If Liverpool’s progress under Jurgen Klopp is to gather pace, then the development of talented young players at his disposal will surely be of crucial importance.
This was certainly the case under Brendan Rodgers, who successfully nurtured players like Raheem Sterling and allowed him to express himself in a side that pushed Manchester City all the way in one of the most exciting Premier League title races in memory.
This season, a heavy spotlight has fallen upon promising winger Jordon Ibe. The 20-year-old is perhaps the most exciting player to become almost a first-team regular under Klopp.
Ibe has consistently featured in the first XI this season and his dynamism, ability, and attacking instincts were drawing comparisons to Sterling and Daniel Sturridge from Liverpool fans and neutral pundits alike. That was until he was sidelined with a hamstring injury earlier in January.
Ibe returned from his layoff against Arsenal and he will again be rightly identified as a key player in the push for a European qualification place in the Premier League season. His performances in a red shirt since the summer fully merit that status. But we must be careful that we don’t put too much weight of expectation on the shoulders of a lad who was plying his trade at Wycombe Wanderers just four short years ago.
It’s hardly surprising that supporters are keen to draw comparisons between Ibe and Sterling. The football we were treated to when Sterling was at his best, during the title challenge of 2013/14, was nothing short of scintillating. We have been yearning for a return to that fearless attacking style ever since and the defeat by Manchester United, when Ibe started on the bench, was a painful reminder.
Back in 2013/14, of course, the bookmakers rightly placed us amongst the title favourites and there seemed to be every chance that Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard would lift the trophy that has now evaded Anfield for more than 23 years. This season, our prospects are a little less lofty, but we are nevertheless priced at 4/6 at 32Red.com at the time of writing to finish in this season’s top six. Those odds have of course drifted since the demoralising loss to United.
When Sterling headed for Manchester City last summer, fans were understandably disappointed to see one of world football’s hottest talents choosing another club after he had been nurtured at Melwood. Attentions were quickly turned to finding a new hero who could bring that excitement and flair back to Anfield.
Gerrard described Ibe as “a bit of Sturridge and Sterling rolled into one”, and the lad from Bermondsey subsequently became a man charged with filling Raheem’s boots.
Ibe’s performances in pre-season, which included some impressive displays of finishing, and his rapid development in the first team has seen him become a redemptive figure for many fans, who take to social media to taunt Sterling every time Ibe shows signs of matching the England star.
First goal for Liverpool for Ibe. Thats the Ibe i know. Goodboy! Sterling? Who?
— Bella Gruji? (@bella_huda) November 5, 2015
But, if we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that Ibe is not quite on Sterling’s trajectory. Ibe is already 20 and, at the same age, Sterling was a more experienced player with proven talent. Ibe is still cutting his teeth in the Premier League. It is not long since he was plucked from obscurity at Wycombe and given the very best coaching and guidance at Melwood. But his development hasn’t been as startlingly quick as Sterling.
But, even though Ibe is not developing as quickly as Sterling, there is no reason he shouldn’t become just as important to Klopp’s team. His confidence to beat players and shoot on sight, combined with his upper body strength and unsettling presence in opponents’ defences, give him something quite different to other members of the squad – as witnessed when he ruffled United. His reputation as a down-to-earth, homely type of lad gives you the feeling he might just stick around longer than Sterling.
We all hope that Ibe’s Liverpool career will continue long into the future and that the player will grow along with the club in the quest for trophies. A top-four challenge this season now looks far off, with 32Red and 10Bet placing it at around 4/1 but we need to put faith in players like Ibe. We need to let him blossom into whatever type of role suits him best, and give him our wholehearted backing.