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.
Is Bojan Krkic the perfect player for Gary Rowett to build Stoke City around?
The 27-year-old has been an outcast at the Bet365 Stadium.
As Gary Rowett continues to rebuild the Stoke City squad over the summer there will be plenty of speculation regarding who will be arriving and departing the Bet365 Stadium.
The Potters have already dipped into the transfer market by signing Nigerian midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo and Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Benik Afobe whilst Egyptian starlet Ramadan Sobhi was sold to Huddersfield Town last week.
Xherdan Shaqiri, who is currently representing Switzerland at the World Cup in Russia, has confirmed that he will be leaving the club whilst, in contrast, Joe Allen has signed a new long-term contract to remain.
There are still plenty of question marks over current players. The likes of Jack Butland and Badou Ndiaye are expected to attract interest from Premier League clubs whilst the expensive pairing of Saido Berahino and Giannelli Imbula may not fit into Rowett’s plans but will be short of offers.
But what about Bojan Krkic?
The diminutive Spaniard was once one of the most promising young forwards in Europe after he rose through Barcelona’s prestigious La Masia academy system and made his first team debut at the age of 17.
He made over 100 appearances for the Catalan’s prior to loan spells with Ajax, AC Milan and Roma before eventually moving to Stoke in the summer of 2014.
Bojan has certainly made an impact at the Bet365 Stadium, particularly during his first two-and-a-half years with the club, but he fell out of favour under Mark Hughes and has spent the last eighteen months on loan in Germany and Spain.
At his best, the 27-year-old was a magician who produced moments of sublime skill and was a central creative influence in the team.
He was technically magnificent and would often glide across the pitch, weaving between defenders and was a genuine threat whenever he received the ball in the final third.
Bojan was one of only a handful of Stoke players from the last decade that would bring supporters to the edge of their seats in anticipation and expectation when he was in possession.
For anyone who requires a reminder of what the forward can do, simply look up his solo goal against Tottenham Hotspur form 2014.
Much has been made of his injury in January 2015. The Spaniard suffered severe knee damage in an FA Cup tie at Rochdale that meant that he was out of action for the remainder of the season and the common narrative is that he was never the same upon his return.
However, this storyline is incorrect. In fact, Bojan was at his peak over the Christmas period in 2015 when he was the centre of Stoke’s attacking trident which also included Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic.
Such was the effectiveness of the trio that The Potters picked up the nickname of ‘Stoke-a-lona’ in reference to their attacking brand of football.
So where did it all go wrong for him?
He fell out of favour with Mark Hughes and, after being dropped from the starting line-up, was never able to regain his position as Stoke City’s creative hub.
The Spaniard subsequently has spent the past eighteen months on loan with Mainz and Las Palmas but has struggled to make any significant impact either in Germany or Spain.
In many respects, Bojan’s stock has never been lower. He has fallen off the radar somewhat in the past year and it appears that any hopes that he may have had of returning to a prominent European club are all but over.
However, this opens up a potential return to Stoke despite their relegation to The Championship.
Last season The Potters were desperately short of creativity and goals – something that Bojan can provide.
The Spaniard man be the perfect figure for Gary Rowett to build his new look team around.
Joe Allen and Oghenekaro Etebo will provide defensive security and energy in the centre of midfield whilst Benik Afobe will make be the focal point in the final third.
Bojan could be the perfect link player if deployed as a number ten and you would imagine that he would be more than capable of causing chaos amongst defences in The Championship.
There is, of course, the question of whether the 27-year-old would be prepared to play in the second tier of English football, although Allen’s decision to sign a new contract and remain at Stoke would suggest that Rowett is capable of being persuasive.
If Stoke are serious about challenging for promotion, then keeping Bojan and reigniting his career at the Bet365 Stadium would be a serious statement of intent.
Jack Wilshere is West Ham’s most realistic midfield target this summer
The 26-year-old seems the best option for Manuel Pellegrini at the moment.
Manuel Pellegrini has seemingly put signing a new midfielder high on his list of priorities this summer, having been linked with some stellar names, but is Jack Wilshere (Sky Sports) his most realistic target?
The Chilean has expressed his desire to get the Hammers playing attacking and progressive football again next term, and views a quality midfield addition as vital in achieving this.
Initially, the suggestion was made that Pellegrini would attempt to move for two-time Premier League winner Yaya Toure (the Telegraph), before stories broke claiming his interest in Paris Saint-Germain’s Javier Pastore (Sky Sports).
However, talks for both have stalled, with Toure’s preference to join a top-six side (Sport 24) and Pastore’s reported wage demands of £190,000-a-week (Sky Sports) to leave the French capital, with it now looking more likely Roma will land the 29-year-old’s signature.
Wilshere would employ the tactics Pellegrini is after and would instantly inject technical quality into the current functional midfield trio of Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyate and Pedro Obiang. His ability to carry the ball past defensive counterparts and to spot a final pass would add extra dimensions to the Hammers’ play, and at the age of 26 he could still have his best years ahead.
The ex-Bournemouth man has revealed he will not sign a contract extension at Arsenal with his contract set to expire imminently, meaning Pellegrini could land his signature on a free.
Tottenham should elevate reported interest in Leicester City protege Demari Gray
The 21-year-old could become a superstar if nurtured properly.
Tottenham Hotspur were reportedly interested in the possibility of signing Leicester City‘s attacking protege Demari Gray a few months back, according to reports from ESPN. And after a fruitless period in the search for attacking reinforcements, Mauricio Pochettino should revive his interest in sorting a deal.
Gray contributed four goals and three assists in 30 Premier League appearances last term, and is currently the captain of the England U21 squad. But he is likely to evaluate his future with the Foxes this summer, due to his lack of regular game-time. And Tottenham seems a great fit for the winger.
Spurs have pursued multiple attacking targets since the window commenced, without gathering any real traction on any of their targets, and it seems Pochettino – for once – is more concerned with making a marquee signing, than bringing in a player with the scope to develop and grow into a top player at White Hart Lane.
Talks for Anthony Martial, Christian Pulisic and Ivan Perisic have all stalled in recent times, and a move for the Leicester City man could be just the ticket for Spurs. He brings all the attributes they’re currently looking for; blistering pace, exceptional balance, end product, a cool head and notably the ability to hit an absolute cracker if awarded space.
If he reaches his peak under the guidance of Pochettino, which is more likely than not given his immense talent, the player could double in market-value and could become a key player for the Lilywhites for years to come.