At the moment there is very little which Liverpool fans can be excited about coming off the back of an abysmal Premier League campaign which resulted in a sixth place finish. The fact that there are still some footballers at the club that seem to be playing purely out of love for the game is of little consequence to the fans reeling from the horrors of last season.
Horrors? It wasn’t all that bad, was it? It was alright when the team didn’t lose for thirteen games consecutively. It was actually decent when Philippe Coutinho rocked up after about two or three months and worked his magic.
Perhaps a turning point in the season came with the return of Jordon Ibe. Injury to several regulars left Brendan Rodgers short-handed and he chose to re-call the 19 year old from his season-long loan with Derby County.
The purpose of loaning out a young player is usually to help get them get more regular football and thus help the player develope. I watched Derby regularly when Ibe transferred and I was disappointed at the lack of starting appearances he made. He started 14 games during his loan spell and was introduced off the bench 10 times.
That being said, regardless of who you are or where you’re coming from, guaranteed professional football is difficult to come by. He scored 5 goals for Derby County and boss Steve McClaren was highly impressed with him.
“When he first came, we gave Jordon a ball on his own and gave the team the other ball,” McClaren said in December. “Now, he’s learning to be a team player and developing into that. He’s learning he needs to add end product to his game.”
Ibe played his last game for Derby in a crucial win at Ipswich on the 10th of January and a week later he came on as substitute against Aston Villa in the Premier League. Three weeks after being re-welcomed to Melwood he started in a Merseyside derby and was played as a right-wing by Rodgers due to his lack of options. It’s not surprising given his physical nature how well he coped with the defensive responsibilities.
“That was maybe the one thing that surprised me,” says Gary Waddock, who handed Ibe his professional debut as a 15-year-old. “I had no doubt he could handle a big game, and that he had the talent, but as a right wing-back? That shows how much he has come on as a player.”
Ibe very nearly scored the perfect debut goal, and one of the best Merseyside derby goals in history with a thunderbolt that crashed of the side off the post. Upon his return he had even less involvement than he had while on loan.
He made 12 league appearances at an average of 52 minutes per game. However, during those 12 games he dribbled past more opponents per 90 minutes than Sterling, averaging 3.5 dribbles per game to Sterling’s 3. He also boasted an impressive average passing accuracy of 97.4 percent.
Only Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho and Kolo Toure had more accurate pass rates. This is made even more impressive as they are all centre backs and the majority of their passing is lateral and doesn’t have the risk that an incisive pass has.
In May, Ibe signed a new 5 year deal with Liverpool. It has been revealed that his step-father was instrumental in the deal being a success. As a result of the nature of the talks his step-father was offered a job as a scout at the club. Ibe told Neil Jones of the Liverpool Echo, “I don’t see what an agent can do for me that my parents?couldn’t.”
This is both great to see an also worrisome as it would be most likely irk Ibe’s friend and team-mate, Raheem Sterling to hear such a comment. Aidy Ward is Sterling’s infamous representative and while the matter needs no more publicity the following is very pertinent:
“I don’t care about the PR of the club and the club situation. I don’t care,” Ward said this in his rant about Sterling not signing for anything between £700K and £1 million a week. It highlights his failure to Sterling as an advisor and the complete lack of a paternal aspect that having your father represent you provides. The very fact that Ibe has seemingly looked past the contractual and material side of football is incredible and to be so mature at such a young age is fantastic to see.
Liverpool supporters have recognized him as a young star and with the potential to be world class. He must surely have the same mindset because while his team-mates are enjoying their holidays he is taking part in extra training sessions with Kenny Dalglish and Alex Ingelthorpe.
This sends the right message and shows that he intends to rock up in the upcoming season and be more than just a squad member, regardless of the signings Rodgers brings in. Hard work like this under the Ulsterman doesn’t go unnoticed and he will likely be rewarded with a starting berth come the new season.
If Liverpool truly want to succeed then Brendan Rodger’s knack for featuring players out of position needs to stop. In order for Ibe’s development to continue in earnest he needs to be played in his natural position and not restricted by being played at right-wing back.
Don’t get me wrong, it is very encouraging that even at such a young age he is tactically astute in that he can slot in at right back without too much instruction. That being said, his true quality lies in attacking roles and the development of this will not take place in a right back role.
Jordon Ibe holds a goldmine of talent which Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers can utilize if, and only if Ibe is played in the correct position. The 2015/2016 season will undoubtedly be a season of excitement for Ibe as he going into it as a known commodity for Liverpool fans and not a player of potential quality. It will surely be exciting to see him feature as left wing, that is, if Rodgers thinks to play him there.