Joseph Kavaloski explains how Kevin Stewart, Ryan Kent, and Sheyi Ojo are coming to a crossroads in their Liverpool careers.
Two critical fixtures remain for the Reds that will largely determine the club’s summer transfer business. According to reports, FSG is finally opening up the pockets to fund a busy summer with a significant net spend, but for this to be facilitated, Champions League is basically a requirement.
If Liverpool can win against West Ham and Middlesbrough, Liverpool are almost surely going to see multiple big-name players entering the first team in the summer. Though extremely positive for the direction of the club, multiple players that have risen through the youth ranks could be facing the reality of a limited future at Anfield.
Coming into the season, it was well established that Liverpool’s lack of European participation would limit the opportunities for young players. Now with two matches remaining, this prediction has been spot on as only Ben Woodburn and Trent Arnold-Alexander have earned any significant playing time.
Those two players appear to have a very bright future at the club, but others such as Kevin Stewart, Ryan Kent, and Sheyi Ojo do not share such optimism. None of the three look to have any sort of pathway to regular playing time and if the Reds attain Champions League football, their outlook will only grow dimmer.
As a result, Stewart, Kent, and Ojo are entering perhaps the most important summer of their careers. The pre-season may be their last chance to prove themselves to Klopp or else risk being sold or consistently sent away on loan to drum up interest for an eventual sale.
At this time last season, Stewart and Ojo looked to have permanently lodged themselves in the first team picture. Stewart was one of Liverpool’s best success stories in recent times after having been released from Spurs’ academy while Ojo looked to have all the skills of a dynamic winger that Jordon Ibe did not.
Fast forward a year, and neither player has come close to challenging for any significant playing time in the Premier League. In fact, rumours have begun to circulate that Stewart may leave in the summer in order to gain first team football. If Ojo is unable to make any improvements in the coming months, he too could see his name in the rumour mill.
Kent is in a slightly different position having been on loan this season with Championship side Barnsley. The left-footed winger has established himself well there with three goals and an assist to go along with 2.6 dribbles and 1.4 key passes per match. On an even more positive note regarding how he would fit under Klopp, Kent has also racked up an impressive 1.6 tackles and 0.5 interceptions per match.
The 20-year-old is still far from the finished product, but his season at Barnsley has been a huge step in the right direction for his development. Earning regular playing time each week is massively important at such a young age, and it could see him leapfrog Ojo in the pecking order over the summer.
Klopp needs more of a presence on the outside and Kent could put himself in the German’s plans with a strong pre-season. The Reds will hopefully bring in another experienced winger regardless of Kent’s progression, but if the youth England international can put in a strong pre-season he may avoid another season out on loan.
All three of the aforementioned players have shown glimpses of having a bright future at Anfield in the recent past. From Stewart’s consistency and steel in the midfield to Ojo and Kent’s dynamic skill set on the wing, each player has left the Liverpool faithful with hopes of another academy product reaching the first team.
However, with a strong starting eleven having been developed over the course of this season with more reinforcements on the way, these three players will need to excel this summer or else face the harsh reality of having not made the grade in Liverpool Red.
There will certainly be much more important and flashier headlines to watch in the coming months, but the progression and development of Stewart, Ojo, and Kent is yet another storyline Liverpool fans should track during the offseason.