Danny Ings and the plight of the ambitious young Englishman
Danny Ings last week became the latest young, English footballer to make the move to a top club after showing only the first glimpses of a potentially prodigious talent.
There can be no doubt that there was a long line of potential suitors waiting to sign the 22-year-old upon the expiration of his contract at recently relegated Burnley, yet he chose to stay in the North West and make the move to Anfield.
This speaks volumes of Ings’ ambition and self-confidence. What remains to be seen is whether those admirable qualities will be proven to be naïve.
In recent years we have seen numerous starlets follow a similar career path to the striker, and in many cases fans and pundits have been left tearing their hair out in exasperation.
Adam Johnson, Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair joined Manchester City, Wilfried Zaha and Nick Powell were snapped up by their Mancunian rivals United, and Chelsea have plundered smaller clubs for the likes of Steve Sidwell and Victor Moses – now playing for Nigeria but an England under-21 international at the time of his transfer.
Of these, some made up for the time wasted on glamorous benches by moving on successfully, others have struggled to regain the momentum they showed to earn those moves since finding pastures new, and a couple are yet to escape their affluent employers.
Arsenal is perhaps the only team to consistently invest in young British talent without throttling it, with the likes of Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey all excelling at the Emirates.
Of course, the failure of other footballers to establish themselves at top clubs plays no part in deciding whether Ings himself will be a success at Anfield.
In fact, the England under-21 international’s captain next year, Jordan Henderson, provides a shining example of a player who has conquered hardship to excel on Merseyside, after making the move from Sunderland in 2011.
But what those players’ experiences should have been to Ings is a stark reminder that what may seem like a dream opportunity can easily turn into a nightmare which can hinder the most promising of careers.
Ings will obviously hope to blossom further in the 2008 European capital of culture, but what are his chances of securing regular first-team football?
Last season, he would surely have enhanced the struggling scousers’ attacking options, with their front four of Sturridge, Balotelli, Lambert and Borini mustering just eight goals between them.
Sturridge’s injury problems show no signs of abating next season, whilst big question marks hang over the future of the other three strikers who inhabited the Anfield dressing room last year.
However, should Sturridge regain fitness he will surely outrank his new colleague, and although transfer rumours are nothing but conjecture until signings are confirmed these days, the clever money would be placed on Liverpool investing in further attacking options before the new season begins.
Only Ings and Brendan Rodgers know what the Liverpool manager has promised his new acquisition, but Liverpool fans may hark back to the success gained in 2013/14 when Rodgers utilised a fluid front three of Sturridge, Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling to great effect, regularly destroying teams with their explosive pace on the way to an unexpected second placed finish.
However, Sterling is widely understood to be pushing for a move away from Merseyside, and irrespective of how good Ings may prove to be in the future, he is not a replacement for the mercurial Suarez.
A good indicator of the role lined up for the striker can be taken from the words of two of Liverpool’s most vocal former players.
Ex-captain and Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher believes that “Ings will take the role of Borini in the squad and that will probably come in the Europa League and Capital One Cup to start with – then it will be up to him to show if he deserves to start more.”
Similarly, one of Ings’ attacking forbears at Anfield, John Aldridge, heralded the signing as a “no-brainer”, but added that Liverpool “need a really big marquee signing… a striker who guarantees 20 goals a season.”
Liverpool’s ex-players hold a special relationship with the club they once represented and although their opinions cannot be taken as gospel, they are often an accurate representation of the opinions of the club itself.
If Ings has been acquired as a bit-part, cup competitions squad player, it is hard to justify how this move could be seen as a positive for his burgeoning career.
Ambitious clubs such as Southampton, Swansea, West Ham and Newcastle (ambitious used very tentatively in the latter case) are all rumoured to be in the market for a goal-scorer this summer, with Ings’ compatriot Charlie Austin, also relegated last season with QPR, linked with all four.
Had Ings moved to a mid-table Premier League club and continued to excel then surely a move to a bigger club could have been on the horizon in two or three years.
As it is, Ings will be hoping to make his mark on one of the most demanding stages that English football has to offer.
Fans of English football will only hope that this young man’s self-belief has its foundations set in realism, and not in romantic naivety.