Football can at times seem an obsessed sport, one hyper-focused on youth. A sport where fans write off players in their early twenties and reach for largely meaningless cliches like If he's good enough he's old enough as shorthand meant to legitimise questioning why the latest teenage starlet hasn't cracked the starting lineup yet. When it comes to the next big thing in football, patience is rarely, if ever, the word.
In that light, and with the player having failed to even make it onto Liverpool's bench before his twenty-first birthday, many were set on writing off Joao Carlos Teixeira sight unseen simply because he hadn't yet made it. To write him off because if he'd been any good he'd already have 50 appearances and a handful of goals to show for it, especially given the club's reputation for giving young players a chance.
"It has only been a matter of time," insisted Steven Gerrard following Teixeira's debut, confirming what those who have been paying attention long believed—that for the Portuguese midfielder it wasn't too late to break through and that it really was only a question of when, not if, he would. It hasn't been an easy road for the talented playmaker, though, whose development was hampered by a serious back injury.
"I watched this kid a couple of years ago playing for Sporting Lisbon against Liverpool at Anfield in a youth game," added Gerrard. "I could see straight away he was the best player on the pitch. Credit to him, he has kept working hard. He has been invited to train with the first team. He is competing, he is trying to improve and learn. This is the start for him now. He deserved his debut and he made a special tackle which helped us get over the line."
Sporting were struggling financially when Liverpool bought him, and the 18-year-old who only had six months remaining on his contract had just injured his back so seriously he would be in a brace for at least those next six months. Fully knowing that, even in the best case scenario, his injury would set his development back years, Liverpool still went ahead with a deal to bring him to Anfield for a million Euros.
For a player frequently compared to Deco, one considered by some to be Sporting's brightest youth prospect since Cristiano Ronaldo came through the system, it was a potential steal because of all of that. Because Sporting were in dire financial straits; because Teixeira had just six months left on his contract; because the player had just suffered a serious, potentially career ending injury. That last bit, though, also made it quite a gamble.
That injury meant that, even in the best case scenario, it would be a couple of seasons before Teixeira was anywhere close to the first team regardless of his clear talent and that he had been the best player on the pitch in both of Liverpool's NextGen series matches against the Sporting's academy side. On Wednesday, Liverpool fans finally got a glimpse of why the club made that gamble.