Just like at the start of every season, Liverpool have a bunch of young ‘gems’ that are predicted to break into the first-team. The press builds up a lot of buzz around them, they are heralded as Liverpool’s future, paraded in pre-season games, only to be sent on loan for “valuable” experience and then later never quite make it at Anfield.
Names like Dani Pacheco, Nathan Eccleston and Tom Ince come to mind. Talented they surely were, but Liverpool seemed to treat the pre-season as an opportunity to market them for a loan move, and not to set a base for them to establish themselves in the first-team.
However, in the last two seasons, young talents like Raheem Sterling, Martin Kelly and Andre Wisdom have been given the chance to make a place for themselves in the team. The arrival of Brendan Rodgers at the helm of the team has certainly resulted in an increase in opportunities for the players from Liverpool Academy.
Jordan Ibe is one such player who is set to benefit from the change at the club. Highly gifted with blistering pace, self-confidence and natural talent, Ibe hasn’t looked out of place in the Liverpool first-team whenever he’s been given a chance.
Ibe was born on December 8, 1995 in Bermondsey and began his football education at Charlton Athletic academy at the age of eight. After four years there, he was released for not being considered good enough for the club. A 12-year-old Ibe joined Wycombe Wanderers youth setup where Paul Lambert was the manager.
Quickly progressing through the ranks at Wycombe, Ibe made his first-team debut for the club on August 9, 2011 at the age of 15 years and 244 days, when he came on as a substitute in extra-time in the victory over Colchester United at Adams Park.
He later went on to become the youngest scorer in Football League’s history when he scored against Sheffield Wednesday on his first start. He drilled in a fine finish after dribbling past three defenders.
Wycombe manager Gary Waddock said after the game: “He is 15 and to do that on your debut tells you the quality the lad has got. We just want to make sure he goes on and fulfils the potential. He could play at the highest level.”
Liverpool signed Ibe from Wycombe in December 2011 for a fee reported to be potentially rising upto £1,000,000. There was heavy competition to sign him, with interest from Manchester United, Chelsea among other clubs.
Waddock described the move as an excellent one for Ibe’s career, saying: “It’s a fantastic move for him. He’s a phenomenal talent which is why we gave him a chance to show what he can do at first-team level. I have no doubt in my mind that he will go on to become a big star and I will be keeping a close eye on his progress.”
He made his Liverpool Under-18s debut in a win over Crewe and scored his first goal for the team on February 18, 2012 when he scored the winner against Blackburn Rovers.
Ibe became a mainstay in the side, playing on the right wing, and scored three goals in 12 appearances. He also got experience of playing with the Liverpool Reserves team, and he represented them in the NextGen Series in March 2012.
Brendan Rodgers took charge at Liverpool in the summer of 2012, and he decided to take Ibe on Liverpool’s pre-season tour of USA. Ibe played the half of a friendly against MLS side Toronto, before being replaced by Joe Cole. Ibe produced an impressive performance playing at the right flank, and showcased his dribbling talents to the world.
On returning to Merseyside, Ibe, though only 16, progressed to playing in the Under 21s team. He scored his first Under 21s goal in the 2-1 win over West Brom. Ibe signed his first professional contract with Liverpool on December 7, 2012.
Rodgers monitored Ibe’s progress closely and drafted him into the first-team squad for a Premier League tie at Southampton. Ibe was an unused substitute in the game which Liverpool lost 3-1.
Ibe finally made his first-team debut on May 19, 2013 when he started Liverpool’s final game of the 2012-13 season against QPR at Anfield. At the age of 17 years and 162 days, he was Liverpool’s fourth youngest debutant after Jack Robinson, Raheem Sterling and Michael Owen.
Ibe played for 60 minutes in the game and impressed everyone with his trickery. In the 23rd minute of the match, he began a run into the opponent’s half beating a couple of defenders and set up Philippe Coutinho’s goal. Ibe was later voted by Liverpool fans as the U21s Player of the Season for 2012-13.
Ibe has been part of the Liverpool’s pre-season campaign, and scored his first goal for Liverpool’s season team in the friendly at Preston. Rodgers showed his faith in Ibe and Sterling, as he pulled out from the deal to sign winger Christian Atsu from Porto, preferring to focus developing the two young English players.
Despite getting the plaudits, Ibe remains level-headed, which bodes well for his future. In an interview with Liverpool Echo, he said: “I feel I’m doing okay. I’m trying to learn from the senior players and the new lads that have come in. Hopefully I can be consistent and play well, so hopefully I can get a chance again in the first team. When I play, hopefully I can get a goal and help the squad do well this season. I’m learning a lot, especially with defending. The gaffer is helping me a lot with when I haven’t got the ball, coming to tuck in and watching the full-back and centre-back; knowing what to do when I haven’t got the ball.”
How Rodgers handles Ibe next season will be crucial for the youngster’s development. Rodgers should be wiser after his experience with Sterling last year, and be better prepared to develop and handle Ibe.
With excellent pace, good first touch, decent finishing and slick dribbling skills, Ibe ticks all the boxes required to become a successful Premier League winger and establish himself as a regular in the Liverpool first-team in the coming years.