy and was touted as a certainty for a future first team role, being included in Klopp’s early match day squads. After just two FA Cup appearances, however, he was shifted on to Watford where he is yet to feature. Ibe meanwhile was seen as the next Raheem Sterling but it became clear just months into Klopp’s reign that he wouldn’t make the grade and he moved to Bournemouth for £15 million pounds in the summer.
The positive side, however, is that Klopp has experience with these situations and knows how to deal with teenage prospects. At Borussia Dortmund Klopp, he afforded a 17-year-old Mario Gotze 41 minutes of league game time across five matches, gently easing him into the first team environment. Gotze would score 6 goals and assist 15 in 33 Bundesliga games the following season.
Klopp’s best and most reputable trait is his ability to develop youth into the finished article and he’ll know exactly how to handle Woodburn. He’s a hugely promising talent, there’s no doubt about it. However, we need to be patient with him. Let Klopp work his wonders and let Ben Woodburn grow and build a career as Ben Woodburn, not the next Robbie Fowler or whichever other comparison you might feel inclined to draw.