Rivalry can be a marvellous thing, once the participants in it do not succumb to jealousy and bitterness. A respectful rivalry between friends is an almost Olympian ideal and it is something not often found in professional team-sports, where the clawing, grasping need to be in the starting line-up can skew an athlete's grasp on reality and leave them with a particularly jaundiced view of the world should they fail.
Football is no different. The sport is riven with petty jealousies and raging envy. The new, refreshing, trend for confessional footballer's autobiographies has helped to cast a more revelatory light on how players really think and such tomes are sprinkled with tales of how, finding themselves on a bench, our hero wished for a minor knock to a team-mate, in order that they might get their opportunity - it's ugly, but it's true. Human nature, folks -- it rarely fails to disappoint.
How invigorating then, to see a rivalry that might actually have a trace of that Olympian spirit; a competition where the participants are two outrageously talented young friends, who just happen to play in similar positions and harbour first-team pretensions for Liverpool Football Club. Jordon Ibe and Raheem Sterling, for it is they, are marvellously exciting prospects and Brendan Rodgers must feel a genuine satisfaction at being able to consider them for selection.
Under Kenny Dalglish, Sterling made a handful of exciting first-team appearances, but last season, under Rodgers, the youngster made exponential progress. A catalogue of disasters resulted in young Raheem starting the season as a regular and eventually earning a senior England call-up.
Ibe, it would seem is on a similar trajectory. After starting the last game of the season against QPR and providing an assist for Philippe Coutinho, Ibe finds himself on the current tour. He had already scored against Preston and in the two tour games to date he's been mightily impressive, again providing the impetus for a goal, this time for his mate Sterling.
"Raheem helps me a lot off the pitch," offers Ibe, in The Echo. "He's a good friend. He tells me what I should do and we talk a lot. There's healthy competition there. If he works hard then it makes me want to work hard and if I work hard, it makes Raheem work hard. We are both young and just starting out in the game. But obviously, Raheem has achieved a lot more than me so far. He's established in the first-team squad and that's where I'm trying to get to myself. If I keep playing well, hopefully I can achieve that."
The seventeen year old, who was a first-teamer for Wycombe Wanderers at fifteen, is a tremendously exciting talent and watching both he and Sterling on opposite flanks against Melbourne was a treat and a possible sign of a gloriously exciting future for Liverpool Football Club. Both have pace and trickery and both have an eye for goal and a ready willingness to track-back defensively. Ibe, if anything, seems to have an advantage because of his powerful physique. Not many Premier league full-backs will relish battling for superiority with the human-tank that is Jordon Ibe!
The forward is relishing the experience of the tour and "learning a lot" from rubbing shoulders with the senior players. Given the manager's track record of blooding youngsters and having faith in them, Ibe is hopeful about his prospects if he continues to progress.
"That's the great thing," enthused the youngster. "You know that if you do well, then you will get your rewards. The gaffer is trying to build a new team here and it's exciting. He has given opportunities to a lot of the young players and it is up to us to take them. I love this type of one and two-touch passing football he's got us playing. I've just tried to give it my best shot both on the training ground and in the games so far. Hopefully I can keep progressing and take it into the new season."
The sparkling form of Ibe has left the manager with one of those clichéd nice headaches -- as a migraine sufferer, I abhor that expression, but I've currently got a migraine and that lamentable old chestnut was all I could think of -- and he must decide whether the young attacker, and his club, would be best served by a resumption of his football education at Kirkby or a spell with his friend Sterling and the rest of the seniors, as the new campaign begins.
"He's an exciting talent and the type of player I love," says the manager of Ibe. "He can beat people, go past them and gets fans off their seats. He has everything in his game to be a really good player but he still has an awful lot off work to do. I wanted to look at Jordon over the course of pre-season as I liked what I saw from last season. Having brought him into our environment, I wanted to see how he evolves within that. the idea is to have him with us in pre-season and then we'll make a judgement on him. So far he's been very good."
With that unambiguous managerial endorsement ringing in his ears, let us hope that Jordon Ibe fulfils his luculent potential. Perhaps, in tandem with Raheem Sterling, he can display the positive side of rivalry and cause nightmares for the future opponents of Liverpool Football Club.