Liverpool’s proud line of home-grown defenders

Liverpool's proud line of home-grown defenders

Much has been made recently about the whole Raheem Sterling situation, with optimistic Liverpool fans highlighting the plethora of young wingers from the academy slated to replace him in the first-team. Jordon Ibe apparently a better clone, with even younger Sheyi Ojo and Wales international Harry Wilson coming to the fore in recent times. Though some of these attacking players are bought from other clubs, there has been an area where the Reds have produced and continue to produce fine, truly homegrown academy players.

First of the lot was Martin Kelly, who for so long looked to be Jamie Carragher’s heir apparent, with similarities to Kelly capable of playing across the back four, and with his height, taller than Carragher, he would have boundless potential. However, injury caught up with the defender from Whiston, as he was always plagued with long-term knocks that kept him on the treatment table than on the pitch. When he did appear during his 33 appearances for the Reds, Kelly looked solid in defence and even a physical threat bombing forward whenever he was deployed at full-back. With first team opportunities limited, Kelly had little choice but to leave his beloved club to further his career, and even Reds fans could not begrudge him a move to Crystal Palace, where he is currently getting regular football and under the watchful eye of English manager Alan Pardew.

Kelly’s first team spot in the prior campaign was actually blocked by the emergence of another right-footed defender in Jon Flanagan, whose form last season helped lay the foundations for the futile title-challenge. Flanagan’s tenacious defending and hard but fair tackling has been sorely missed during the whole of this campaign. His tackling style is old-fashioned, similar to Carragher’s, but yet Flanagan manages to time his tackles to perfection most of the time. His rough nature early in matches helps to inform opposition wingers that they are in for a tough game.

Flanagan was actually deployed at left-back during his successful breakthrough season last year, and performed admirably in the absence of Jose Enrique and on-loan Aly Cissokho, displacing both specialist left full-backs and making the position his own. However, like Kelly, injury and injury – of long-term nature to boot – have stopped the Liverpudlian from furthering his development, and fans will hope Flanagan can get back to full fitness next year and lock down either full-back spots. He has the potential to be Liverpool’s own Cesar Azpilicueta.

With Flanagan’s injury and recent surgery likely to keep him out for the start of next season, an academy product returning from loan will likely get his chance to stake a claim for a full-time spot at right-back for Brendan Rodgers. That man is Andre Wisdom, who admittedly signed for Liverpool as a 14 year old from Bradford City. Wisdom had a peculiar start to his football career while at the Liverpool academy, with various youth team bosses deploying him in a variety of position, such was his ability and versatility. Right wing, defensive midfield just to name a few. Wisdom’s best position is centre-back, with his physique built for exactly that, but in recent times has shown some potential at right-back.

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His career path seems quite similar to Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic, who started out as a centre-back before turning into one of the most dependable and hardest right-back in the league. During his loan at West Bromwich Albion this season, Wisdom was given the number 2 shirt and played mostly at right-back during his 24 appearances for the Baggies. Wisdom may have come under some criticism from West Brom’s fans with his subpar performances, which led him to be subsequently dropped by new boss Tony Pulis, but Wisdom does provide a threat going forward, best highlighted with his superb pull-back for Saido Berahino in West Brom’s 2-2 draw with Manchester United.

With veteran Glen Johnson leaving and Javier Manquillo proving unconvincing so far into his two-year loan deal from Atletico Madrid, Leeds-born Wisdom really has a good shot at filling that right-back spot and allowing Rodgers to focus Liverpool’s resources on other positions.

Northern Irishman Ryan McLaughlin may also have some shot at breaking into the first-team next year, with his development continuing at a steady pace so far in the reserve team. Signed by the Reds from Glenavon as a 16 year old, McLaughlin’s buccaneering forward play makes him a threat going forward. He has even played right wing a few times for the reserves, and Rodgers will be foolish not to take a look at him as a potential option to support the right-back position for next year. Who knows, McLaughlin could be Liverpool’s answer to Arsenal’s breakthrough full-back Hector Bellerin.

With Flanagan slowly returning from injury and Wisdom returning from loan, Rodgers actually has solid options for right-back, and that’s still considering giving McLaughlin a shot next season. The more exotic names like Barcelona’s Martin Montoya and Real Madrid’s Dani Carvajal may appeal to Reds fans, regardless of how unlikely, and along with local names like the relegated Kieran Trippier and Johnson’s own England replacement in Nathaniel Clyne definitely going to be first choices should they be signed, Rodgers can remain optimistic with the current choices already at Anfield, and even if no new right-back arrives at Liverpool, manager and fans alike should place some faith in Wisdom, Flanagan and to a lesser extent McLaughlin to cover that position for next year.

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